Not Real News

A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:

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AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File
FILE - In this Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump, including Jacob Chansley, right with fur hat, are confronted by U.S. Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber inside the Capitol in Washington. On Friday, March 10, 2023, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly claiming footage from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol shows that Chansley was “led through the Capitol by police the entire time he was in the building.”

Posts misrepresent rioter’s actions in Jan. 6 Capitol attack

CLAIM: Footage from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol shows that Jacob Chansley, who participated in the riot sporting face paint, no shirt and a fur hat with horns, was “led through the Capitol by police the entire time he was in the building.”

THE FACTS: Court documents and video footage from the attack on the Capitol make clear that Chansley, who is widely known as the “QAnon Shaman” and is one of the most recognizable Jan. 6 rioters, entered the Capitol without permission, was repeatedly asked to leave the building and was not accompanied at all times. After Fox News host Tucker Carlson broadcast previously unseen Jan. 6 security footage on his Monday night primetime show, social media users began sharing segments from his program that misrepresented Chansley’s involvement in the riot. “BREAKING: Never before seen video of January 6 shows Jacob Chansley, the QAnon Shaman, being led through the Capitol by police the entire time that he was in the building,” reads a tweet that includes a clip from Carlson’s show. But the footage leaves out important context about Chansley’s time in the Capitol that day. A statement prepared by the Department of Justice, which was signed by Chansley and his attorney, provides a timeline of the rioter’s movement in the Capitol. For example, the statement explains that Chansley entered the Capitol through a broken door as part of a crowd that “was not lawfully authorized to enter or remain in the building” and that he was one of the first 30 rioters inside. It goes on to note that although officers asked Chansley and others multiple times to leave the Capitol, he did not comply and actively riled up his fellow rioters. The statement describes Chansley’s interactions with officers, but also points out that he “entered the Gallery of the Senate alone.” Chansley pleadedguilty in September 2021 to a felony charge of obstructing an official proceeding. He was sentenced in November 2021 to 41 months in prison. Asked about claims that protesters were led through the building, a Capitol Police spokesperson pointed The Associated Press to an HBO documentary about the riot, “Four Hours at the Capitol,” in which an officer describes his encounter with Chansley, including how he asked the rioter and others to leave the Senate wing. Footage from the interaction appears in the documentary. “Any chance I can get you guys to leave the Senate wing?” the officer says as Chansley sits in the presiding officer’s chair on the Senate Dais. A video of Chansley walking into the Capitol through the broken door is publicly available on the website of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. U.S. Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger lambasted Carlson’s segment on the Jan. 6 footage in an internal memo Tuesday. “Last night an opinion program aired commentary that was filled with offensive and misleading conclusions about the January 6 attack,” Manger wrote. "One false allegation is that our officers helped the rioters and acted as ‘tour guides.’ This is outrageous and false.”

— Associated Press writer Melissa Goldin in New York contributed this report.


No, the military hasn’t recorded a 500% increase in HIV cases

CLAIM: The U.S. military has recorded a 500% increase in new HIV infections since COVID-19 vaccines were introduced.

THE FACTS: The U.S. military has not recorded any such increase, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Defense. Conservative commentators are baselessly claiming that rates of HIV in the military have skyrocketed since COVID-19 vaccines were rolled out to sow suspicion about the shot. “The Armed Forces of the United States recorded a five hundred percent (500%) increase in AIDS after administering the COVID-19 Vaccine to US Troops. The COVID-19 Vaccine is implicated,” wrote Hal Turner, a right-wing radio host, on his website last week. Turner gave no evidence for his claims. He did not respond to a request for comment. But figures from the Defense Department and the Congressional Research Service show that the 500% figure is massively exaggerated. Further, medical experts have repeatedly emphasized that COVID-19 vaccination has not been linked to developing HIV, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, which is caused by HIV. Nor does a condition called “VAIDS” — vaccine acquired immunodeficiency syndrome — exist. A total of 1,581 service members, including those in the National Guard and Reserves have been diagnosed with HIV infections since 2017, said Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman, a spokesperson for the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Three-hundred and seventeen service members were diagnosed with HIV in 2017; 280 in 2018; 314 in 2019; 237 in 2020; 309 in 2021; and 124 in 2022. These rates are consistent with figures that were cited in a 2019 Congressional Research Service report. That report cited estimates from the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center showing that approximately 350 service members are diagnosed with HIV annually. COVID-19 vaccinations first became available to the public in December 2020. In 2021, 72 more cases of HIV were diagnosed compared to 2020, constituting a 30% increase — but nowhere near the 500% claimed. And in 2022, when the vaccine rollout was well underway, 185 fewer new HIV cases were diagnosed, marking a 60% drop from 2021. Though Turner did not give the source of his data, it matches claims spread about other illnesses purportedly linked to COVID-19 vaccination among military members that have been shared in the past. In those cases, the numbers stemmed from what the bloggers and social media users said was “leaked” data from Defense Medical Epidemiology Database, or DMED, an internal database that documents medical experiences of service members throughout their careers. It is only accessible by military medical providers, epidemiologists, medical researchers and clinical support staff. However, Schwegman told the AP that the claims citing this database were flawed due to an error in the data for the years 2016 to 2020. The Defense Health Agency’s Armed Forces Surveillance Division reviewed the data in the system, comparing it to the source data, and found that the total number of medical diagnoses from 2016 to 2020 that were accessible in DMED “represented only a small fraction of actual medical diagnoses for those years,” said Schwegman. In contrast, the total number of medical diagnoses for the year 2021 were accurate, which temporarily made it appear that there was a disproportionate increase in medical conditions between the 2016 to 2020 figures and those reported in 2021. She said that the Armed Forces Surveillance Division has since corrected the data corruption.

— Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in New York contributed this report.


Hospital COVID payments tied to patient treatment, not deaths

CLAIM: U.S. hospitals are earning a $48,000 government subsidy for every patient that dies from COVID-19 in their care.

THE FACTS: Hospital industry officials and public health experts confirm the federal government provides hospitals with enhanced payments for treating COVID-19 patients, but the payments are only currently applicable to those on Medicare and aren’t contingent on a patient’s death. Social media users are claiming American hospitals have a financial incentive to let people with coronavirus die under their watch. But hospitals have never been compensated by the federal government based on a patient dying of COVID-19 in one of their facilities, say industry officials and public health experts. During the pandemic, hospitals have received additional money for treating COVID-19 patients as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES, the 2020 law meant to address the economic fallout of the pandemic. But those increased payments don’t apply to every COVID-19 patient treated in a hospital, just the ones under Medicare, which is the federal healthcare program serving people 65 and over. Colin Milligan, a spokesperson for the American Hospital Association, confirmed that hospitals are currently eligible to receive a 20% increase in Medicare payments for caring for COVID-19 patients. “These patients are often very costly and time and labor-intensive for hospitals to treat,” he explained in an email Wednesday. And despite what the social media posts claim, the enhanced COVID-19 payments aren’t based on whether the patient lives or dies, experts said. In general, Medicare payments are based on the severity of the patient’s condition and the types of treatments provided, said Juliette Cubanski, deputy director of Medicare policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. The average cost of a COVID-19 hospitalization for a Medicare patient is about $24,000, she said, citing claims data from Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. But the reimbursement for more severely ill patients — such as those placed on a ventilator for multiple days — is roughly $40,000, according to KFF’s analysis. Social media posts citing a $48,000 subsidy for COVID-19 deaths appear to be taking that $40,000 average cost for treating the sickest COVID-19 patients and factoring in the special 20% reimbursement rate increase. But Cubanski argued that’s not a fair assessment of the potential payout to hospitals. “My understanding of the estimates from CMS is that they already include the 20% payment increase in the stated amount,” she wrote in an email. “So the payment for an extreme case would be $40k including the 20% increase, not $40k plus 20%.” Spokespersons for CMS and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the agency, didn’t respond to emails seeking comment this week. But President Joe Biden has announced the federal government’s declaration of a public health emergency for COVID-19 will end on May 11. That means the enhanced Medicare payments — along with other measures the federal government enacted to weather the pandemic — will soon be a thing of the past.

— Associated Press writer Philip Marcelo in New York contributed this report. ___

Florida blogger bill falsely tied to DeSantis

CLAIM: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants bloggers to register with the state or face fines.

THE FACTS: A bill filed in the Florida Senate — that DeSantis says he does not support — would require bloggers to register with the state and submit periodic reports if they are paid for posts about elected officials. Social media users have erroneously claimed in recent days that DeSantis is in favor of the bill, which was filed last week and introduced to the Senate on Tuesday. But it was Republican Florida Sen. Jason Brodeur who filed the bill and DeSantis has not publicly supported the legislation since it was filed. DeSantis clarified his position on Tuesday at a press conference following his State of the State address. “I see these people filing bills and then there’s articles with my face on the article saying that oh, they’re going to have to — bloggers are going to have to register for the state,” he said. “And then it’s like, attributing it to me. And I’m like, ok, that’s not anything that I’ve ever supported, I don’t support.” Brodeur’s bill would require bloggers to register with the state of Florida if they are paid for posts about its governor, lieutenant governor, cabinet members or legislative officials. They would also have to file periodic reports with the state disclosing information such as who paid them and how much. Failure to file a report would result in fines of $25 a day, up to $2,500. The legislation states that it would not apply to content “on the website of a newspaper or other similar publication.” Bryan Griffin, the governor’s press secretary, confirmed to the AP in an email that DeSantis “does not support the bill.” However, Griffin also explained that “the governor will ALWAYS consider every bill on its merits in final form if and when a bill passes the legislature and reaches his desk” before making a decision. The AP previously reported that DeSantis’ office was not aware of the blogger registration legislation until it was filed. First amendment groups have argued that the proposal violates press freedoms.

— Melissa Goldin


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