NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week

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:


Post spreads baseless claim about Jan. 6 conversations

CLAIM: Freedom of Information Act requests show a dozen phone calls between Ray Epps’ cell phone and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office a week before the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021.

THE FACTS: Such records would not be obtainable through FOIA requests, because Congress is exempt from the law, legal experts say. Epps, an Arizona man who was filmed encouraging others to enter the U.S. Capitol the night before the riots, has long been the subject of a baseless conspiracy theory that he is a federal agent who helped orchestrate the insurrection. There’s no evidence to suggest that Epps was anything but a disgruntled supporter of former President Donald Trump, and Epps has testified to the House committee investigating Jan. 6 that he wasn’t working for law enforcement. But a new false claim based on the conspiracy still circulated widely on Twitter. “Freedom of Information Act requests show a dozen phone calls between the cell phone of Ray Epps and the office of Speaker Pelosi in the week before#January6th,” reads the tweet, which has been shared more than 15,000 times. The user provided no evidence for the claim. Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for Pelosi, said in an email to the AP that the claim is false. And experts in the Freedom of Information Act — which allows members of the public to request records from federal agencies — confirmed that such information cannot be obtained through a FOIA request. Congress is not subject to the law, which is limited to the executive branch of the federal government and agencies, experts said. “It does not apply to Congress, the courts, state and local governments, or private entities,” Kel McClanahan, executive director of the National Security Counselors law firm, told the AP in an email. “A right to access public records exists under the common law which has been occasionally interpreted by courts to apply to certain Congressional offices, but no Congressional office would voluntarily turn over such information without litigation,” McClanahan wrote. If such a case were litigated, the congressional office would likely win, because phone records would fall under the “speech or debate” clause of the U.S. Constitution, which places rigid restrictions on what information, if any, members of Congress can release, McClanahan said. Adam A. Marshall, a lawyer at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, concurred that such information couldn’t be obtained through FOIA. “Congress is not subject to FOIA. It doesn’t matter what type of records are at issue,” Marshall said in an interview with the AP. Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who led questioning in the closing summer hearing of the Jan. 6 committee, also tweeted that the claim was false. “Take a gander. Absolutely false, literally made up, yet tens of thousands of RT’s, This is what democracy is up against,” Kinzinger said. “It’s time for the uneasy alliance between democracy defending people of all political stripes. #misinformation.” Epps did not respond to a request for comment.


Contrary to false claim, Russia hasn’t closed WHO offices

CLAIM: Russia has “officially expelled” the World Health Organization and “closed all of its offices in Moscow.”

THE FACTS: The WHO continues to operate offices in Russia, the organization confirmed to the AP. A widely viewed Instagram video and posts on other social media platforms are spreading the false claim that Russia banned the global health agency from the country. “Russia has officially expelled the WHO and closed all of its offices in Moscow,” a woman in the video claims without evidence, before criticizing U.S. COVID-19 vaccine policies and mRNA vaccines. The same claim was spread thousands of times through an image shared on Facebook and Twitter. In reality, the WHO still maintains its offices in Moscow. “The claims made in the video are false,” WHO spokesman Bhanu Bhatnagar said in an email to the AP. “WHO continues to operate in the Russian Federation, both through our Country Office and our Office for Noncommunicable Diseases.” In May, Pyotr Tolstoy, the deputy chairman of the Russia State Duma lower house of parliament, did suggest Russia should withdraw from the WHO as well as the World Trade Organization. The same month, delegates of the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the WHO, approved a resolution condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine and attacks on health care facilities there. But Russia remains a member state of WHO and “nothing has changed,” said Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University law professor and director of the university’s WHO Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law. Gostin noted in an email that the country still has voting rights in the World Health Assembly. European member states also suggested the organization should consider moving the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases from Moscow — a position that Ukraine has voiced. But Bhatnagar said that “matter is still under advisement.”

— Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in New York contributed this report.


Old video of Weather Channel co-founder fuels climate misinfo

CLAIM: Climate change is not happening, nor are humans causing significant global warming. There is also no scientific consensus that climate change is occurring.

THE FACTS: The scientific consensus is that climate change is real and that greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity are driving climate change, as the AP has previously reported. A video of John Coleman, the now deceased co-founder of The Weather Channel, making a variety of false claims about climate change during a 2014 interview on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” resurfaced online, with social media users sharing it as if it were new. During the interview, Coleman claimed that there is “no consensus” in science that humans are causing climate change. “Climate change is not happening, there is no significant man-made global warming now, there hasn’t been any in the past and there is no reason to expect any in the future,” Coleman said. A tweet featuring the footage has been shared over 28,000 times since it was posted last week. Coleman’s claims are false. As the AP has previouslyreported, overwhelming scientific evidence shows global warming and climate change are real and caused by human activity, including human-caused carbon dioxide emissions. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an entity consisting of more than 200 scientists, said in a report released in February that human-induced climate change is already causing deadly extreme weather, such as drought, fires, and floods, and that the situation will get worse if global warming isn’t curbed. “The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health,” the report said. Coleman, who co-founded The Weather Channel and served for its CEO for about a year, died in 2018 at age 83, the AP reported. Despite his background as a meteorologist, Coleman caused controversy in the later years of his career for doubting humanity’s role in causing global warming, which he called a “hoax” and a “scam.” When Coleman appeared on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” in 2014, The Weather Channel’s parent company distanced itself from his comments. David Kenny, then CEO of the Weather Company, appeared on the same segment to respond, noting that Coleman hadn’t been involved at The Weather Channel for decades. “The science is pretty clear about climate change,” Kenny said. “I think some people were confused to hear a statement from somebody who was noted as a co-founder of The Weather Channel, which is true, we’re grateful that he got it started 32 years ago. But he hasn’t been with us in 31 years, so he’s not really speaking for The Weather Channel in any way today.” Weather Group, the channel’s current parent company, did not comment.

— Associated Press writer Josh Kelety in Phoenix contributed this report.


CLAIM: A headline on People magazine’s website reports that Klondike’s Choco Tacos were discontinued in response to the “woke mob” and recent allegations of “cultural appropriation.”

THE FACTS: A representative for People magazine confirms this headline was fabricated, and Klondike did not cite cultural appropriation as a reason for discontinuing its beloved treat. Still, a manipulated image designed to look like a People magazine headline circulated as real across social media this week as the public reacted to the news of the Choco Taco’s demise. The fake headline, which amassed thousands of shares on Twitter, read, “Klondike’s Choco Taco Cancelled By Woke Mob After Almost 40 Years.” A fabricated subheading read, “A representative for the brand confirmed to PEOPLE that due to recent allegations of ‘cultural appropriation’ the Choco Taco is no more.” Though some Twitter users shared the image as a joke, others believed it represented a real People magazine story, but the image was fake, confirmed People spokesperson Julie Farin. People magazine did report on the news, but with a different headline, “Klondike’s Choco Taco Discontinued After Almost 40 Years.” The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Klondike had cited an “unprecedented spike in demand across our portfolio” over the past two years as its reason for discontinuing the product. A Klondike representative said the brand “had to make very tough decisions to ensure availability of our full portfolio nationwide” and said “a necessary but unfortunate part of this process is that we sometimes discontinue products.” Klondike also said on social media that it was “working hard to find a way to bring Choco Taco back to ice cream trucks in the coming years.”


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