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:
Graphic misrepresents House GOP agenda
CLAIM: An image shows the House Republicans’ “Commitment to America” plan, including raising the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 75 and making retirees with pensions, 401(k)s or disabled veterans’ benefits ineligible for Social Security payments.
THE FACTS: The image shows policies that don’t match the language in House Republicans’ actual plan. Ahead of the midterm elections, social media users are sharing the misleading graphic that claims to outline House Republicans’ policy plan. The image shows a logo reading “Commitment to America” that matches branding on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s website for the House GOP’s 2022 agenda. “Entitlements are bankrupting our country and the future of our children,” reads the image. “Republicans are the only Party with a plan to address our fiscal crisis and commit to the following if you give us the majority in November.” The image goes on to list several policies: making retirees “who have pension, IRAs, 401Ks, disabled veteran benefits” ineligible for Social Security; raising the age of Medicare eligibility to 75; and taxing “disabled veterans benefits” and employer-sponsored health care plans. One tweet sharing the image gained more than 3,000 likes. But the graphic’s contents do not match the policies and goals outlined in the Commitment to America agenda. Mark Bednar, McCarthy’s director of strategic communications, told the AP that the graphic is “fabricated” and contains “false information.” A summary of the plan contains only one mention of Social Security or Medicare, saying it would “save and strengthen” the programs. A document outlining the plan’s fiscal proposals says “Congress must be prepared to make reforms to extend the solvency of the entitlement programs,” but does not contain explicit references to cutting particular programs. Neither the summary nor individual policy documents on McCarthy’s website explicitly recommend taxing veterans’ disability benefits or employer-sponsored health care plans. Congressional Republicans have previously proposed raising the Medicare eligibility age. A fiscal 2023 budget proposal from the Republican Study Committee suggests adjusting the Medicare eligibility age to reflect increased average life expectancy, though it does not offer a specific age. That committee’s prior proposal, for fiscal 2022, suggested gradually increasing the eligibility age to 70. Buckley Carlson, a spokesperson for the Republican Study Committee, confirmed the statements in the graphic are inaccurate. Republican Rep. Jim Banks, who chairs the committee, also tweeted about the image, calling it a “fake graphic.”
— Associated Press writers Karena Phan in Los Angeles and Graph Massara in San Francisco contributed this report.
USPS won’t reject mail-in ballots for too few stamps
CLAIM: Absentee ballots will not be accepted unless voters mail them with up to two stamps.
THE FACTS: Some states and counties do require voters to pay for their own postage on mail-in ballots, however, the United States Postal Service says its policy is to deliver all ballots, even those with insufficient postage. As the midterm election approaches, some social media users have warned that those planning to vote by mail need a specific amount of postage to send their ballots or they won’t be counted. “OHIO USE 2 STAMPS ON YOUR BALLOT OR THEY WONT COUNT THEY WILL BE RETURNED FOR UNPAID POSTAGE,” read one tweet posted Wednesday. Another tweet with a similar warning was shared more than 2,000 times. While some states provide pre-paid ballot envelopes, many states do require voters to provide their own postage for returning mail-in ballots. However, USPS doesn’t reject or delay delivery of ballots if the postage is insufficient or unpaid, USPS spokesperson Martha Johnson confirmed. For mail-in ballots that need postage, USPS requires election officials to inform voters of the amount. “We are proactively working with state and local election officials on mailing requirements, including postage payment,” Johnson wrote in an email to the AP. In cases where a post office receives a ballot with insufficient postage, USPS will still deliver it and attempt to collect postage from the appropriate local election officials, Johnson added. The USPS also released an election mail guide in January 2022 that confirms that policy. “Postage is collected from the election office upon delivery or at a later date,” the policy says, referring to unpaid ballots or those with insufficient postage. The amount of postage can vary by jurisdiction. In Ohio, for example, if a person returns an absentee ballot by mail it must be postmarked no later than the day before Election Day, and it is the voter’s responsibility the ballot has enough postage, according to the Ohio Secretary of State’s website. The Lucas County, Ohio, Board of Elections said in a statement posted to Twitter that not every ballot in Ohio needs more than one stamp, and requirements vary depending on how many pages each ballot is. “In addition the post office will deliver it to the board of elections regardless of postage,” the tweet added. The elections administration office in Harris County, Texas — which similarly requires two stamps per ballot — has also been posting reminders about postage. “Our mail ballot office worked with USPS to weigh and determine the amount of postage for this ballot, as it is four sheets of paper long,” Nadia Hakim, a spokesperson for the Harris County elections administration office, told the AP. “USPS determined that the amount of postage needed is $1.08, so we have been telling voters two forever stamps are needed to send their ballot back.” Hakim also confirmed the USPS policy on ballot delivery and postage.
— Karena Phan
Colorado’s universal mail-in ballot system is legal, secure
CLAIM: Colorado’s practice of sending mail-in ballots to every registered voter is unconstitutional and voters should only vote in person on Election Day.
THE FACTS: Colorado state law explicitly protects mail-in voting and the U.S. Constitution gives states broad authority to run their elections, according to legal experts. With the midterm elections just weeks away, some social media users are sharing misleading information about Colorado’s mail-in voting system. One Instagram user posted a picture of a ballot that features the label of the Douglas County clerk and recorder and wrote, “So when you get this…mailed unconstitutionally to every Colorado voter whether they requested one or not, ignore the instructions to vote early. Vote in person, on Election Day.” But there’s nothing unconstitutional about the process. In 2013, Colorado adopted legislation requiring that mail-in ballots be sent to all eligible voters. And the Constitution gives state legislatures control over election administration, though Congress can amend regulations for federal elections, experts say. “There’s nothing in the U.S. Constitution that speaks to mail-in balloting. And therefore there’s nothing that prohibits the practice,” said Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. Doug Spencer, an associate professor of law at the University of Colorado Boulder, agreed that Colorado’s mail-in voting system is “not actually unconstitutional” under the law. Annie Orloff, a spokesperson for the Colorado secretary of state, wrote in an email to the AP that there has “never been a legitimate or successful lawsuit challenging the constitutionality” of the state’s mail-in voting law. Local and national experts and election judges agree that Colorado’s mail-in voting system is safe, the AP has reported. Bipartisan teams transport, verify, open, sort, count and store Colorado’s ballots in secure rooms with windows through which anyone can watch. Election judges and computers check each vote and signature against state registries before the ballots are tabulated and stashed by the hundreds in cardboard boxes, numbered and dated.
— Associated Press writer Josh Kelety in Phoenix contributed this report.
Officials: No fentanyl found in California cereal boxes
CLAIM: A photo shows cereal boxes filled with fentanyl that were recently seized by law enforcement officials in San Bernardino County, California.
THE FACTS: The county sheriff’s department said the photo, from a drug bust earlier this year, shows pills suspected of being MDMA, not fentanyl. With Halloween around the corner, social media users have been sharing warnings about the possibility of potentially deadly drugs showing up in otherwise innocuous children’s treats. The latest warning includes a photo of two cereal boxes — one Lucky Charms, the other Trix — and their contents. The widely-circulating image purportedly shows pink-colored pills mixed in with the colorful cereal pieces. “This was seized in San Bernardino County today. It’s Fentanyl mixed with cereal,” wrote one Instagram user in a post that was shared more than 25,000 times before being taken down. “PLEASE SHARE AS HALLOWEEN GETS CLOSER SAVE A LIFE!!!!,” wrote another Instagram user. However, the photograph doesn’t show fentanyl in the cereal, but likely another less lethal recreational drug: MDMA, often referred to as ecstasy or Molly, according to Mara Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. She added that lab tests have not yet been completed on the substance. The photo comes from a joint investigation this summer by the sheriff’s office and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that involved drugs being distributed through the mail, Rodriguez said. The agency stressed the incident doesn’t raise broader concerns about illegal drugs infiltrating the nation’s food supply. “This is an isolated incident with individual packages, not a mass-produced or commercial/retail distribution system,” the sheriff’s department said in an emailed statement. The use of cereal to conceal the drugs is most likely a smuggling technique, “not a sinister attempt” to market illegal drugs to a younger demographic, says Ryan Marino, an addiction medicine specialist at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Ohio. “The drug trade is a business and nobody is giving away expensive products for free,” he said. “It wouldn’t make any logical sense.” The claims come shortly after California authorities seized 12,000 suspected fentanyl pills hidden in candy boxes at Los Angeles International Airport last week. The county sheriff’s department said the suspected trafficker tried to go through security screening with packages of Sweet Tarts, Skittles and Whoppers filled with the drug. The DEA also warned the public in an Aug. 30 news release about the increased presence of candy-colored “rainbow fentanyl,” which it billed as a tactic by drug cartels to sell the highly addictive and potentially deadly opioids to younger users. Still, as trick-or-treat season approaches, the DEA says its so far found “no indication there is a connection” between fentanyl and Halloween, said Nicole Nishida, a DEA spokesperson in the Los Angeles field office. “Traditionally, drug traffickers use different concealment methods to try and evade law enforcement detection,” she wrote in an email. “We have seen fentanyl pills and other drugs hidden in fire extinguishers, fish tanks, candy boxes, everyday household items, pallets, and even concrete blocks.”
— Associated Press writer Philip Marcelo in New York contributed this report.
Death of red panda cub in Toronto not linked to COVID vaccine
CLAIM: The recent death of a red panda cub at Canada’s Toronto Zoo was related to the COVID-19 vaccine.
THE FACTS: The cub that died was not vaccinated against COVID-19. The Toronto zoo on Monday announced the death of the 3-month-old red panda cub, referred to as “Baby Spice” but recently dubbed Dash following a naming contest. Soon after, erroneous suggestions emerged on social media linking the death to the COVID-19 vaccine. “They killed the red panda,” reads a tweet that received more than 5,000 likes. The tweet included screenshots of two headlines: On the left, a headline from April reported that the zoo had received COVID-19 vaccines for its animals. On the right was a headline about the panda cub’s death. But there is no connection between the two, a spokesperson for the zoo told the AP. “Dash did not receive the Covid vaccine,” Amy Naylor said in an email. “A post-mortem was conducted to collect samples for additional testing which will be required to better understand the possible cause of the rapid decline of this animal. Until the results are available to us, we are unable to definitively state the cause of death.” The zoo also posted a statement responding to the false claim on Twitter. Dash showed no signs of illness on Oct. 22 but by the morning of Oct. 23 was lying on his side and weak, the zoo said. Attempts to treat him were unsuccessful. Red pandas are difficult to breed, the zoo added. Many pregnancies are lost and the zoo estimated that approximately 40% of cubs die within one year.
— Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in Philadelphia contributed this report.
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