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:
Claims misconstrue Pfizer grants received by NIH nominee’s nonprofit
CLAIM: A White House press release says that Dr. Monica Bertagnolli, President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the National Institutes of Health, received tens of millions of dollars in research money from Pfizer.
THE FACTS: The image circulating online has been manipulated; the official announcement didn’t include the funding statistics. Additionally, while Pfizer awarded grants to a nonprofit that Bertagnolli headed up, the money did not go directly to her. The Biden administration, Bertagnolli and the nonprofit have confirmed the funding was largely used to support a major breast cancer clinical trial. But social media users are sharing the misleading screenshot, which includes the same headline and letterhead as Monday’s news release from the White House, but then goes on to say: “From 2015 through 2021, Bertagnolli received more than 116 grants from Pfizer, totaling $290.8 million. This amount made up 89% of all her research grants.” “So basically Joe Biden’s nominating Pfizer to run the National Institutes of Health,” wrote one Twitter user who shared the screenshot. “This is open, evil Big Pharma corruption.” But the passage referencing the Pfizer money was not included in the White House announcement. Instead, it comes from a 2022 story by the Daily Signal, a political news website published by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. The story ran after Bertagnolli was tapped to lead the National Cancer Institute, which is under NIH. It cites data from a Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services database that tracks payments certain health care providers receive from drug and medical device companies. The public database shows Pfizer’s grants went to the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology, a nonprofit foundation that supports cancer research. Bertagnolli served as its president until becoming director at NCI. The Biden administration stressed the grants were awarded to the nonprofit, not directly to Bertagnolli. “This not-for-profit ran large, nationwide clinical trials on cancer prevention,” Emilie Simons, a White House spokesperson, wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “Funding for large clinical trials like these come from a number of sources, including companies participating in the trials. That’s standard.” Bertagnolli didn’t respond to emails seeking comment, but the Daily Signal article quotes her as saying in a statement that the Pfizer funding went to Alliance, and that “virtually all” of that money went towards a breast cancer clinical trial involving more than 6,000 patients across multiple countries. “The funding was distributed across many different health care institutions—both academic and community—to conduct the trial,” she said in the statement. Suzanne George, the alliance’s interim chair, backed up Bertagnolli’s comments, saying the majority of the funding supported clinical trials of palbociclib, which was developed by Pfizer under the brand name Ibrance for the treatment of breast cancer. "Dr. Bertagnolli did not directly or personally receive any of these funds,” she wrote in an email. Pfizer, meanwhile, declined to comment specifically on Bertagnolli or the research it funded, but said in a written statement that “grantees are not individuals but rather institutions chosen for their credentials and experience.”
— Associated Press writer Philip Marcelo in New York contributed this report.
Video prompts false claims that soldier allowed migrants to cross border illegally
CLAIM: Video clip shows U.S. soldier opening a gate on a border fence and allowing migrants to enter the country illegally, in violation of U.S. code.
THE FACTS: Federal officials say the migrants had already crossed the border and were on U.S. soil when they passed through the gated fence. An immigration expert also rejected claims the soldier’s actions violated federal regulations dealing with undocumented immigrants. Amid last week’s end of asylum restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic, social media users are sharing the video clip showing a group of migrants walking beside a tall chain-link fence and then passing single file through a gate while a U.S. soldier looks on. The group then boards a large white bus on the other side of the fence. “American soldiers exposed on camera opening the gate for illegal immigrants entry to America, which is a violation of US code 1324 and 1327,” the text over the clip reads. But there’s nothing illegal about the scene captured on surveillance video Monday morning, say officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection as well as an immigration law expert. The federal agency said the migrants were already legally on U.S. soil, having earlier crossed the Rio Grande, which is seen in the background of the video. “U.S. Border Patrol continues to enforce U.S. immigration laws,” CBP wrote in its emailed statement. “The individuals had already crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico, were on U.S. soil, and are subject to U.S. immigration laws.” The agency added that anyone who crosses the border illegally is now subject to the “lawful pathways” rule, which took effect last week with the expiration of the pandemic-era asylum restrictions, known commonly as Title 42. Under the new rule, people who enter the country illegally are generally not eligible to seek asylum unless they first applied for asylum in another country and were denied. The agency declined to provide specifics about the incident, including where and when the video was taken, citing privacy concerns “associated with private lands.” But it said the migrants were transported to its processing center in Eagle Pass, Texas. “CBP strives to transport migrants for processing in the safest and most expeditious manner possible,” the agency statement read. “This was the best location for pickup.” Major Jeremy Idleman, a spokesperson for the Missouri National Guard, confirmed the video was captured in Eagle Pass on May 15. He also said the soldier standing at the gate had been part of a unit of Missouri guard members sent to Texas starting this fall to support CBP. “These service members are providing mission enhancing support to CBP’s border security operations to enable CBP agents to conduct their law enforcement mission more efficiently,” Idelman explained in an email. Idleman declined to comment on claims that the soldiers’ actions violated the U.S. codes cited in the post, but Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law professor at Cornell University in New York, dismissed the notion as “ludicrous.” He said Section 1327 of the code is a “rarely-used provision” prohibiting people from aiding certain criminal and subversive foreign nationals from entering the country. Section 1324, the other statute cited in the video, penalizes people who “harbor” undocumented migrants. Yale-Loehr also noted the migrants were taken for processing — as is the agency’s protocol — and weren’t simply let free. “The video doesn’t show any effort to harbor or hide undocumented migrants,” he wrote in an email. “Claims that federal officials are simply letting migrants enter the US illegally are unfounded.” Located across the border from Piedras Negras, Mexico, Eagle Pass is part of Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector, which has increasingly become one of the busiest corridors for illegal crossings.
— Philip Marcelo
Photo of Biden was altered to suggest he touched a child inappropriately
CLAIM: A photo shows President Joe Biden touching a child inappropriately below the waist.
THE FACTS: The photo was digitally altered to make it appear as if Biden’s hands were under the child’s shirt. The original photo, which was taken by an AP photographer in 2021, shows the child stretching their shirt to show the president, who is pointing at the shirt in return. The altered photo, however, appears to show Biden kneeling in front of a child, with his hands underneath the kid’s gray shirt. The photo was shared on Instagram with a caption above the photo that reads, “This is what people ‘voted’ for?” The original photo was taken on Oct. 15, 2021, while Biden was visiting the Capitol Child Development Center in Hartford, Connecticut. In the original, the child is stretching their top to show the president, and Biden is pointing at the shirt. A comparison of the two images shows the version circulating on social media has been altered to move the child closer to Biden, and another child standing in the background against a fence has been edited out. A watermark faintly visible on the doctored photo is the name of a Twitter user who regularly posts altered videos that are satirical. They shared the altered image on Twitter in December 2022. C-SPAN also captured video of the moment the photo was taken, and confirms Biden never touched the child in the way the edited image suggests. The footage shows Biden talking to the children at the playground and later giving the child in the photo a hug.
— Associated Press writer Karena Phan in Los Angeles contributed this report.
CDC did not say the polio vaccine gave millions of Americans a ‘cancer virus’
CLAIM: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention admitted that 98 million Americans were given a “cancer virus” through the polio vaccine.
THE FACTS: The CDC has made no such statement, and the claim misrepresents a fact sheet put out by the agency more than 10 years ago about some polio vaccines that were administered between 1955 to 1963. The agency has said that that 10-30% of the 98 million shots administered in that period were contaminated with simian virus 40, or SV40, but that most studies have found no causal relationship between SV40 and cancer in humans. An Instagram user posted a screenshot of an article making the erroneous claim, with a headline reading: “CDC admits 98 million Americans were given cancer virus via the polio shot.” The headline comes from a 2015 article published by Vaccine.news, which is part of Natural News Network, a massive collection of sites known for anti-vaccine content and health misinformation. Natural News Network did not respond to a request for comment. But the headline misrepresents a document put out by the CDC about a real episode in the 1950s and ’60s, when some polio vaccines were contaminated with SV40, which came from monkey kidney cells used to make the shots at the time. The article cites a fact sheet on the incident that was dated from 2007, and was removed from the CDC’s website in 2013, according to archives of the page on the Wayback Machine. The document says more than 98 million people in the U.S. were vaccinated against polio between 1955 to 1963, and SV40 had contaminated 10-30% of those immunizations. “SV40 virus has been found in certain types of cancer in humans, but it has not been determined that SV40 causes these cancers,” reads the old fact sheet. The CDC confirmed in a statement to the AP that the claim spreading online about the polio vaccine is false. A new page on the agency’s website that discusses the incident says that there had been concern about SV40’s effects on humans because it had been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals. “However, most studies looking at the relationship between SV40 and cancers are reassuring, finding no causal association between receipt of SV40-contaminated polio vaccine and development of cancer,” the page now reads. The page says “most” because a series of studies published starting in 1994 did link SV40 to cancer in humans. But Dr. Paul Offit, an expert in virology and immunology who is the director of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Vaccine Education Center, said those findings could not be replicated by others. The “enormous amount of epidemiological evidence” shows that people who received polio vaccines containing SV40 do not have an increased risk of cancer, Offit told the AP. “In short, SV40 virus, which was a contaminant in those early vaccines, and could cause cancer in experimental animals, did not cause cancer in people,” he said.
— Associated Press writer Melissa Goldin in New York contributed this report.
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