What Trump got wrong in his letter to the WHO
Any letter signed by the U.S. president and sent to an international organization would have gotten a thorough scrubbing in previous administrations: research, vetting, fact-checking, multiple layers of review, the works.
It’s fair to say President Trump’s letter this week to the head of the World Health Organization got a much lighter touch. We found several false or misleading statements to fact check. And we weren’t the only ones who noticed. The editor of the Lancet, the British medical journal, issued a response accusing Trump of being “factually inaccurate.”
Here’s a sample of fishy claims in Trump’s letter dated May 18 to WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus:
“The World Health Organization consistently ignored credible reports of the virus spreading in Wuhan in early December 2019 or even earlier, including reports from the Lancet medical journal. The World Health Organization failed to independently investigate credible reports that conflicted directly with the Chinese government’s official accounts, even those that came from sources within Wuhan itself.”
Richard Horton, the Lancet’s editor in chief, issued a statement on Twitter pointing out no such study existed: “Please let me correct the record. The Lancet did not publish any report in early December, 2019, about a virus spreading in Wuhan. The first reports we published were from Chinese scientists on Jan 24, 2020.”
The Jan. 24 Lancet study says “the symptom onset date of the first patient identified was Dec. 1, 2019,” with patients in the study hospitalized between Dec. 16 and Jan. 2. The White House did not respond to a request for an explanation.
“On March 3, 2020, the World Health Organization cited official Chinese data to downplay the very serious risk of asymptomatic spread, telling the world that ‘COVID-19 does not transmit as efficiently as influenza’ and that unlike influenza this disease was not primarily driven by ‘people who are infected but not yet sick.’ China’s evidence, the World Health Organization told the world, ‘showed that only one percent of reported cases do not have symptoms, and most of those cases develop symptoms within two days.’”
Tedros did say this at a March 3 briefing, as part of a presentation on the ways covid-19 was different from the seasonal flu. But he also said “covid-19 causes more severe disease than seasonal influenza. … Globally, about 3.4 percent of reported covid-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1 percent of those infected.” He urged governments to expand contact tracing because it would slow the spread of infections. “We can’t treat covid-19 exactly the same way we treat flu,” Tedros said, noting there would be no vaccine for some time.
For the full fact check, click here.
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Valerie Plame smeared as ‘white supremacist’ in bonkers attack ad
There’s a lot going on in this, one of the most unhinged attack ads we’ve ever seen. Of course, we gave it Four Pinocchios, but the whole story behind the ad is eye-popping and disturbing.
Let’s start with Plame. She’s a former CIA operative whose name famously was revealed to reporters during the controversy over the George W. Bush administration’s claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Now, she's running for the Democratic congressional nomination in a New Mexico district.
Plame tweeted out a link to an article posted on the Unz Review, a website that posts anti-Semitic diatribes. We will quote only briefly from it. The article suggested Jewish commentators should be identified as Jewish when they appear on television, akin to “a warning label on a bottle of rat poison.”
Plame’s tweet of the Unz Review article carried the headline — “America’s Jews Are Driving America’s Wars” — and showed a photo of commentator Bill Kristol. And, she initially pushed back on Twitter critics, before apparently going back to the article, reading the whole thing and publicly apologizing. “I am horrified and ashamed,” she said in her apology. “The white supremacist and anti-Semitic propaganda espoused by this website is disgusting and I strongly condemn it.” (Plame’s record here was worth examining in our fact check.)
Then, the Alliance to Combat Extremism Fund, a dark money group that says it is “fighting hate in our society,” released an attack ad in the New Mexico race. The ad’s narrator calls Plame “a disgraced racist millionaire” with “white supremacist friends.” Swastikas pop up in her eyes while ominous music plays. It’s bananas. Plame may be fairly scrutinized here, but it doesn’t justify the kind of bomb-throwing smear that wound up in the ad.
For the full fact check, click here.
We wrote a book! “Donald Trump and His Assault on Truth” will be published June 2 by Scribner. Over 386 pages, we excavate and debunk all of the president’s most egregious deceptions during his first three years in office, a period during which he made more than 16,000 false or misleading claims on everything from the economy, immigration, his campaign’s contacts with Russia, dealings with Ukraine that led to his impeachment, Trump’s response to the covid-19 pandemic and more.
Kirkus in a “starred” review calls it an “extremely valuable chronicle” and especially praises "the fact checkers’ point-by-point analyses, lie by lie, of the relative falsehoods uttered, measured by ‘Pinocchios.’” You can pre-order a copy at online booksellers.
We’re always looking for fact-check suggestions.
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Scroll down for this week’s Pinocchio roundup.