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

In this Dec. 9, 2016 photo, flowers and notes left by well-wishers outside a pizza restaurant in northwest Washington, D.C.,are shown, where a North Carolina man fired an assault rifle multiple times as he attempted to “self-investigate” the conspiracy theory known as “Pizzagate. On Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly claiming an expert who debunked the “pizzagate” conspiracy theory has been jailed for possessing child sexual abuse images. (AP Photo/Jessica Gresko)

A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories 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:

Elon Musk and others spread meme reviving unfounded ‘pizzagate’ conspiracy theory

CLAIM: An expert who debunked the “pizzagate” conspiracy theory has been jailed for possessing child sexual abuse images.

THE FACTS: A former ABC reporter referenced in a meme circulating online was recently sentenced to federal prison for such crimes, but he never investigated “pizzagate.” The long-dormant conspiracy theory – which posited that Democratic Party insiders harbored child sex slaves in a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor — has been revived online in recent days, boosted by prominent social media users including Elon Musk. The unfounded rumor was popular among supporters of Republican Donald Trump during his winning 2016 campaign for president and even led a North Carolina man to travel to Washington and fire a rifle in a local pizza parlor where he believed children were being enslaved. Musk and others shared a meme referencing the television series “The Office,” claiming the conspiracy theory is “real,” involved “trafficked children” and that an expert who had debunked the theory “just went to jail for child porn.” In a follow up post on his social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, the tech billionaire linked to a story about the September sentencing of former ABC journalist James Gordon Meek for possessing and transporting child sexual abuse images, implying the Virginia resident is the expert referenced in the meme. Musk’s posts have since been deleted. But the false connection stems from an image of a fabricated New York Post headline that spread online in recent months. “Award winning ABC journalist who ‘debunked’ pizzagate, pleads guilty in horrific child porn case,” the headline reads over an image of Meek. The newspaper didn’t comment, but a search of its website archive showed no such story, and the headline image does not match the outlet’s style. Spokespersons for ABC News didn’t respond to messages seeking comment, but a review of the network’s online archives shows Meek never published an investigation on “pizzagate” while employed there. A 2017 story he co-wrote about Russian propaganda during the war in Syria only briefly mentions the conspiracy theory. Instead, numerous news outlets at the time, including CNN and The New York Times, debunked the rumor. Meek, who covered national security issues until his resignation last year, was sentenced to six years in federal prison after pleading guilty to possessing child sexual abuse images.

Trump misleadingly cites ‘duplicate’ ballots in disputed Georgia county as proof of election fraud

CLAIM: A recent court filing revealed that 3,600 “duplicate” ballots were cast for Biden and illegally counted in Fulton County, Georgia, during the 2020 election.

THE FACTS: A state review of the county’s audit of the 2020 presidential race found errors and inconsistencies in the vote count, including some double counting of ballots, but the errors weren’t deemed criminal and they weren’t enough to alter the election results. Nevertheless, former President Donald Trump is continuing to cast doubt on the legal filing in Georgia’s Fulton County as he seeks a return to the White House amid myriad legal cases, including election interference charges in the Peach State. “Fulton County, Georgia, acknowledges, in a major Consent Decree, that 3,600 individual ballots were DUPLICATED,” the Republican wrote in a post on his social media platform Truth Social. “THAT’S A LOT OF CRIME. When are the rest of the facts coming out? We are all waiting. This is just the beginning. UNBELIEVABLE!” In a video that spread widely on other platforms, Trump made similar remarks and called it “massive voter corruption.” Trump’s posts refer to a June consent order that found Fulton County election workers “misidentified and duplicated” voting results during the state-mandated audit of the 2020 election, which was a hand recount of the presidential race results. “There was, in fact, no crime,” Jessica Corbitt, a spokesperson for the Fulton County Board of Elections, responded in an email this week. “The consent order addresses procedural issues but there were no accusations or admissions of criminal activity.” The order identified 36 inconsistencies in batch tally sheets for the audit, but found they were due to “human error” and not “intentional misconduct.” It also found they did not affect the final election results as they represented a “fractional number” of the votes cast. The purpose of the risk-limiting audit was to confirm whether the results of the original tabulation were accurate, which the audit confirmed,” reads the order. The county agreed to take remedial steps to prevent repeat issues, according to the order. Those policies and procedures were put in place in time for the 2022 election. The court filing additionally states that it represents a “civil settlement” with “no criminal ramifications” and is not an admission of guilt or liability by Fulton County officials. Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, noted Georgia’s election results were tallied three times in 2020: the initial Election Day count, the hand-counted audit and a final recount by voting machine requested by Trump’s campaign. All three times, Biden prevailed. “It’s misleading to claim this is fraud,” Bullock said by phone. “Were there errors? Yes. But they were not malicious.” Corbitt, the Fulton County spokesperson, declined to address Trump’s claims directly, but stressed elections in the county have undergone numerous reviews besides the audit investigation and no fraud has been identified. Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung maintained that the audit errors suggest more than 4,000 “false votes for Joe Biden” were counted. “These errors from one county, in one category of votes (absentee ballots), could certainly have impacted the results, given that no other counties or vote categories were checked,” he wrote in an email. Cheung didn’t respond to requests to elaborate on the figures he cited. Trump and 18 other people are facing charges in Georgia that include participating in a wide-ranging scheme to illegally try to keep Trump in power after his 2020 loss. Four people have pleaded guilty after reaching deals with Georgia prosecutors. The remaining 15 have pleaded not guilty, and no trial date has been set.

Video of West Bank fighting does not show a Doctors Without Borders medic giving a man a rifle

CLAIM: A video shows a Doctors Without Borders medic in the West Bank city of Jenin take an assault rifle from a man lying on the ground and hand it to a man nearby who begins shooting.

THE FACTS: The man identified as a medic in the video does not belong to Doctors Without Borders, which works only in hospitals in that area, a spokesperson for the organization told The Associated Press. He is wearing an orange vest with the letters “PMRS” below a yellow circle that matches those worn by members of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. In the video, the man runs to a person lying facedown on a city street as people shout and gunfire is heard around them. He takes a rifle from the person, runs a few feet and hands it to another man who begins firing as the man in the orange vest takes cover. “In this video taken today in Jenin, a medic from ‘Doctors without borders’ went to a terrorist who was shot by the IDF, lifted him up and took his weapon then brought it to another terrorist,” reads one Instagram post. But Doctors Without Borders, known in French as Médecins Sans Frontières, confirmed that’s not the case. “The person depicted in the video is clearly not wearing an MSF logo or any other identification related to MSF,” Brienne Prusak, a spokesperson for the organization, told the AP in an email. “MSF staff do not wear orange vests seen in the video. Our staff around the world are required to wear MSF identification (T-shirt, gear) because it is one of the main protections that we have: our medical identity and credibility.” Indeed, the man’s vest matches those worn by members of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, which works in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. A photo on the group’s Facebook page shows a worker wearing the same type of vest, which is clearly marked with PMRS’ logo. In contrast, a photo on the Doctors Without Borders website shows members of its staff wearing white vests with the organization’s red and white logo on the back. It is not clear whether the man in the video actually works for PMRS or if he is simply wearing one of the group’s vests. PMRS did not respond to a request for comment. Doctors Without Borders does not work in areas of Jenin where the video spreading online was filmed, according to Prusak. The fighting occurred on a street outside a Western Union office and a bakery with a white awning. The same shops can be seen in a video tour of Jenin posted to YouTube in 2020. They appear on the left side of the video around the 5:08 mark. “In Jenin, MSF supports the emergency room of the Ministry of Health Hospital and supports the pre-hospital emergency,” Prusak wrote. “Our MSF staff in Jenin do not carry out ambulatory services. We do not treat people outside in the streets.” She added that the misrepresented video “incites violence and poses a severe threat not only against MSF staff but all humanitarian workers in the region.” Violence in the West Bank, including Jenin, has surged amid fighting in the latest Israel-Hamas war.