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

Oct 14, 2022, 9:34 AM | Updated: 9:55 am
FILE - A man passes past a rocket crater at playground in city park in center Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesda...

FILE - A man passes past a rocket crater at playground in city park in center Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. On Friday, Oct. 14, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly claiming Ukrainian media is reporting that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office was destroyed by a missile strike. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

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:

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Russian strikes in Kyiv didn’t destroy Zelenskyy’s office

CLAIM: Ukrainian media is reporting that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office was destroyed by a missile strike.

THE FACTS: The building wasn’t destroyed and the claim wasn’t reported by mainstream Ukrainian news outlets. Twitter accounts supporting Russia shared the baseless assertion that Zelenskyy’s office was among the buildings struck by a barrage of missile strikes in Ukraine’s capital on Monday. “ZELENSKY’S OFFICE WAS DESTROYED BY A MISSILE STRIKE: UKRAINIAN MEDIA,” wrote one Russian-aligned account, receiving more than 2,000 shares and 6,500 likes. The user reposted a video from a separate account called UkraineNews, which gives updates on the war. Though identified as “Ukrainian media,” UkraineNews often makes posts in support of Russia. The account shared a video on Monday of smoke rising over the skyline, suggesting in the caption that Zelesnkyy’s office may have been the target while stating the report was “unconfirmed.” But AP reporting and other images of the site show the government building where Zelenskyy works was not destroyed. AP journalists on the ground in Kyiv confirmed the building was not hit. Satellite images taken by Planet Labs Inc. and obtained by the AP capture an aerial view of the building on Monday that shows the structure still standing. Statements from the Office of the President of Ukraine on Monday and Tuesday made no mention of any strikes to its building, instead specifying that “civilian infrastructure” was targeted. Zelenskyy on Monday also filmed a video address outside of the Presidential Administration Building. The video captured much of the building’s exterior and courtyard, and no damage can be seen. In Kyiv, blasts struck in the Shevchenko district, which includes the historic old town and government offices, both Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko and Zelenskyy said. While some of the strikes hit near the government quarter, where parliament and other major landmarks are located, neither official gave any indication that those government buildings were hit. AP images of the damage show a crater in the ground and debris strewn about a playground at Taras Shevchenko Park, near the city center. Outside of Kyiv, strikes in 12 other regions Monday caused power outages and killed at least 19 people. Russia launched the widespread attacks in retaliation for an explosion last weekend that damaged a bridge linking the country to the Crimean Peninsula.

— Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in New York contributed this report.

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Hoax tweet spreads false claim of Pelosi buying cannabis stocks

CLAIM: Reuters reported that U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently purchased 10 million shares in a cannabis company.

THE FACTS: Reuters never published such a report, and financial disclosures show no record of Pelosi making such a stock purchase. After President Joe Biden announced on Oct. 6 that he is pardoning thousands of Americans convicted of “simple possession” of marijuana under federal law, social media users shared a hoax tweet suggesting Pelosi stood to profit from the move. The posts featured screenshots of the tweet, which was made to look like it came from a popular Twitter account, Breaking911. However, the tweet was actually posted by an account with a different username. “BREAKING: NANCY PELOSI PURCHASED 10,000,000 SHARES OF $WEED 4 DAYS AGO :REUTERS,” read the tweet in the screenshot. A second tweet noted that shares of Canopy Growth Corporation, which trades under WEED on the Toronto Stock Exchange, were up on Oct. 6. But Reuters never published this claim, and there is no evidence to suggest Pelosi has recently bought shares of Canopy Growth Corporation, nor the Roundhill Cannabis exchange-traded fund, which trades under WEED on the New York Stock Exchange. Heather Carpenter, a spokesperson for Reuters, confirmed in an email to the AP that the news agency did not publish the claim. “This is not a Reuters story,” Carpenter wrote. Online records of Pelosi’s financial disclosures show no such purchase by the congresswoman or her family filed with the Clerk of the House of Representatives, although lawmakers have 45 days to report trades under a 2012 law called the Stock Act. A spokesperson for Pelosi’s office said the claim in the tweet was not true. “No such transaction has been made,” Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, told the AP in an email. Pelosi has said she does not trade stocks herself. However, her husband, Paul Pelosi, is an investment banker who has traded tens of millions of dollars worth of stocks and options. Critics have argued that members of Congress and their families should not be allowed to trade individual stocks at all, because they may have the opportunity to profit off insider information gained through their official duties.

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Posts mischaracterize Home Depot political donations

CLAIM: Home Depot recently donated $1.75 million to Hershel Walker’s U.S. Senate campaign.

THE FACTS: Bernard “Bernie” Marcus, a Home Depot co-founder who left the company in 2002, made contributions totaling $1.75 million to a political action committee supporting Walker, not The Home Depot. Social media users this week conflated donations made by the former Home Depot executive with the political spending history of the company itself, amid the pivotal race for a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia. Walker, a political newcomer and former University of Georgia football star, is looking to flip the seat held by his Democratic opponent, incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock, as Republicans try to take control of the Senate during the upcoming midterm elections. Commenting on the race on Monday, one Twitter user called for people to boycott Home Depot. “Home Depot just backed Hershel Walker with $1.75 million. Please shop at Lowe’s,” the user wrote. The claim surfaced on Oct. 7 when another user tweeted: “Will you join me in boycotting Home Depot for donating $1.75 MILLION to Herschel Walker’s campaign?” That post prompted a denial from the company. “The company has not contributed to this campaign,” Home Depot’s account responded. “The contribution was from our co-founder Bernie Marcus, who left The Home Depot more than 20 years ago.” Federal Election Commission data confirms that neither The Home Depot, nor its PAC, The Home Depot PAC, have donated directly to Walker’s campaign or related PACs set up to exclusively support his campaign. Instead, FEC records show two donations equaling $1.75 million made by Marcus, whose employer is listed as The Marcus Foundation, to a PAC dedicated to supporting Walker. One donation for $1 million was made by Marcus to 34N22 PAC on March 21, 2022, and another donation of $750,000 was made to the same PAC on Nov. 8, 2021, according to the database. Marcus co-founded Home Depot in 1978 and served as chairman of the board until his retirement in 2002. “His views do not represent the company,” spokesperson Sara Gorman wrote in a statement, adding that, “The Home Depot PAC hasn’t donated to Walker’s or Warnock’s campaigns.” FEC data for the 2021-2022 election cycle shows the PAC has donated to a number of campaigns and PACs on both sides of the aisle. A search of such records shows The Home Depot PAC donated a combined $90,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee from 2021-2022. The NRSC works to elect Republicans to the Senate. It has used funds to launch advertisements in Georgia against Walker’s opponent, Warnock. It also donated $30,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, according to the FEC database.

— Sophia Tulp

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Stacey Abrams did not lobby against major Atlanta events

CLAIM: Stacey Abrams lobbied for moving Major League Baseball’s 2021 All-Star Game and Atlanta’s 2022 Music Midtown festival out of Georgia.

THE FACTS: Abrams, the Democratic candidate in Georgia’s gubernatorial race, did not advocate for either event to be moved out of state. As Georgia’s gubernatorial race heats up in its final month, the false claims have re-emerged on social media, suggesting she advocated for the moves in response to voting and gun legislation backed by Republicans. “Never forget. Stacey Abrams lobbied to move the Allstars game and Music Midtown. She cost Georgia 150 million plus. Not Kemp,” multiple posts on Facebook stated. Abrams, who is running against Republican incumbent Brian Kemp, has fought against the legislation in question. However, a review of Abrams’ public comments shows she did not lobby for moving either of these events out of Georgia, and in fact spoke out against both moves. MLB pulled its 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta in April last year over the league’s objections to changes to Georgia’s voting laws, which included new restrictions on voting by mail and greater legislative control over election administration, the AP reported. Prior to MLB’s decision, Abrams urged against boycotts of Georgia in a video on Twitter. “To our friends across the country, please do not boycott us,” she said. In a statement posted to her Twitter account the same day MLB made its announcement about the All-Star Game, Abrams wrote: “Like many Georgians, I am disappointed that the MLB is relocating the All-Star game,” adding, “As I have stated, I respect boycotts, although I don’t want to see Georgia families hurt by lost events and jobs.” Asked in a subsequent AP interview whether she supports corporate boycotts such as the All-Star Game move, Abrams responded: “I do not believe that a boycott at this moment is beneficial to the victims of these bills.” In August 2022, Music Midtown announced that “due to circumstances beyond our control, Music Midtown will no longer be taking place this year.” A reason for the cancellation wasn’t given. However, the AP reported that some believed the decision was the result of a 2019 Georgia Supreme Court ruling that limited the ability of private companies to ban guns on public property. This decision stemmed from a 2014 state law that expanded the locations where guns were allowed. The location of the canceled festival was Piedmont Park, a public-private partnership. “In dire economic times for so many Georgians, this cancellation will cost Georgia’s economy a proven $50 million,” Abrams lamented in a statement on her campaign website. “This means that small businesses and workers who rely on events like Music Midtown and their tremendous economic impact have now lost incomes that help put food on the table and a roof over their heads.” Alex Floyd, a spokesperson for Abrams’ campaign, confirmed to the AP that she did not lobby for the outcome of either event. “Stacey Abrams has never supported the All-Star Game boycott or the cancellation of Music Midtown, and in fact has spent her career trying to bring more business and opportunities to Georgia,” Floyd wrote in an email.

— Associated Press writer Melissa Goldin in New York contributed this report.

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