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News / Nation & World

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

By The Associated Press
Published: April 28, 2023, 8:09am

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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No, Fauci didn’t say face masks were a ‘failure’

CLAIM: Dr. Anthony Fauci “admitted” in a recent interview that face masks were a “failure.”

THE FACTS: Social media posts are misrepresenting what Fauci said about masks and COVID-19 and omitting part of his response. The nation’s former top infectious disease expert said mask initiatives may have a small impact at the community level, but in the following sentence he said he believes a properly worn, high-quality mask can be effective protection for an individual. The remarks were made in an interview published by The New York Times Magazine this week, months after Fauci stepped down from his post as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. One tweet claims: “Now Fauci admits masks don’t work after forcing them on kids.” “So yesterday Fauci publicly admitted masks were a failure,” reads a caption on an Instagram post that received more than 6,000 likes. The post included an image quoting Fauci as saying “masks work at the margins — maybe 10 percent.” But Fauci told the AP in an email that his comments “were taken out of context and distorted.” The interviewer, David Wallace-Wells, asked Fauci about the national debate over masks, asking whether the “culture-war fights over masking” were “worth it” and citing a randomized trial conducted in Bangladesh to suggest that increased mask use reduced COVID-19 by about 10 percent. “It’s a good point in general, but I disagree with your premise a bit,” Fauci is quoted as responding. “From a broad public-health standpoint, at the population level, masks work at the margins — maybe 10 percent. But for an individual who religiously wears a mask, a well-fitted KN95 or N95, it’s not at the margin. It really does work.” In other words, Fauci was distinguishing between whether mask-wearing initiatives are effective at reducing COVID-19 in a community and whether properly worn, high-quality masks provide individuals with protection. The Bangladesh study involved providing free masks, of different varieties, as well as encouraging mask-wearing in select villages. The researchers found that mask-wearing increased to about 42% in such villages, whereas about 13% of people wore masks in villages without the interventions. Even without full mask-wearing adherence, the villages with the mask interventions observed a nearly 12% reduction in individuals with COVID-19-like symptoms. Fauci said in an email that “when you look at a study from a population standpoint you may not account for the fact even though masks are recommended and/or required, many people do not wear them some or all of the time or they do not fit properly.” “However, I made it eminently and explicitly clear that when masks are used consistently and properly, at the individual level they are highly effective,” Fauci added. Jason Abaluck, a Yale economics professor and co-author of the Bangladesh study, likewise said in an email that there are two separate questions at hand: Do high-quality masks prevent COVID-19? And do public efforts to increase masking reduce COVID-19? A key factor for the latter, Abaluck said, is whether the initiative works in getting people to actually wear the masks.

— Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in New York contributed this report.

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Reports of Bud Light’s demise greatly exaggerated, experts say

CLAIM: The maker of Bud Light is going bankrupt as it faces ongoing backlash over a marketing campaign featuring a transgender social media personality.

THE FACTS: A spokesperson for Anheuser-Busch InBev, the company behind Bud Light, said there’s “no truth” to the claim the beer maker is on the verge of financial ruin. Industry experts note the company remains financially sound, with billions of dollars in assets and a rising stock market price. Sales of Bud Light have ebbed in recent weeks, but not to the drastic level claimed by online critics. Social media posts are suggesting Bud Light’s recent social media effort with transgender personality Dylan Mulvaney has resulted in plummeting sales. Mulvaney, who is known for documenting her gender transition on social media, promoted Bud Light in a post earlier this month, and the partnership was met with scorn and calls for boycotts by some prominent conservatives. “Bud Light Official SALES REPORT Just Released ‘ 50% DROP In Sales ‘ Total COLLAPSE ‘ Bankruptcy?” wrote one Twitter user in a post. While it’s true the beer conglomerate’s stock price dipped briefly and sales of Bud Light are down year-on-year in recent weeks, there’s no sign the company has been fatally wounded, industry experts say. “Not only is it not going bankrupt, the lost sales of Bud Light are nearly negligible in relation to its global sales, at least so far,” Harry Schuhmacher, publisher of Beer Business Daily, an industry trade publication, wrote in an email. Trevor Stirling, an analyst at the financial research firm Bernstein who specializes in the beer industry, concurred. “Weakness on its biggest US brand will provide some short-term pain,” he wrote in an email. “But it has billions of dollars of cash reserves and no major debt repayments for several years.” Bud Light is among the top selling brands worldwide, but it’s just one of many long-popular ales owned by the company, which is often referred simply as AB InBev and also produces Corona, Stella Artois, Beck’s, Hoegaarden and other beer lines. Shares in the company dipped as low as $63 in recent days, but had risen to nearly $66 as of Thursday. That’s a roughly 45% increase since September, when shares were trading at about $45, analysts say. Meanwhile, sales of Bud Light in the U.S. fell 17% during the week ending April 15 compared to the same week last year, according to Robert Ottenstein, an analyst with Evercore ISI, an investment banking advisory firm in New York. But he cautioned against drawing snap conclusions from the weekly numbers, which were reported by Beer Business Daily and other trade outlets. “Short periods of time tend to be noisy and may not accurately reflect underlying trends,” Ottenstein wrote. Sales of Bud Light and other mass produced light beers have been on the decline for years in the face of growing competition from craft beer and other new alcoholic beverages, experts note. Experts argue the beer giant will likely weather the storm, citing other recent culture war controversies that were ultimately short-lived, including shaving giant Gillette’s “toxic masculinity” ad during the 2019 Super Bowl and Nike’s 2018 ads featuring NFL star and racial justice activist Colin Kaepernick. AB InBev, for its part, has also disputed the notion it was on the verge of folding. “I can confirm,” Kaitlin Craig, a spokesperson for the company, wrote in an email, “there is no truth to the bankruptcy claim.”

— Associated Press writer Philip Marcelo in New York contributed this report.

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Kansas law doesn’t authorize genital exams for student athletes

CLAIM: A new law in Kansas authorizes genital inspections of children in order to play sports.

THE FACTS: The law, which bars transgender athletes from participating in girls’ and women’s sports from kindergarten through college, doesn’t mention anything about genital inspections. It remains unclear how the law will be enforced in different age groups. Social media posts are claiming the measure gives school officials the authority to look at children’s genitals in order for them to play sports. “Kansas Republicans want to inspect the genitals of your children,” says the narrator of a video shared widely on Instagram this week. “They want to do it so bad that they overrode a veto from the governor. Every single child in the state of Kansas would have to endure a genital exam to be allowed to play sports.” The clip references news stories about teachers accused of student sex abuse to suggest teachers can’t be trusted to conduct these kinds of exams. But the new law, which passed when the Legislature overrode the governor’s third veto in three years of a bill to ban transgender athletes, doesn’t include any language about genital inspections. Republicans who supported the bill say this wasn’t its goal. “There’s absolutely no language or intent in the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act to require any type of genitalia inspection and that will not be the outcome of the bill,” tweeted House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican. “Absolutely not true,” said Rep. Barb Wasinger, a Republican from western Kansas, who requested that the bill be introduced in the Committee on Education. Wasinger said existing requirements that students submit a birth certificate and an annual sports physical would be sufficient to enforce the law. The legislation, HB 2238, stipulates that “athletic teams or sports designated for females, women or girls shall not be open to students of the male sex.” It makes the Kansas State High School Activities Association and the governing boards of each college and university responsible for designing rules to enforce the ban. The state association only governs school sports for seventh grade and above, but Wasinger said students in lower grades were included in the language of the bill to comply with Title IX, the federal law that forbids discrimination based on sex in education. Bill Faflick, executive director of the Kansas State High School Activities Association, said students are currently required to have an annual physical exam to participate in sports. The physical exam doesn’t include a genital exam unless a hernia is suspected. “I do not anticipate that physician directed protocol will change,” Faflick said. Still, the state association has yet to announce rules to comply with the new law. Faflick said it expects to be ready to address it after meetings later in April. Existing policy allows transgender students to participate in sports, with schools reviewing each student’s case individually. The Kansas law comes after several other states have imposed restrictions on transgender athletes, with supporters arguing they keep competition fair. Opponents say the trend is an attempt to erase transgender people from participation in American society – and one that’s not necessary given the scarcity of transgender female athletes. In Kansas, according to the state association, just three transgender girls competed in grades 7-12 this year, two of them seniors.

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report.

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BlackRock doesn’t own stake in Dominion Voting Systems

CLAIM: BlackRock has a substantial stake in both Dominion Voting Systems and Fox Corporation, so Dominion’s lawsuit against Fox was really BlackRock suing itself.

THE FACTS: While BlackRock does own non-voting shares in Fox Corporation, it doesn’t have any in Dominion Voting Systems, both the investment firm and the voting machine company confirmed. Posts are misrepresenting shares that BlackRock owns in an unrelated energy company also named Dominion. “Blackrock possesses a substantial stake in both Dominion, with 59 million shares, and Fox Corp, holding 45.7 million shares,” read one widely shared tweet. “Consequently, a lawsuit involving Blackrock against itself ensues, ultimately leading to the unexpected departure of Tucker Carlson.” But BlackRock has no ownership stake in Dominion Voting Systems, which is privately held, both BlackRock and Dominion told the AP. BlackRock tweeted a statement that added, “we are not involved in the hiring and firing of employees at public companies in which our clients are invested.” The posts misrepresent BlackRock’s ownership of 59 million shares in Dominion Energy Inc., a Virginia-based power and energy company that is unrelated to the voting technology firm. BlackRock owns 15.1% of Fox Corp.’s Class A shares, which are the mass media company’s non-voting shares.

— Ali Swenson

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