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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Dec. 7, 2023

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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:


Hunter Biden’s gun charge isn’t the same as those previously faced by Lil Wayne, Kodak Black

CLAIM: Hunter Biden is pleading guilty to the same gun charge as Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, but the two rappers faced prison sentences while the president’s son does not.

THE FACTS: Biden entered into a plea agreement on tax charges in a deal that would allow him to potentially avert the gun charge. He was charged with illegal possession of a firearm by a drug addict while Lil Wayne was charged with illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and Kodak Black was charged with making false statements to purchase multiple firearms. The crimes carry the same maximum sentence under federal law, but legal experts note that the two rappers’ prior criminal records would have factored into their sentences whereas Biden is a first time offender. Social media users are comparing the cases to argue that Hunter Biden was given a pass for his most recent legal transgressions. “Feds wanted to send Lil Wayne to prison for 10 years for the same crime that Hunter Biden is getting a slap on the wrist for,” wrote one user on Twitter who shared a screenshot juxtaposing news headlines of the two separate cases. “2 tiers of justice?” wrote Bradford Cohen, Kodak Black’s lawyer, in an Instagram post. “Kodak was charged for the same crime. Got over 3 years.” Federal prosecutors announced Tuesday that Biden had agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts of failing to pay federal income taxes. As part of the plea deal, the 53-year-old also agreed to complete a pretrial drug counseling program in exchange for prosecutors dropping a felony charge of illegally possessing a firearm as a drug user. Meanwhile Lil Wayne, whose real name is Dwayne Michael Carter, pleaded guilty in 2020 to a federal charge that he unlawfully possessed a weapon despite being a convicted felon. The 38-year-old rapper admitted to possessing a .45 caliber, gold-plated handgun found in his luggage in 2019. And Kodak Black, whose legal name is Bill Kapri, was sentenced to three years in prison for falsifying documents used to purchase weapons at a Miami gun store in 2019. Former President Donald Trump granted Carter a full pardon just days before he was to be sentenced, and commuted Kapri’s sentence as part of a flurry of clemencies shortly before leaving office in January 2021. “It’s really not a fair comparison, since plea deals turn on way more than the actual charge,” Bennett Capers, a former federal prosecutor who now heads the Center on Race, Law, and Justice at Fordham Law, wrote in an email. “A federal prosecutor looks at a person’s prior arrests, a person’s prior convictions, and also looks at what else the defendant can be charged with.” Capers and other experts noted that Carter had already been sentenced to eight months in prison more than a decade prior for another felony gun charge. Convicted felons are barred under federal law from possessing firearms. And Kapri’s lengthy rap sheet at the time of his 2019 arrest included a variety of felonies, including a one-year prison sentence in New York after being found with weapons and drugs at the U.S.-Canada border. Biden, on the other hand, is a first time offender; he was charged with possessing a handgun for 11 days in 2018 despite knowing he was a drug user. “The comparison with Kodak Black’s case in Florida is a red herring,” Cheryl Bader, a former federal prosecutor who now runs the Criminal Defense Clinic at Fordham Law, wrote in an email. Jeffrey Kirchmeier, professor at the City University of New York School of Law, acknowledged all three were technically charged under the same federal statute — 18 U.S.C. Sec. 922 — dealing with various firearms violations. The difference, he explained in an email, is the subsection of the law each was charged. Kirchmeier added that the three charges, while distinct, also carry the same maximum penalty, as do all violations under the federal firearms statute. But, like the other legal experts, he stressed the maximum penalty is just the highest punishment allowable under the law. The U.S. Attorney for Delaware’s office, which is prosecuting Biden, declined to comment while the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, which prosecuted Carter and Kapri, didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. Still, Kapri’s lawyer maintains the lack of prison time in Biden’s plea deal is “highly unusual,” even for a first time offender. “In Kodak’s case, he was charged with lying on a form, essentially, the same thing Mr. Biden did,” Cohen argued in an email to The Associated Press. “Yet, they decided to charge him under a different subsection, thus lowering his potential exposure on the crime.” Biden’s lawyer Christopher Clark, however, dismissed comparisons to either rapper’s crimes as “baseless” and “wildly misleading.” In an email, he cited “the premise, the statutory basis, and the fundamental understanding of statutory maximum penalties as opposed to actual sentences, among other things,” but declined to elaborate further.

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


Video of water in a glass on China’s space station is scientifically sound, not proof of ‘deception’

CLAIM: A stagnant glass of water seen in videos of Chinese astronauts proves the footage wasn’t actually filmed in space.

THE FACTS: Experts say the footage filmed aboard Tiangong, the Chinese space station, is consistent with how water behaves in zero gravity — and there is no reason to doubt China’s presence in space. Other videos show one of the astronauts carefully putting the water in the glass using a container with a straw, as well as strips that adhere the glass to the table. A clip shared online uses news footage from a 2021 science lecture by Tiangong’s Shenzhou-13 crew and of the crew’s return to Earth. The water glass is highlighted in a circle that has been edited into the footage. “How did they get the water into the glass?” text in the video asks. “And how is it not floating out of the glass?” One Instagram post featuring the compilation suggests this is proof that the footage wasn’t actually taken in space: “How could they get away with such a massive deception? But the footage is not proof of deception: There’s a basic scientific phenomenon that explains the water’s behavior, an expert told the AP. “Water molecules like to stick to glass and also to other water molecules more than they like to disperse in the air,” Jordan Bimm, a postdoctoral researcher and space historian at the University of Chicago, said. “So if there is no external force, water remains in ‘clumps’ in the weightless environment, and in this case inside the glass.” He added that surface tension — a property of a liquid’s surface that helps define its shape and allows it to resist external forces — “also works to help maintain the static shape and presents the illusion of how water would act on the ground.” A separate video posted on Weibo, a social media platform popular in China, in June 2022 by China’s manned space program shows behind-the-scenes footage of the Shenzhou-13 crew preparing for their livestream lesson by carefully pouring water into the glass through a straw so that it stays in place. It also clearly shows strips adhering the glass to the table. During their lesson, the taikonauts also demonstrated another behavior of water unique to zero-gravity environments by submerging a ping pong ball in the glass. The ball would float to the top on Earth because of water buoyancy, but in space it stays submerged. Other astronauts from around the world have also posted videos about how liquids work in space, including how they make coffee or what happens when they wring out a wet towel. There is also other evidence backing up the fact that Tiangong is indeed among the stars. “The presence of the space station has been verified by international actors, including China’s biggest space competitor the US,” said Molly Silk, a doctoral researcher at the University of Manchester who has studied the Chinese space program. Silk explained that China has even offered United Nations member states to send their astronauts to Tiangong.

— Associated Press writers Melissa Goldin in New York and Karena Phan in Los Angeles contributed this report.


A video of Biden speaking at a White House children’s event was edited to add offensive audio

CLAIM: A video of President Joe Biden speaking at the White House during a “Take Your Child to Work Day” event shows him being interrupted by a child who yells, “shut the f— up.”

THE FACTS: C-SPAN footage of the April event has been edited to add the disparaging outburst. The edited video spread online in recent days, racking up tens of thousands of likes. “I want to thank you all, all you kids, for bringing your parents to work,” Biden states in the footage. The video’s audio then makes it sound like a child in the crowd screams the objectionable command, which is followed by a number of people shouting “hey!” and one saying “that’s not nice!” Meanwhile, Biden appears to continue his remarks without acknowledging the outburst. No such interruption occurred at the April 27 event, during which Biden answered questions from the children of White House staff as part of “Take Your Child to Work Day.” The original C-SPAN footage shows Biden speaking without any unexpected disturbances from the crowd. A White House transcript of the event also does not include the obscenity. The additional audio comes from an unrelated video that has been shared online since at least 2019. In the clip, a young child can be heard cursing at a teacher during a classroom graduation ceremony as adults try to quiet the situation. It is unclear where the video was taken, but its audio has since become a widely shared sound effect, often used in comedic ways. The same disparaging audio has been edited into videos of first lady Jill Biden in the past.

— Melissa Goldin


The World Economic Forum’s vice chairman was not on the Titan submersible

CLAIM: Shahzada Dawood, one of the five people who died in the Titan submersible, was the vice-chairman of the World Economic Forum.

THE FACTS: A page on the World Economic Forum’s website listed Dawood as “Vice-Chairman, Engro Corporation, Dawood Hercules,” referring to his family’s firms, not the forum itself. Dawood was a member of the World Economic Forum’s Family Business Community, but wasn’t an employee, a WEF spokesperson said. Dawood, a prominent Pakistani businessman, and his son were on board the OceanGate submersible, Titan, which officials now say imploded near the wreckage of the Titanic. Before the U.S. Coast Guard announced the passengers’ fate, some social media users shared a page from the forum’s website, falsely claiming it showed Dawood was a WEF leader. The Geneva-based think tank and event organizer — best known for hosting an annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland — is a frequent subject of conspiracy theories. “What is the coincidence that the father and the son that are trapped on this contraption right here, in this tin can, are part of an organization that us Americans and Canadians all despise?” a man said in an Instagram video. “He is part of the World Economic Forum. He is also the vice chairman of World Economic Forum,” he continued, displaying a screenshot of the webpage about Dawood on the World Economic Forum website. However, that is not what was published on the forum’s page. It says “Vice-Chairman, Engro Corporation, Dawood Hercules.” Engro Corporation is a Pakistani conglomerate that works in multiple industries, including energy and agriculture. It is owned by Dawood Hercules Corp., his family’s firm. Yann Zopf, a spokesperson with the World Economic Forum, confirmed to the AP that Dawood is not the vice chairman or an employee. Dawood is also not featured on the WEF leadership page. Zopf noted that Dawood was a member of the World Economic Forum’s Family Business Community and attended some of the events in this capacity. The Family Business Community connects “prominent family business leaders worldwide,” according to its website. Engro Corp is also listed as a World Economic Forum partner, which allows businesses to participate in the organization’s centers and events for networking. Pages on the WEF website like the one featuring Dawood are created for any person who has ever attended a WEF event or has written a blog posted on the site, Zopf previously told the AP.

— Karena Phan

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