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:
CLAIM: It is a double standard that former President Donald Trump may be indicted over alleged hush money payments to a woman who accused him of sexual encounters, while former President Bill Clinton faced no criminal charges for paying a sexual harassment accuser $850,000.
THE FACTS: Clinton and Trump’s cases have key differences, according to experts. Clinton’s payment was public and legal. The payment in Trump’s case was through a shell company and reimbursed by Trump, whose company logged the reimbursements as legal expenses in the final weeks of his 2016 presidential campaign. Social media users are spreading the inaccurate comparisons of Trump’s case and one involving Clinton as a Manhattan grand jury weighs whether to indict Trump over hush money payments made on his behalf. “Bill Clinton paid Paula Jones $850K to go away, I don’t remember the FBI raiding his lawyer’s office,” reads the text on a post being shared widely across social media. Similar claims were also posted to Twitter by a Republican congressman. “There is no comparison between these two payments from a legal point of view,” said Kathleen Clark, a law professor specializing in legal and government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis. “The 1998 Clinton-Jones settlement was a settlement of a civil lawsuit. And the settlement was public and was filed in court. In contrast, this payment from Trump to Stormy Daniels was secret.” She added that another difference is that Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pled guilty to violating federal campaign finance laws in connection to the payment. Cohen, now a key prosecution witness, has said Trump was involved as well. Trump faces a possible indictment over his alleged involvement in the $130,000 payment made in 2016 to the porn actor Stormy Daniels to keep her from going public about a sexual encounter. Trump denies the encounter and any wrongdoing. Cohen paid Daniels through a shell company before being reimbursed by Trump, whose company, the Trump Organization, logged the reimbursements as legal expenses, the AP has reported. During Cohen’s trial, federal prosecutors said the payments amounted to illegal, unreported assistance to Trump’s campaign. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s team appears to be looking at whether Trump or anyone committed crimes in New York state in arranging the payments, or in the way they accounted for them at the Trump Organization, according to AP reporting. Nan Hunter, a professor of law emerita at Georgetown University’s law school, said Bragg could potentially charge Trump with falsifying a business record because he has claimed that the money paid to Daniels was a legitimate business expense incurred by the Trump corporation. “This charge is grounded in usage of corporate funds for a purpose unrelated to legitimate corporate activities, since the underlying issue was not conduct engaged in by the business but the personal actions of Mr. Trump,” Hunter wrote in an email. “In addition, there may be a charge that the purpose of the payment was to affect the outcome of an election through a secret payment in violation of election laws.” Clinton, meanwhile, agreed to pay his accuser, Jones, $850,000 to drop a sexual harassment lawsuit. He settled out of court in November 1998, about halfway through his second term as president. As part of the settlement, he acknowledged no wrongdoing. Jones alleged that Clinton, as Arkansas governor in 1991, made a crude advance when she was a clerk for the state government. Her lawsuit was later dismissed by a federal judge. Hunter and Clark both said Clinton’s payment was legally sound. Clinton agreed to settle the case because Jones could have appealed the dismissal. Under the terms of the settlement, Jones agreed not to appeal the judgment against her, Hunter said. “There is nothing shady or illegal about two parties settling a case,” Hunter said, adding, “there was nothing secret about the payment and there were never any criminal charges.”
— Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in New York contributed this report.
CLAIM: The gay dating app Grindr says if Florida doesn’t stop passing homophobic and transphobic laws, it will reveal every Republican legislator and party official who secretly uses the app.
— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report.
CLAIM: Australia is seeing its sharpest rise in deaths in 80 years because of the coronavirus vaccine.
THE FACTS: While a recent analysis found that the country saw a higher than expected number of deaths in 2022, it also concluded coronavirus vaccines weren’t the cause. Many social media users are sharing an article from a website known to run stories based on conspiracy theories that cites an analysis released earlier this month by the Actuaries Institute. That analysis found that Australia had nearly 12% more deaths than expected in 2022 — the highest year-over-year rise since World War II in the 1940s. But the report doesn’t claim that coronavirus vaccines were the cause, as some social media users suggest. In fact, the institute concludes the shot had a “negligible” effect. The report notes that the Australian government’s Therapeutic Goods Administration, which regulates vaccines, has confirmed 14 cases in which a person’s death was linked to vaccination, out of nearly 1,000 potential cases reported to the agency. Instead, the institute attributes roughly two-thirds of the 20,000 additional, or “excess,” deaths, to the coronavirus pandemic itself. The report that it had predicted there would be 172,000 deaths in the country last year, but actual deaths ended up closer to 192,000. The report found more than half were directly due to COVID-19 illness. Delays in emergency and routine care for non-COVID illnesses were also significant factors, the group said. Pressure on the nation’s healthcare system likely led to people “not getting the care they require, either as they avoid seeking help, or their care is not as timely as it might have been in pre-pandemic times,” the report stated. Spokespersons for the institute didn’t respond to emails seeking comment this week, but Australian government officials and researchers not affiliated with the group agreed with its assessment. “If vaccines were responsible — and COVID wasn’t — in Australia, we should clearly see that 2021 was the biggest year for mortality,” James Trauer, a biostatistics professor at Monash University in Melbourne, wrote in an email. “Because that year we administered the greatest number of vaccines and had relatively little COVID. Clearly that’s not the pattern in Australia.” Jason Donohoe, a spokesperson for the Australian Department of Health and Aged Care, concurred, adding that the agency’s ongoing review of the vaccine has so far found that the inoculation led to death only in “extremely rare cases.” “There’s no credible evidence to suggest that COVID-19 vaccines have contributed to excess deaths,” he wrote in an email. Daniel Demant, a public health lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney, noted that deaths were unusually low in 2020 due to lockdowns and other restrictions. But as those restrictions were eased in the latter part of 2021, deaths from COVID-19 began to rise. “These were deaths that were expected in 2020 but didn’t happen,” Demant wrote in an email. “These deaths then happened in 2021 and 2022.”
— Associated Press writer Philip Marcelo in New York contributed this report.