FactCheck.org’s 2021 “whoppers of the year” include claims about Covid-19 and vaccines, former president Donald Trump’s false claims about voter fraud in the 2020 election, and a range of claims made by and about the Biden administration.
FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC), notes that “Mass rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines has been the defining story of 2021, yet for all its success, vaccination rates remain stubbornly low in some populations,” thanks to the spread of vaccine-related misinformation. Accordingly, they continue, “we spent much of our efforts in 2021 addressing vaccine misinformation, and so as we consider our whoppers of the year, those stories come to the forefront of the discussion.”
“Another prominent line of misinformation,” FactCheck.org writes, “is a carry-over from 2020, former President Donald Trump’s continued instance that massive voter fraud caused him to lose the 2020 election,” which fueled the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Over the course of 2021, FactCheck.org also investigated “numerous claims made by, and about, the new Biden administration, which took office this year.”
Vaccine-related ‘whoppers of 2021’
Per FactCheck.org, “The [Covid-19] vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective, and yet anti-vaxxers twisted the facts and in some cases made up fanciful and fictional accounts of how the vaccines were dangerous and deadly.” Among the Covid-19 and vaccine-related “whoppers” fact-checked were:
- Misusing VAERS. One of the most common deceptions about the safety of the vaccines stems from the repeated misuse of the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or VAERS, an online database that contains unverified reports of potential side effects of the Covid-19 vaccines.
- Distorted claims of “medical racism.” Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s anti-vaccination organization, Children’s Health Defense, produced an hour-long video, called “Medical Racism: The New Apartheid,” that targeted the Black community with misinformation about the Covid-19 vaccines. The film repeated misrepresentations about vaccines, generally, and exploited historical cases of unethical medical conduct involving Black people to suggest without evidence that Covid-19 vaccines are unsafe.
- No evidence for vaccine “shedding” claims. Covid-19 vaccines do not contain a live virus, so there isn’t a biological path for a vaccinated person to “shed” the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to those around them. Nor is there any evidence the vaccines cause reproductive problems. But that doesn’t stop some people on social media from making baseless claims that “shedding” causes reproductive issues in unvaccinated people.
- The “Stanford study” that wasn’t. False claims about face masks were also common. In one case, FactCheck.org wrote about viral articles that falsely claimed a “Stanford study” showed that face masks are unsafe and ineffective against COVID-19.
The 2020 election and political claims
FactCheck.org also debunked Trump’s “litany of untrue claims about widespread voter fraud costing him the 2020 election,” including:
- Vice president’s power. Trump wrongly claimed that his vice president, Mike Pence, who had a ministerial role in the congressional counting of the electoral votes, had the “absolute right” to “send it back to the states to recertify, and we become president.”
- Dead voters. As he had numerous times before (and since), Trump made a false claim about “thousands” of dead people voting, as many as 8,000 in Pennsylvania and 10,300 in Georgia … There was no evidence of it then or now.
2021’s “whoppers” also included “several false and misleading claims made by, or about, the new Biden administration,” such as:
- Afghanistan withdrawal whopper. Days after the U.S. ended its 20-year war with Afghanistan and withdrew all of its remaining troops from that country on Aug. 30, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer falsely claimed that “all” Americans who wanted to leave Afghanistan “have come out.”
- Inflated infrastructure jobs. On multiple occasions, Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg overstated the projected impact of infrastructure proposals championed by both men. In April, Biden and Buttigieg gave the misleading impression that their broad infrastructure proposal, then-called the American Jobs Plan, would “create 19 million jobs” if enacted.
Read more about “The Whoppers of 2021” at FactCheck.org.
FactCheck.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate for voters” that was co-founded in 2003 by APPC Director Kathleen Hall Jamieson and journalist Brooks Jackson. In addition to fact-checking political speech, FactCheck.org has a project called SciCheck that has debunks false claims about science, including the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, and is one of the third-party fact-checkers working with Facebook to debunk viral misinformation on the social network.