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The most popular fact checks of 2022, so far

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and wife Debra Meadows. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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It’s the second year of the Biden presidency, but readers appear most interested in fact checks that re-litigate aspects of the 2020 election, especially allegations about Hunter Biden, the president’s son. Moreover, yet again, few fact checks about President Biden’s utterances made it in the list of the 10 most-read fact checks thus far this year.

By a large margin, our continuing coverage of former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and his voting record especially captivated readers, with three of our articles on Meadows ending up in the top 10. We have listed them all together to avoid being repetitive.

Here’s the rundown.

1. Debra Meadows appears to have filed at least two false voter forms

The Fact Checker’s reporting showed that in 2020 Debra Meadows, wife of the former chief of staff, signed at least two forms — a voter registration form and the one-stop application — that warned of legal consequences if falsely completed and signed. Yet Debra Meadows certified that she had resided at a 14-by-62-foot mountaintop mobile home for at least 30 days — even though she did not live there. Our disclosure of this form was the latest in a string of revelations concerning the former chief of staff — who echoed President Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud in 2020 — and his wife. Other popular articles on the Meadowses’ voting habits included “Mark Meadows was simultaneously registered to vote in three states” and “Mark Meadows, his wife, Debra, and their trailer-home voter registration.”

2. Trump’s effort to rewrite history on his support of NATO and Ukraine

Since Trump left office, we have tried to be selective in vetting his many false claims. But as always, readers love to read fact checks of Trump. Here we focused on a claim he made just days after he had lauded Russian President Vladimir Putin as “very savvy” for making a “genius” move by declaring two regions of eastern Ukraine as independent states and dispatching Russian forces to seize them. When Ukraine unexpectedly stood firm against the Russian invasion, Trump scrambled to claim he deserved credit for saving the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. With Trump, it’s hard to know whether he’s willfully ignorant or whether he has simply swallowed his own spin. Far from being a savior of NATO, he frequently sought to undermine it. He earned Four Pinocchios.

3. The truth about Hunter Biden and the Ukrainian ‘bio labs’

The Russian Defense Ministry knows how to stir up the interest of the right-leaning news media in the United States — just mention Hunter Biden. Russia for years has been seeding the ground to claim that the United States set up biowarfare labs in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics — claims that have been revived as part of the invasion of Ukraine. We already had debunked these claims in another widely read fact check but here tackled the claim, echoed by the right-wing media, that Hunter Biden was somehow involved in financing the labs. We’ve dug into the records and discussed the deals in question with people involved. We revealed that Hunter Biden was not part of a decision to invest in a company at the center of the Russian allegations, he did not profit from it because he was kicked out of the investment firm over cocaine allegations, and the company made little money from its tiny bit of business in Ukraine.

4. Unraveling the tale of Hunter Biden and $3.5 million from Russia

This was another trip down the rabbit hole of claims about Hunter Biden. During the 2020 election, Trump claimed 42 times that Hunter had received a $3.5 million wire transfer from Elena Baturina, a Russian billionaire and the widow of the former mayor of Moscow. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Trump called on Putin to reveal what he knows about it. That statement inspired us to take another look. We interviewed people familiar with the transactions, reviewed property and real estate documents and probed for leads in the emails contained on a hard drive copy of the laptop Hunter Biden supposedly left behind for repair in a Delaware shop in April 2019. It’s a complicated story, involving a web of corporate entities, that eventually leads to the purchase of millions of dollars’ worth of real estate in Brooklyn by the Russian billionaire. We found no evidence that Hunter Biden was part of those transactions.

5. The faux outrage that President Biden is stockpiling baby formula for undocumented immigrants

Rep. Kat Cammack (R-Fla.) sparked a furor in May when she posted photos that compared what she said were stockpiles of baby formula for undocumented immigrants with empty grocery shelves for Americans in local stores. “You see the American government sending by the pallet thousands and thousands of containers of baby formula to the border, that would make my blood boil,” she said. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republicans quickly jumped on the bandwagon, with Abbott blaming what he called President Biden’s “reckless, out-of-touch priorities.” The problem is that the Biden administration was following the law — a law that Trump also followed. Abbott earned Four Pinocchios.

6. The truth about gas prices and oil production

In a moment of national unity against Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Democrats and Republicans kept fighting passionately over the steep increase in the cost of gasoline. Prices have already risen sharply since Biden became president — and he acknowledged that his ban on U.S. importation of Russian oil and gas could send them even higher. Partisans on all sides, as is often the case, misrepresented the facts, obscuring the complicated truth about oil production, gas prices and the role of renewables. So we produced a guide to help readers sort out the rhetoric.

7. How an out-of-context Jen Psaki clip led to days of Fox coverage

If you were a loyal Fox News watcher, it wouldn’t be surprising that you’d believe that then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki in January was “laughing off” instances of rising violent crime across the United States. For days, the network replayed a gleeful Psaki questioning an “alternate universe” of news coverage. However, the sound bite doesn’t quite tell the whole tale. At the Fact Checker, we thought this would be a good opportunity to demonstrate, in a video, how a narrative takes hold. The use of this clip across a half-dozen Fox shows is an example of manipulated video — what we label “isolation” under our guide to manipulated video — because it’s intended to create a false narrative that doesn’t reflect the event as it occurred.

8. Tucker Carlson says Ukraine is not a democracy. Here are the facts.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson has channeled many of Putin’s arguments for invading Ukraine, including that Ukraine is not a democracy. “In American terms, you would call Ukraine a tyranny,” Carlson claimed. To some extent, whether Ukraine is a democracy is a matter of opinion, so we did not offer a Pinocchio rating. But Carlson — who has expressed admiration for Hungarian President Viktor Orban and his crackdown on civil liberties — is stacking the deck against Ukraine. It is a fledgling democracy, with significant growing pains, largely the result of Russian pressure and interference in its affairs. It is certainly not “a tyranny.”

9. Sotomayor’s false claim that ‘over 100,000’ children are in ‘serious condition’ with covid

During oral arguments at the Supreme Court in January on a case concerning the Biden administration’s nationwide rules ordering a vaccination-or-testing requirement for large employers, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, “We have over 100,000 children, which we’ve never had before, in serious condition and many on ventilators.” That was wildly incorrect. According to data from the Department of Health and Human Services, as of Jan. 8, about 5,000 children were hospitalized in a pediatric bed, either with suspected covid or a confirmed laboratory test. That figure includes patients in observation beds. So Sotomayor’s number is at least 20 times higher than reality, even before you determine how many are in “serious condition.” Moreover, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there had been fewer than 100,000 — 82,843, to be exact — hospital admissions of children confirmed with covid since Aug. 1, 2020. Sotomayor earned Four Pinocchios.

10. Josh Hawley’s misleading attack on Judge Jackson’s sentencing of child-porn offenders

Just before Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson began her Senate confirmation hearings in March, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) posted a 17-part Twitter thread alleging that Jackson has a “pattern” of excusing heinous conduct. But the picture that Hawley provided was a selective one that lacked significant context. He suggested that Jackson is out of the judicial mainstream with her sentencing of child-pornography defendants. But he ignored a long debate within the judicial community about whether mandatory minimum sentences were too high. As a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which is charged with reducing sentencing disparities, Jackson was intimately involved in that debate. Hawley selectively quoted from testimony, USSC materials and various court cases to make his case. We ended up giving him Three Pinocchios.

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