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The biggest Pinocchios of 2022

10 min
The Fact Checker tackled some of the most Pinocchio-worthy claims of 2022. Here are a few you should know. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

It’s time for our roundup of the biggest Pinocchios of the year.

False claims made by President Biden and conspiracy theories about the president dominate the list. Misleading claims about the coronavirus, by a Republican and a Democrat, also made the cut. Former president Donald Trump earned this dubious honor for the eighth straight year by spreading a baseless conspiracy theory about one of his supporters at the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who also appeared on last year’s Biggest Pinocchio list, earned two spots this year, while Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) appears in the tally for the second straight year with a coronavirus claim.

This list has no particular order. To read the full fact check, click on the link embedded in the quote.

It seems like yesterday the first time I got arrested

— President Biden, Jan. 11

For some unknown reason, President Biden likes to claim he was once arrested. During a speech in Atlanta this year, he did it again — referring to an unverified tale that as a teenager he was arrested for standing on the porch with a Black couple. They supposedly were subject to demonstrations because they bought a home in a White neighborhood near his house. We dug deep into the records and found too many contradictions in Biden’s story, including the fact he lived far from the home in question. Biden landed on the Biggest Pinocchio list in 2020 with a similar false claim — that he had been arrested while trying to meet Nelson Mandela.

If you wanted to kill a bunch of MAGA voters in the middle of the heartland, how better than [for Biden] to target them and their kids with this deadly fentanyl?

— J.D. Vance, April 29

Sen.-elect J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) made a startlingly false claim shortly after he won the GOP nomination — that Biden was intentionally allowing drugs such as fentanyl to flood the United States with the goal of killing Trump supporters in the “heartland” of the country. But this hyperbolic claim was based on zero facts. Seizures of fentanyl have increased, not fallen, under Biden. Overdose deaths jumped sharply under Trump. As for Trump voters being supposedly targeted, people of color die at a higher rate from opioids than Whites.

Biden is “urging children to report their parents to federal authorities if their parents post something called covid disinformation

— Tucker Carlson, Aug. 29

Fox News host Tucker Carlson claimed on his show that the Department of Homeland Security was urging children to report their parents if they post covid misinformation on social media. Blake Masters, then a GOP Senate candidate in Arizona, chimed in: “This is Chinese Communist Party stuff.” It turns out that this tale stemmed from a rather benign video posted in 2021 aimed at adults about how to evaluate coronavirus claims spread on social media. But it was twisted into something much more sinister through a game of telephone tag in the right-leaning media — before emerging as a ridiculous conspiracy theory on Carlson’s show.

An attorney general who goes after parents and calls them terrorists if they want to go to a school board meeting

— Kevin McCarthy, April 17

Over and over, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) asserted that Attorney General Merrick Garland called parents “terrorists” because they wanted to attend school board meetings. But McCarthy was relying on a Rube Goldberg artifice to put words in Garland’s mouth. (Garland had received a letter from a school association, later withdrawn, that had said threats of violence against school officials “could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”) Garland has never equated parents to terrorists. In fact, before McCarthy started spreading this falsehood, Garland had told Congress he “can’t imagine” a circumstance under which that would happen.

My plan would reduce the average family’s annual utility bills by $500

— Biden, May 30

Biden, in an opinion article, claimed that utility executives had told him his American Rescue Plan would make a dent in inflation by reducing utility bills by $500. But it turned out that the executives said no such thing. The $500-figure had been plucked by White House staff from a research report examining Biden’s climate change policies. The savings was predicted to take place eight years from now — not a lot of help with the current inflation problem, which was the frame of Biden’s op-ed. Moreover, the report said the savings on utility bills was no more than $5. So the president was off by a factor of 100.

Modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia

— Vladimir Putin, Feb. 21

Russian President Vladimir Putin justified his invasion of Ukraine with a lengthy, often-bitter televised speech filled with falsehoods. He tried to minimize Ukraine as a recent creation, an obscure entity that came about after what he described as a struggle between Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin over the contours of a national state. The reality is that Ukrainian culture and language have existed for centuries and a Ukrainian nationalist movement sprang up in the mid-1800s, angering the czars. He also claimed that Ukraine wanted to “create its own nuclear weapons” — which is sheer fantasy. Putin’s speech signaled the start of a vast Russian disinformation effort designed to sway world opinion. (In 2014, Putin’s speech on the annexation of Crimea — which included the whopper that the referendum confirming the seizure was “in full compliance with democratic procedures and international norms” — also earned him a spot on this list.)

A private equity firm run by Hunter Biden funded some of the research into pathogens in these bio labs

— Carlson, March 24

After Russia invaded Ukraine, its Defense Ministry claimed that the president’s son financed a bioweapons program in Ukraine — which was catnip for right-leaning media figures like Carlson. But the claim was ludicrous. Not only are these not biological weapons labs — they are civilian biological research facilities — but 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 as 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.

The CHIPS Act “will create more than 1 million construction jobs

— Biden, Aug. 11

The Chips and Science Act will provide nearly $53 billion for U.S. semiconductor research, development, manufacturing and workforce development. But Biden was wildly off base when he claimed it would create 1 million construction jobs during remarks at the signing ceremony and in a tweet. The real number was just 6,200 construction jobs, according to the industry-commissioned report cited as the source. Moreover, other experts were skeptical of the way even these numbers were calculated in the report. Yet the White House never deleted the widely shared tweet or corrected the record.

“We’ve heard story after story. I mean, all these athletes dropping dead on the field” from the coronavirus vaccine

— Ron Johnson, Jan. 27

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) kept drawing attention to a claim that has been debunked repeatedly. The story of athletes dropping dead from coronavirus vaccines has its roots in mysterious Austrian websites with ties to that country’s far-right populist party, the Freedom Party. Those stories were then recycled by right-wing media in the United States, where it caught his attention. A kernel of truth — some people have reported an inflammation of the heart muscle known as myocarditis after getting mRNA-based vaccines — had been exploited by purveyors of falsehoods. Medical research shows the risk of getting myocarditis from the coronavirus itself is about 100 times higher than getting it from a vaccine.

How many of those present at the Capitol complex on January 6 were FBI confidential informants? … How about the one guy, ‘Go in, go in, get in there, everybody,’ [Ray] Epps. ‘Get in there, go, go.’ Nothing happens to him.

— Donald Trump, Jan. 15

Former president Donald Trump and supporters such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) baselessly suggested that Ray Epps, a Trump supporter from Arizona who joined the crowd at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was actually an FBI informant — part of a “breach team” that set a “booby trap” for unwitting Trump supporters. “Clues” drawn from videos of Epps before and during the attack had been twisted into misleading narratives. But there is no evidence that Epps is a federal agent or informant — and testimony revealed he had sought to calm people, not rile them up.

We have over 100,000 children … in serious condition and many on ventilators

— Sonia Sotomayor, Jan. 7

During a Supreme Court hearing on whether the Biden administration’s nationwide rules ordering a vaccination-or-testing requirement on large employers were constitutional, Justice Sonia Sotomayor made a wildly incorrect statement about the number of children hospitalized with the coronavirus at the time. As of Jan. 8, there were about 5,000 children hospitalized in a pediatric bed, either with suspected covid or a confirmed laboratory test — much smaller than Sotomayor claimed. The number of total hospital admissions of children confirmed with covid had not yet exceeded 100,000.

Special hypocrisy award

Mark Meadows, as Trump’s last chief of staff, helped spread Trump’s lies about the 2020 election and fanned fears of voter fraud. He asked in one interview: “Do you realize how inaccurate the voter rolls are, with people just moving around?” But The Fact Checker revealed that in 2022, he was simultaneously registered to vote in three states — North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina. He lost his North Carolina registration after the New Yorker magazine reported this year that he had registered to vote at a home where he did not reside. He voted in the 2020 election via North Carolina absentee ballot. In November, state investigators submitted to state prosecutors the findings of a voter-fraud probe into Meadows’s actions, but the state’s attorney general has not yet announced whether he will bring criminal charges.

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