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:

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Judge’s order doesn’t show Biden ordered FBI search

CLAIM: A federal court order in the legal dispute over government documents held by former President Donald Trump shows President Joe Biden ordered the FBI search at Trump’s Florida home.

THE FACTS: While Monday's court order from U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon does include the phrase “as requested by the incumbent president” it’s not related to last month’s search at Mar-a-Lago. The phrase comes from a May letter from the National Archives denying Trump’s request to delay turning over documents to the FBI. Cannon granted Trump’s request for a special master to review documents seized by the FBI from Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8. Her 24-page order notes that the National Archives and Records Administration informed Trump on May 10 that it would proceed with “provid(ing) the FBI access to the records in question, as requested by the incumbent President, beginning as early as Thursday, May 12, 2022.” Conservative outlets and social media users quickly seized on that phrasing as evidence that Biden had been aware of the FBI’s plans to raid Trump’s Palm Beach resort, and in fact had ordered it — something he and his administration have steadfastly denied. “‘As requested by the incumbent president,’” Rasmussen Reports tweeted. “Joe Biden initiated the Mar-a-Lago raid, then lied about doing so to Americans repeatedly. Let that sink in.” But the phrase in question is only a partial quote from the May 10 letter from the National Archives to Trump’s lawyer. In it, Debra Steidel Wall, acting head of the National Archives, rejects Trump’s request to delay turning over some 15 boxes of records to the FBI and lays out the timeline of her agency’s lengthy quest to gather government documents held by the former president. Wall notes that the 15 boxes provided by Trump in January 2022 included “classified national security information." That prompted her agency to inform the U.S. Department of Justice, which then sought and was granted access to the documents from the White House on April 11, she said. Under the Presidential Records Act, any requests for presidential records held by the National Archives must be approved by the current president, not archive officials. “Accordingly, NARA will provide the FBI access to the records in question, as requested by the incumbent President, beginning as early as Thursday, May 12, 2022,” Wall’s letter concludes. The Biden administration declined to comment on the record Tuesday but pointed to its prior statements on the May letter. Spokesperson Karine Jean Pierre has argued that the missive illustrates how removed the White House has been from the Department of Justice investigation. “It shows that DOJ made a request for access to an older set of documents independently and the White House affirmed it, which is standard,” she said at an Aug. 29 press briefing. “And when former President Trump attempted to assert executive privilege to block the FBI from assessing the document, President Biden deferred to the National Archives and the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel on the issue.”

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

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Posts mislead on NIH COVID-19 guidelines for ivermectin

CLAIM: The National Institutes of Health recently added ivermectin to a list of COVID-19 treatments.

THE FACTS: The NIH COVID-19 treatment guidelines website says the agency recommends against the use of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19, except in clinical trials. The page outlining data on antiviral medications has included an entry for ivermectin since at least June 2021. Social media users in recent days shared the false claim that the NIH just added ivermectin to the website, with many suggesting that the agency was now endorsing the anti-parasitic drug for use against the virus. “Yesterday the National institute of health added Ivermectin to the list of covid treatment,” reads one Twitter post with more than 44,000 likes. “Looks like the conspiracy theorist were right and the ‘experts’ wrong once again.” Many of the tweets point to an NIH webpage on the agency’s COVID-19 treatment guidelines that provides information on antiviral therapies that are being evaluated, or have been evaluated, as possible treatments for COVID-19. However, the page does not say the NIH recommends using ivermectin for treating COVID. Clicking the entry for ivermectin leads to a page that says: “The Panel recommends against the use of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19, except in clinical trials.” The entry for ivermectin is also not new. Caches stored by the Internet Archive’s WayBack Machine shows the data for ivermectin studies has been listed on the antiviral therapies page as early as June 2021. The specific ivermectin page at the time said: “There are insufficient data for the COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines Panel (the Panel) to recommend either for or against the use of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19.” The page was updated on April 29, 2022, to add the current language recommending against treating COVID with ivermectin. Dr. H. Clifford Lane, clinical director at the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, confirmed to the AP that the panel that oversees the COVID-19 treatment guidelines does not recommend ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment, except in clinical trials. “The body of evidence suggests it does not work," Lane wrote in an email to the AP. “There are other medications that have strong evidence of efficacy. The concerns are not about safety but lack of efficacy.” Lane is also one of three co-chairs of a panel that oversees those guidelines. Ivermectin is not authorized or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use against COVID-19, and most health experts and agencies recommend against prescribing the anti-parasite drug for this purpose. Significant misinformation about ivermectin has spread throughout the pandemic.

— Associated Press writer Karena Phan in Los Angeles contributed this report.

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Experts agree sun exposure is a cancer risk

CLAIM: The sun does not cause cancer and people should stop wearing sunscreen because it is poisonous.

THE FACTS: Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is a major risk factor in developing skin cancer, and while some researchers have raised concerns that certain chemicals found in sunscreen may be harmful, its benefits outweigh any potential risks, experts and federal health authorities agree. A popular post circulating on Instagram this week featured a picture of a person lying in the sand overlaid with the text, “the sun doesn’t cause cancer.” A caption on the post, which received more than 18,000 likes, implored people to “PLEASE stop wearing poisonous SUNSCREEN!” But cancer experts widely agree that solar radiation plays a role in the development of skin cancer. “Most cases of skin cancer are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, tanning beds, or sunlamps,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states on its website. The National Cancer Institute, which is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, similarly advises that “exposure to UV radiation causes early aging of the skin and damage that can lead to skin cancer.” Dr. Philip Friedlander, a medical oncologist specializing in skin cancer at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, told the AP that the sun is a clear risk factor in developing skin cancer, because UV rays can create mutations in skin cells. “The sun is a trigger for, mechanistically, causing damage to skin cells of various types that lead to different types of skin cancer,” he said. Health authorities such as the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration include sunscreen among their recommendations for protecting skin from the sun, despite claims that sunscreen is poisonous. Some researchers have raised concerns about certain chemicals found in sunscreen. In May 2021, an independent research lab called Valisure announced that it had found traces of benzene, a chemical that can cause cancer with repeated exposure at high levels, in 78 sunscreen and sun-related products. But benzene is not listed as an acceptable active ingredient in sunscreen by the FDA, which regulates sunscreen in the U.S. The FDA has acknowledged the Valisure findings and said that it is conducting its own evaluation to assess the data. Valisure’s findings led to voluntary recalls later in 2021 by Coppertone and Johnson & Johnson, whose products were among those tested. Edgewell Personal Care voluntarily recalled three batches of one of its sunscreen products in July 2022 following an internal review that found trace levels of benzene in those batches. A 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that repeated sunscreen use resulted in the absorption of the products’ active ingredients in participants’ bloodstream. It noted though that its findings did not mean that people should stop using sunscreen, and recommended further studies to determine the findings’ clinical significance. Still, multiple studies have shown that sunscreen reduces one’s chance of developing skin cancer. A 2020 review on the efficacy and safety of sunscreen published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal states that high-quality evidence has shown that sunscreen reduces the risk of developing skin cancer. It further advises that although “low-quality evidence has shown that some chemical sunscreen ingredients are systemically absorbed,” physicians should recommend the use of sunscreen. According to Friedlander, the protection afforded by sunscreen eclipses any possible harm. “We know that limiting sun exposure using sunscreen decreases the skin cancer risk in people who already have skin cancer,” he said. “Any benefits outweigh any potential, theoretical risks from the sunscreen.”

— Associated Press writer Melissa Goldin in New York contributed this report.

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