NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week

Not Real News
FILE – Claire Woodall executive director of the City of Milwaukee Election Commission, teaches a class to poll workers Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, in Milwaukee. On Friday, May 17, 2024 The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly claiming the Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director was fired in recent days for her role in rigging the 2020 presidential election.(AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

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.


Replacement of Milwaukee election official unrelated to 2020 election

CLAIM: Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Claire Woodall was fired in recent days for her role in rigging the 2020 presidential election.

THE FACTS: A spokesperson for Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said Woodall’s removal had nothing to do with how she ran elections, adding there “was no indication of election impropriety” in Milwaukee’s 2020 vote. He pointed to internal issues “that raised” concerns as the reason for the dismissal.

With the 2024 election just six months away, social media users continue to promote erroneous claims of election-related fraud in 2020, most recently with a spotlight on Wisconsin.

“Claire Woodall, the Milwaukee elections director was replaced just 6 months before the presidential election,” reads one X post. “The reason? Mainstream media says it’s nothing to see here but some reports say otherwise. Claire printed 64,000 ballots in a back room at City Hall in Milwaukee and had random employees fill them out for the 2020 presidential election. Biden won Wisconsin over Trump by a margin of 20,649 votes.”

The post had received approximately 26,000 likes and more than 12,700 shares as of Friday.

Johnson replaced Woodall in a surprise move on May 6, announcing that her deputy, Paulina Gutierrez, would be in charge of the election commission. But the change has nothing to do with how Woodall ran elections, including in 2020.

The reason for the dismissal was related to “other issues internal to the election commission office and to city government that raised concern,” said Jeff Fleming, Johnson’s spokesperson. He declined to say what those issues were.

“People see one side on this side of the camera, but there are other things on the other side of the camera that I also have to deal with and that’s exactly what I did with my decision,” Johnson told WISN-TV. He declined to elaborate.

Neither Woodall nor Gutierrez returned messages from the AP seeking comment on the shakeup.

Milwaukee has been at the center of attention in Wisconsin, a state known for close elections and where four of the past six presidential contests have been decided by less than a percentage point.

In 2020, former President Donald Trump and others were quick to cry fraud after late-arriving results from Democratic-dominated Milwaukee helped President Joe Biden narrowly carry the state by just under 21,000 votes. Recounts demanded by Trump confirmed Biden’s victory.

Soon after the 2020 election, Woodall was targeted with baseless claims that she printed tens of thousands of ballots to swing the election in Biden’s favor. The claims were part of a December 2021 lawsuit that alleged Woodall was part of a “sect” that “printed ballots for Biden in a back conference room” of Milwaukee City Hall. It was dismissed in February 2023 after the plaintiff did not appear in court.

Asked whether Woodall’s ousting was related to these false allegations, Fleming told The Associated Press in an email: “Absolutely not the case. There is no indication of any election impropriety in any election in Milwaukee.”

Fleming further confirmed that claims Woodall helped rig the 2020 election with ballots printed “in a back room at City Hall in Milwaukee” are false, adding that he is “certain that printing capacity does not even exist in City Hall.”

Other unfounded rumors put Woodall at the center of election fraud schemes involving misplaced flash drives, ballot harvesting and citizens voting without photo ID. She received myriad threatening messages as a result, according to newsreports at the time.

Kimberly Zapata, Woodall’s former deputy, was sentenced to probation and fined $3,000 only a week after it was announced that Woodall would be replaced. She was convicted of misconduct in office and fraud for obtaining fake absentee ballots in October 2022. The former election official argued that she was acting as a whistleblower.

In Wisconsin, Biden’s 2020 victory by nearly 21,000 votes has withstood recounts, multiple state and federal lawsuits, an audit by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau and a review by a conservative activist law firm, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty. An Associated Press review of Wisconsin and other battleground states also found far too little fraud to have tipped the election for Trump.

Biden won the 2020 election, but his success has been followed by persistent, baseless allegations of fraud, including from Trump.


Biden cites erroneous inflation statistic to make his case about the economy

CLAIM: Inflation was at 9% when President Joe Biden took the oath of office in January 2021.

THE FACTS: Inflation was at 1.4% in 2021 as Biden assumed the presidency, having risen from a low of 0.1% in May 2020, two months into the COVID-19 pandemic. It continued to increase steadily in the first 17 months of Biden’s presidency, reaching a peak of 9.1% in June 2022. Data released Wednesday shows that as of last month, it had fallen to 3.4%.

Biden has twice cited this number, which is drawn from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, in the past week, first in a CNN interview on May 8 and again during an interview with Yahoo Finance on Tuesday.

“No president has had the run we’ve had in terms of creating jobs and bringing down inflation,” the president said during the CNN interview, in response to a question about turning the economy around. “It was 9% when I came to office, 9%.”

Asked why U.S. households don’t currently “feel wealthy,” Biden repeated the claim in the Yahoo Finance interview.

“I think inflation has gone slightly up,” he said. “It was at 9% when I came in and it’s now down around 3%.”

But inflation was nowhere near 9% when Biden took the oath of office in January 2021. It was actually at 1.4% that month, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Asked about the discrepancy, a White House official told The Associated Press in an email that “the President was making the point that the factors that caused inflation were in place when he took office,” adding that “the pandemic caused inflation around the world by disrupting our economy and breaking our supply chains.”

Inflation fell from 2.5% in January 2020 to a low of 0.1% in May 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country. It was already rising when Biden entered the White House and continued to do so until June 2022, when it hit 9.1%, the largest 12-month increase in approximately 40 years.

Data from last month, which was released Wednesday, puts inflation at 3.4%. It was unexpectedly high in the first three months of this year after having steadily dropped in the second half of 2023, reaching a new low of 3%. However, the AP has reported that the most recent numbers provide a dose of reassurance that the pace of consumer price increases may be resuming its slowdown, even though they still remain generally well above their pre-pandemic levels.

“Reopening after the pandemic unavoidably caused inflation by unleashing pent-up demand,” the White House official wrote, pointing to the Russia-Ukraine war and pandemic-related lockdowns in China as additional contributing factors.

Voters’ confidence in the economy could be a pivotal factor in this year’s presidential election, as it is consistently rated as a top issue, according to the AP.


JFK airport project misrepresented as not allowing bids from white, male-owned businesses

CLAIM: Businesses owned by white men are not allowed to bid on a $2.3 billion grant funding redevelopment of New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

THE FACTS: The claim distorts an announcementmade in April that $2.3 billion in contracts were awarded to minority- and women-owned businesses, commonly referred to as MWBEs, for an airport redevelopment project as of February 2024. The $19 billion project has made it a priority to involve certified MWBEs. However, the bidding has been open to all, with non-MWBEs awarded more than $5 billion in contracts as of February 2024, a spokesperson for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs JFK, said.

Social media users are falsely claiming that certain businesses are being excluded from JFK’s multibillion dollar redevelopment based on the race and gender of their owners.

“New York just announced a historic $2.3 billion tax-funded grant to fix up the JFK International airport. This grant, signed off by Governor Katy Hochul, is exclusively for non-White or women-owned businesses,” reads the post, misspelling the governor’s first name, Kathy.

The post goes on to say, “This is FOR US, and made BY US,” misquoting a comment by New York Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman, who is Black, discussing the funding.

Other posts allege that the $2.3 billion represents the entire cost of the project, of which non-MWBEs will have no part.

“New York is BLOCKING white-owned businesses from bidding on the $2.3 billion renovation of JFK Airport. What does that sound like?” said an X post, which had received approximately 15,000 likes and 7,700 shares.

Both posts, along with other similar ones, included a clip of Hyndman, speaking at a recent press conference about the project.

“We knew it was for us,” she says, referencing meetings that helped to ensure the participation of MWBEs. “For us, by us, to make sure that this community that we represent looks like us.”

But these claims are distorting the announcement made at the April press conference. The $19 billion redevelopment has made it a priority to hire certified MWBEs, but does not include a $2.3 billion grant earmarked for such businesses and has already awarded billions of dollars in contracts to non-MWBEs.

The $2.3 billion refers to the amount in contracts that had beenawarded to MWBEs as of February 2024. In 2018, based on a Port Authority study that found disparities in awarded contracts, the agency’s board of commissioners instituted a participation goal of 20% minority-owned businesses and 10% women-owned businesses on all contracts and projects, which includes the JFK redevelopment.

“This is a misrepresentation of our recent announcement regarding contract awards for the John F. Kennedy International Airport Redevelopment,” Port Authority spokesperson Tom Topousis told The Associated Press in an email. “Our effort to increase MWBE participation at JFK to 30 percent is focused on expanding opportunities to all, not to limit them and to increase competitiveness, not reduce it.”

He added that “these companies have all been carefully vetted and chosen through fair processes where numerous firms compete on price and service qualifications.”

Non-MWBEs are not restricted from bidding on the airport contracts. Such businesses had been awarded more than $5 billion in contracts as of February 2024, according to Topousis. The project is also prioritizing contracts with local businesses, regardless of race or gender.

In New York, to be certified as an MWBE a business must be at least 51% owned, operated and controlled by citizens or permanent residents who are either of an ethnic minority, a woman, or both. Ethnic minorities that qualify under this definition include Black, Hispanic, Asian-Pacific, Asian-Indian Subcontinent, Native American and Alaskan Native.

The JFK redevelopment project offers MWBEs and local businesses access to networking events, business development sessions and other opportunities intended to increase their participation.

Private investors building or expanding terminals are footing $15 billion of the redevelopment costs, while the Port Authority — a self-funding agency that does not receive tax revenue — is putting up $3.9 billion for airport roads and infrastructure, according to Topousis. Participation goals related to MWBEs also extend to the JFK project’s private partners.

“The $2.3 billion in contracts to MWBEs is not a public grant, but rather contracts awarded on a competitive basis to minority- and women-owned businesses at the JFK Redevelopment Program,” Topousis wrote. “The vast majority of those contracts are awarded by the private sponsors developing new terminals.”

Chris Dempsey, a founding partner at urban design firm Speck Dempsey, told the AP that it is common for major projects such as the JFK redevelopment to incentivize the participation of MWBEs. He has been involved in public procurement — the purchase of goods or services by public authorities — for nearly 20 years, both as a public official and as a leader in the private sector.

“These approaches are quite common in the New York market and in many other markets in the country,” Dempsey wrote in an email. “They have been in place for decades, and have survived through both Democratic and Republican gubernatorial administrations.”