FactCheck

Meme Misrepresents Old Inauguration Photo

Quick Take

A popular meme on Facebook falsely purports to show a photo of Joe “Biden’s Inaugural stage” being built outside the White House. The photo shows the reviewing stand for the inaugural parade at Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993.

Full Story

A viral meme takes a dig at President Donald Trump and his loss to President-elect Joe Biden, but it misrepresents an old photo to do so.

“If you think you are having a bad day just remember, Trump is watching Biden’s Inaugural stage being built on the White House North lawn,” the meme reads. An accompanying aerial photo shows the White House and a red circle drawn around the purported stage for Biden’s inauguration.

But a reverse image search shows the meme is using a photo from 1993 — not 2020. The meme has been posted by popular Facebook pages, such as Occupy Democrats and Opposition Report, and has been shared by thousands of users.

The stock photo website Alamy labels the same photo, “Aerial Photography, William J. Clinton Presidential Inauguration, aerial of White House.” And the Smithsonian Institution Archives documents that it was taken in 1993 by Carl Hansen.

Also, while the meme deems the structure shown an “Inaugural stage,” the image is actually showing that year’s reviewing stand, which is erected for every inauguration for the new president to watch the inaugural parade on Pennsylvania Avenue, following the swearing-in ceremony.

National Park Service spokeswoman Katie Liming told us in an email that construction of the reviewing stand and media riser has begun for the Jan. 20 inauguration. So, the meme is not entirely wrong.

The actual swearing-in ceremony takes place at the U.S. Capitol. Work on the inaugural platform outside the Capitol is also underway, as photos from the Washington Post show.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here for more.

Sources

Aerial Photography, William J. Clinton Presidential Inauguration, aerial of White House.” Alamy. Accessed 23 Nov 2020.

Davis, Emily and Justin Jouvenal. “What will Inauguration Day look like amid a pandemic?” Washington Post. 19 Nov 2020.

Goode, James M. “Afternoon Accolades.” White House Historical Association. Accessed 23 Nov 2020.

Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol.” Architect of the Capitol. Accessed 23 Nov 2020.

Liming, Katie. Spokeswoman, National Park Service. Email to FactCheck.org. 24 Nov 2020.

President Clinton 1993 Inaugural Ceremony.” C-SPAN. 20 Jan 1993.

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No ‘Landslide’ for Biden, Either

Provided President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College margin of victory holds — and we have seen no reason so far to believe it will not — it will be the same margin won by Donald Trump in 2016.

That would leave Biden (as it did Trump) in the bottom third when ranking presidents by the percentage of Electoral College votes.

Back in 2016, Trump wrongly called his victory a “landslide.” Now, some are taking a page out of Trump’s book to claim Biden won in a landslide. But it wasn’t accurate for Trump then, and it’s not accurate for Biden now.

Here’s how Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond, who will be Biden’s director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, put it on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Nov. 22:

Richmond, Nov. 22: This was a fair election. Joe Biden won by over 6 million votes in the popular vote. 306 electoral votes, which is the exact same number that Donald Trump had that he called a landslide. So, Joe Biden won with a mandate and a landslide and now it’s time to transition.

The problem, of course, is that Trump’s 2016 electoral margin of victory — while convincing — was not a landslide by historical standards, as we wrote on Nov. 29, 2016.

The same is true of Biden’s Electoral College margin of victory. According to the media’s projected winner of every state, Biden captured 306 electoral votes, compared to 232 for Trump. That’s the same margin won by Trump in 2016 (though he ultimately lost a couple faithless electors). And as we said back in 2016, that only put Trump in 46th place out of 58 U.S. presidential elections.

“That total was not a landslide then, and it still isn’t,” John Pitney, a professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College, told us via email. “It is a clear, significant, legitimate victory, but is toward the lower end for electoral vote shares of winning candidates.”

Democrats still have plenty to be happy about, Pitney said, noting that:

  • Biden’s raw popular vote total was the largest in history.
  • Biden’s popular-vote percentage was the highest for a challenger since Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932.
  • Biden won a larger percentage of the popular vote than Trump in 2016, Bush in 2004 or 2000, Clinton in 1996 or 1992, Reagan in 1980, Carter in 1976, Nixon in 1968, Kennedy in 1960 or Truman in 1948.
  • Biden was the first challenger to defeat an incumbent since Bill Clinton beat George H.W. Bush in 1992.
  • And when the count is final,  Biden’s percentage will probably be a little higher than Obama’s in 2012 and Trump’s will be a little lower than Romney’s.

When we wrote about the historical margin of Trump’s victory back in 2016, all of the state results had been certified, and at this point less than half of the states have certified their election results. And as we did in 2016, we again add the disclaimer that these calculations assume Electoral College electors will vote according to who won a plurality of votes in their state, and that recounts will not overturn any of the state results. (Oddly, the Republican National Committee on Nov. 19 tweeted a video of attorney Sidney Powell making the baseless claim that, “President Trump won by a landslide,” and promising to “prove it.” The Trump campaign since has said that Powell is not a member of the Trump legal team.)

But provided the numbers hold up, as we said, it would be a relatively close win for Biden by historical comparison of Electoral College margins of victory.

According to current vote tallies, Biden leads Trump in the popular vote count by just over 6 million votes. By comparison, Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 to Hillary Clinton by nearly 2.9 million votes, making Trump one of five U.S. presidents to have lost the popular vote.

FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver notes that Biden’s current 4 percentage point lead in the popular vote — which Silver projects could grow to about 5 percentage points once all the votes are counted — is already a wider margin than Barack Obama’s 2012 win against Mitt Romney, though not as large as Obama’s 2008 win over John McCain, making Biden’s the second-largest popular vote margin since 2000.

“For the popular vote, an old rule of thumb is that a ‘landslide’ is 55 percent or greater,” Pitney told us. “Biden will get 51 percent, maybe a little more, but no ‘landslide’ by customary standards.”

Biden has avoided calling his victory a landslide, or anything like that, though he did claim via Twitter on Nov. 6 that the record number of votes for him in an American election gave him a “mandate for action.”

What is becoming clearer each hour is that record numbers of Americans — from all races, faiths, regions — chose change over more of the same.

They have given us a mandate for action on COVID and the economy and climate change and systemic racism.

— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) November 7, 2020

It’s not unusual for presidents to claim an electoral “mandate,” even when the margin of victory is razor thin.

Two days after George W. Bush won reelection in 2004 with an Electoral College victory of 286 to 251, one of the closest in modern history, he told reporters that, “when you win, there is a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view.”

“I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it,” Bush said.

But Trump embellished well beyond that in 2016, calling his win “a massive landslide victory.”

Biden campaign officials have been quick to pick up on that, as Biden-Harris Transition Senior Adviser Kate Bedingfield did in an interview on “Fox News Sunday” on Nov. 22.

“He won 306 Electoral College votes, which is … the same outcome from 2016 that Donald Trump called a landslide when he won 306 Electoral College votes,” Bedingfield said.

That’s true. It’s also true that neither Trump nor Biden won in a “landslide.”

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Website Concocts False Story of Soros Arrest

Quick Take

A bogus social media story uses a doctored image of an indictment to falsely claim George Soros has been arrested in the U.S. “for election interference.” The actual charges are against six Russian nationals for cyberattacks.

Full Story

A website with a track record of spreading misinformation is the source of a bogus story claiming that George Soros, the wealthy financier of progressive causes, has been “arrested” in Philadelphia for “election interference.”

There has been no such arrest.

“George Soros Arrested in Philadelphia For Election Interference – Judge Orders Media Blackout,” reads the headline on Your News Wire.

But the Nov. 23 story — which logged nearly 5,000 shares on Facebook in its first day, according to CrowdTangle analytics data — uses a doctored image of a federal indictment to support its bogus claim.

“George Soros has been arrested and is currently being held in federal custody in Philadelphia,” the story falsely claims. “According to a recently unsealed indictment filed in the Western District of Pennsylvania, Soros has been charged with a number of serious crimes relating to the US election.”

Reverse image searches of the supposed indictment led us to a story about an indictment against six Russian nationals who are accused of high-profile cyberattacks.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced that indictment on Oct. 19, alleging that Russian intelligence officers sought, among other things, to undermine elections in France and undercut efforts “to hold Russia accountable for its use of a weapons-grade nerve agent.”

On Your News Wire, the image of the indictment was edited to remove the names of the Russian nationals and instead show Soros being charged with conspiracy, wire fraud and other charges. (Readers can move the slider at the end of the story to compare the bogus image to the real indictment.)

The false story further claims that the “FBI stated that the indictment will likely be updated to reflect election interference charges in relation to Dominion Voting, once the full scale of Soros’ operations has been exposed. Soros is currently being interrogated by the FBI.” (Dominion Voting Systems has been the subject of conspiracy theories following the Nov. 3 election.)

Soros has been a longtime target of misinformation.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here for more.

Sources

Rieder, Rem. “Trump Tweets Conspiracy Theory About Deleted Votes.” FactCheck.org. 13 Nov 2020.

Russian Vehicle Registration Leak Reveals Additional GRU Hackers.” Bellingcat. 22 Oct 2020.

Six Russian GRU Officers Charged in Connection with Worldwide Deployment of Destructive Malware and Other Disruptive Actions in Cyberspace.” Press release, U.S. Department of Justice. 19 Oct 2020.

United States of America v. Yuri Sergeyevich Andrienko, et. al. Indictment. U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. 15 Oct 2020.

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