Anatomy of the Reuters fact-check article
With bonus mad libs!
The ubiquitous Reuters fact-check article
You’ve probably come across Reuters “fact-check” articles at some point. They frequently trend on Twitter or appear near the top of google searches whenever you search for anything remotely controversial.
Reuters, the news agency, has been around since 1851, but their fact-checking initiative only launched in February 2020, as a way to identify “misinformation,” in partnership with Facebook.
Recall that this was right before COVID-19 really blew up in many countries, including the United States. Impeccable timing.
Anyway, here’s what the Director of Global Partnerships said at their launch (emphasis mine):
We are steadfastly recognizing the magnitude of misinformation taking place around the world. It’s a growing issue that impacts society daily and it’s a responsibility for news organizations and platforms to halt the spread of false news.
Reuters has a superior track record in sourcing, verifying and clearing user-generated content for distribution to thousands of clients globally and we are best placed in using our in-house expertise to fact check social media content.
Is Reuters “best placed” in using their “in-house expertise”? Do we get to know who their in-house experts are? Do they have a “superior track record”?
Let’s pick apart some of their articles to see how well they did. I’ll focus on what I thought were some of their “greatest hits” during the COVID era.
Confused, cartoonized, and not backed by research
Let’s do a deep-dive into this Reuters article from June 18 2021:
Recall that the spike protein is a type of protein on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The COVID-19 vaccines work by getting the body to produce this protein, with some modifications.
The Reuters article tries to “debunk” a claim that Dr. Robert Malone made on the Darkhorse Podcast; that the spike protein from the COVID-19 vaccines is cytotoxic.
I previously wrote about this article briefly here, in Part III.
The article says that there is no evidence to support this claim:
“So far, there is no scientific evidence available that suggests spike proteins created in our bodies from the COVID-19 vaccines are toxic or damaging our organs,” experts at the Meedan Digital Health Lab (meedan.com/digital-health-lab) said. (here)
By the way, can someone tell me exactly what “scientific evidence” means? So there’s evidence that’s “scientific” and evidence that’s “not scientific”? I used to be a scientist but I guess I missed the memo because I don’t know what they mean here.
Anyway, the end of the article gives this “verdict” on the claim:
False. There is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are cytotoxic (toxic to cells).
Unfortunately, the Reuters verdict is flat-out false. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that spike protein is cytotoxic.
I previously covered the dangers of spike protein here, which linked to several studies showing that it poked holes in the blood-brain barrier in mice or poked holes in advanced in vitro models of the human blood-brain barrier, or caused damage to lung or endothelial cells in Syrian hamsters, or disrupted human cardiac pericytes.
Then there was this, which went over the evidence that spike protein poked holes in cell membranes (more here), and this which showed that spike protein caused anomalous clotting in blood from healthy individuals.
Most of these studies were around before the Reuters article was written. I guess their “in-house experts” just weren’t aware of them.
The article also links to this “infographic against the pseudoscience being circulated regarding spike proteins”:
The first box talks about “mRNA basics”:
mRNA is fickle and degrades VERY quickly, so it only makes a small amount of spike protein before it degrades and becomes useless.
It’s true that mRNA generally gets degraded quickly. However, this infographic fails to mention that the mRNA in these vaccines is not like normal mRNA. Several changes were made to make it more stable in the body, including the replacement of uridine with N1-Methylpseudouridine.
And since this infographic came out, a study published in the journal Cell found that both the mRNA and spike protein from the vaccines were detected in the lymph nodes two months post vaccination. Two months was the limit of the study, so in some vaccinated individuals the mRNA and/or spike could last even longer.
So that claim in the infographic aged very badly. To my knowledge the author of the infographic has not retracted or corrected it.
In the box titled “Spike protein from vaccines is harmless” it claims that the spike protein created by the vaccines was modified to be harmless.
If this were true, that would mean that the creators of the vaccines knew that the spike protein was harmful before planning the vaccines. But when you look at the dates for the studies that show spike protein toxicity, they were all published after the vaccines were already undergoing trials; this was covered in Part II here.
Then in the “Spike proteins do no accumulate” box it claims that:
There is significantly less spike protein created by your cells through vaccines than there would be via a Covid-19 infection.
To my knowledge there is no study directly comparing the amount of spike from the vaccines vs infection. I previously wrote about that here. At the very least, I would say that this is a contentious claim.
There were other problems with the infographic, but you get the point; it’s full of misinformation, and presents a cartoonized version of what we know about these vaccines.
Going back to the Reuters article, we’ll find some paragraphs where the writer seemed confused (emphasis mine):
Research shows that spike proteins (here) remain stuck to the cell surface around the injection site and do not travel to other parts of the body via the bloodstream, they added. The 1% of the vaccine that does reach the bloodstream is destroyed by liver enzymes.
The first sentence talks about the spike protein supposedly remaining stuck to the cell surface around the injection site. The second sentence talks about the percentage of vaccine that reaches the bloodstream. Whoever wrote this seemed like they did not have a clear understanding of what they were writing. At the very least, it’s confusing.
Also when you go to the “here” link that’s supposed to “show that the spike proteins remain stuck to the cell surface” it takes you to a website that doesn’t actually say anything about the spike remaining “stuck.” I read through everything on that webpage and even searched for “spike” on the whole website, just in case the wrong page had been linked to. There was nothing about the spike protein remaining stuck.
That site, by the way, also said that the “mRNA lasts a few days,” which we now know is not true. Who made this site?
I also don’t know where the Reuters article got “1%” from in the phrase “1% of the vaccine that does reach the bloodstream.” There’s no reference for that.
What I do know is that in this mouse study, they found some of the vaccine mRNA in heart tissue (see Supplementary Figure 3). Maybe that was only 1% of the vaccine or maybe it was more, but the fact that it’s found in the heart is disturbing. More on that study here.
So this is the level of research Reuters does. How do you think their “in-house experts” did, assuming they were consulted for this article? These are the people who are supposedly qualified to fact-check scientists or doctors like Robert Malone.
I’m going to take a wild guess and posit that the people writing these articles are not scientists. They don’t seem qualified to fact-check these topics.
Their favorite phrase
Reuters fact-check articles sure like to use the phrase “no evidence” a lot. They use it to try to “debunk” any claims that are unflattering for the vaccines.
Here’s a sampling of articles where they use that technique:
By the way, these are just some articles that use “no evidence” in the title. There are many others that don’t have “no evidence” in the title but use the general technique in the body of the article.
Now, I don’t actually know the veracity of all the claims examined in these articles; whether the vaccines were linked to all those athletes collapsing, or affect sperm, or led to hundreds of miscarriages, or caused those deaths in Israel, or contributed to cases of cancer. It’s true that, strictly speaking, in some of these cases we may not have much evidence to support these claims. But this is highly misleading, because this is usually because we haven’t adequately studied it.
And instead of Reuters being honest and saying “we don’t know” they just tell you that there’s no evidence for these claims: so continue to stick your head in the sand and pretend there’s no risk. Don’t worry, they say. The vaccines are sAfE aNd eFfEcTiVe.
Then there are times when Reuters fact-check articles seem to engage in purposeful mischaracterizations.
Here are the first two paragraphs:
Note how the drug is described in the second paragraph; as “commonly used as a de-wormer for horses.” Really? That’s the relevant information to properly convey what ivermectin is? William Campbell and Satoshi Omura won the Nobel prize for their discovery of ivermectin; they sure as hell didn’t win it just so it could be used in horses. Sure, it’s been used to de-worm horses, but to date billions of doses have been given to humans worldwide, primarily as an antiparasitic. So for Reuters to describe the drug as a horse de-wormer is a gross mischaracterization.
The article also devotes a lot of space to emphasize the dangers posed by ivermectin:
An FDA frequently asked questions document (here) says that possible side-effects associated with ivermectin use include skin rash, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, facial or limb swelling, neurologic adverse events (dizziness, seizures, confusion), sudden drop in blood pressure, severe skin rash potentially requiring hospitalization, and liver injury.
Ivermectin is an incredibly safe drug. More on its safety here.
In all their articles about the COVID-19 vaccines, Reuters never seems to list all the possible side effects of the vaccines. If they had, it would have been much longer than the list for ivermectin.
The Reuters “Explainer” or “Analysis” article
Then there’s the Reuters “Explainer” article. This variant of the Reuters article tells you stuff “you need to know.” Here’s an example:
They describe the convoy as “anti-vaccine.” Sure, some of the protestors were probably anti-vaccine, but what I’ve heard is that this convoy was primarily anti-mandate, and many of the participants (probably most) were vaccinated themselves (more here, here and here).
The article contained this statement:
Protesters say they are peaceful but some waved Confederate flags and swastikas in the occupation’s early days.
How many is “some”?
Here’s a Reuters “Analysis” article where they again highlight Confederate flags or swastikas, and even link the protests to Trump.
As far as I can tell, all the photos depicting the presence of Confederate flags seem to be of the same guy. Try doing a google image search for “Canadian convoy confederate flag” or “Canadian truckers confederate flag.” Results may vary, but here’s what I get:
I don’t see swaths of Confederate flags. I see one guy with a Confederate flag who was featured over and over again. Moreover, apparently other people at the protest asked him to leave. Reuters didn’t report on that however.
Do the same search for swastikas. Where are the swaths of swastikas? And if there were some swastikas, what percentage of protestors was that? I gotta ask: did the media purposefully highlight individuals that made the protest look bad?
Regular Reuters reporting
In all fairness, “regular” Reuters reporting, which is not the fact-check division, has occasionally reported on news that is inconvenient to the mainstream COVID narrative. However, even then they usually find a way to get the reader to believe the dogma that adverse effects from the vaccines are exceptionally rare and/or mild.
Take these two articles:
Though they report on heart inflammation caused by the vaccines, they downplay it by emphasizing that the vaccine only “marginally” increased the risk of heart inflammation, and those who experienced conditions like heart inflammation “spent no more than four days in the hospital and 95% of the cases were classified as mild.”
I seriously doubt that vaccine-induced myocarditis is mild:
Then look at this article, which admitted that the Pfizer vaccine probably caused myocarditis in a young man, which led to his death:
Even then, the article ended with:
Despite the rare side effects, the vaccine safety board said the benefits of vaccination greatly outweighed the risks.
Ok, strictly speaking I guess this is true: the “vaccine safety board” probably did say that. But are they right?
Take a look at this chart from a study where they compared rates of myocarditis in those who had been vaccinated vs. those who had SARS-CoV-2 infection (pink):
This shows that in men younger than 40, we see higher myocarditis with the Moderna vaccine compared to infection, while it looks like it’s either a tossup or slightly higher rate with dose 2 of the AstraZeneca vaccine and doses 2 and 3 of the Pfizer vaccine, compared to SARS-CoV-2 infection (info on dose 3 of AstraZeneca and Moderna was left out because there wasn’t enough data).
The results would likely be even worse for the vaccines if you looked only at teens or men in their twenties, based on what we’ve seen from other studies. Moreover the vaccines don’t even prevent infection anyway and to my knowledge we don’t know whether vaccination lessens your chances of heart conditions from infection, so getting vaccinated might mean you subject yourself to heart risk from both vaccination, and from when you invariably get infected.
Lastly, many people who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 (in the pink column) would not have been documented so they would not have gotten counted in that pink column. Many people who have been infected would not have even taken a test. So when calculating the incidence of these events, the denominator for the “SARS-CoV-2 positive test” is likely higher in reality. In other words, the study probably undercounted those who had a SARS-CoV-2 positive test, which would bring the myocarditis incidence rate down in the pink column, and make the vaccines look even worse in comparison.
This Reuters article actually surprised me:
That story reported how the FDA asked for 55 years to release the data that was used to approve the Pfizer vaccine. It surprised me because the coverage was actually relatively balanced. There were also follow-ups to the story here and here.
The FDA was eventually ordered to release the data more quickly and some of it has trickled in. In response, Reuters released fact-check articles like this:
It may not surprise you to learn that it quotes extensively from a Pfizer spokesperson, explaining that the reported side effects “may not have any causal relationship to the vaccine.”
“Rather, the event may be due to an underlying disease or some other factor such as past medical history or concomitant medication or the AEs (adverse events) may be coincidental,” they said.
Ok Pfizer, we’ll take your word for it. Nevermind the conflicts of interest or the fact that Pfizer has paid some of the biggest fines in corporate history (see here). They include fines for fraudulent marketing and bribing doctors and government officials.
Reuters Mad Libs: insert your own symptom!
After reading through countless Reuters fact-check articles, I’m pretty sure we could semi-automatically generate them. Try it yourself with this handy template:
[INSERT CURRENT DATE]
FACT CHECK: No evidence that COVID-19 vaccines cause [SYMPTOM]
There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines cause [SYMPTOM].
The claim was made by [NAME OF INCONVENIENT DOCTOR] on [NAME OF ALTERNATIVE NEWS OUTLET], a far-right news outlet.
Experts explain that there is no evidence that [STRAWMAN VERSION OF CLAIM].
“Further studies will be needed,” said [NAME OF APPROVED EXPERT] from [NAME OF INSTITUTION]. “But at this time, there is no evidence that [SYMPTOM] is linked with the vaccines.”
[APPROVED EXPERT] said it was important to note that any occurrences of [SYMPTOM] are mild and transient.
"The vaccines are safe and effective,” he said. “Although the vaccine does not prevent symptomatic disease, from a clinical standpoint vaccination gives protection to the individual against a severe course of disease and hospitalization as well as contributing to the reduction of transmission in society."
[OPTIONAL: MORE WORD SALAD PRAISING THE VACCINES]
False. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and there is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines cause [SYMPTOM].
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .
Have you seen any particularly egregious fact-check articles, from Reuters or elsewhere?
Let me know in the comments below.