Fact Check: Moderator in Arizona Senate Debate Uses Debunked Coronavirus ‘Hoax’ Talking Point; Update: Atlantic, Too

Mark Kelly and Martha McSally
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CLAIM: President Donald Trump called the coronavirus a “hoax.”

VERDICT: FALSE. He was talking about Democrats’ effort to politicize the pandemic.

Moderator Ted Simons of Arizona PBS kicked off the one and only Arizona Senate debate on Tuesday night by asking a question that repeated a false claim about what President Donald Trump said about the coronavirus.

The president’s recent COVID-19 diagnosis, he said, “calls into question the way the administration in general and the president in particular handled the pandemic.” Simons continued by stating several Democrat talking points, including the claim Trump called the pandemic a “hoax.”

This claim is a favorite of Democratic Party presidential nominee Joe Biden. However, it is false — and has long been debunked.

The Associated Press fact-checked the claim as false last month:

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is presenting a distorted account of President Donald Trump’s words on the coronavirus, wrongly suggesting Trump branded the virus a hoax.

In fact, Trump pronounced Democratic criticism of his pandemic response a hoax.

Asked at a news conference the next day to clarify his remarks, Trump made clear he was not referring to the coronavirus itself as a hoax.

“No, no, no.” he said. ”‘Hoax’ referring to the action that they take to try and pin this on somebody, because we’ve done such a good job. The hoax is on them, not — I’m not talking about what’s happening here. I’m talking what they’re doing. That’s the hoax.”

Snopes.com rated the claim “mixed,” declaring that while Trump downplayed the risk of the pandemic, he never called it a “hoax.” His point was to link it to the Democrats’ effort to impeach him.

“Despite creating some confusion with his remarks, Snopes concluded, “Trump did not call the coronavirus itself a hoax.”

It would be one thing for Democratic candidate Mark Kelly to bring up the “hoax” point, as an effort to attack Sen. Martha McSally. It is quite another for the moderator to repeat a false claim — and to do so in the first question of the debate.

Update: Simons later misquoted an infamous Atlantic article, claiming (falsely) that it reported that President Trump had referred to “members of our military” as “suckers” and “losers.”

The article — refuted by over a dozen eyewitnesses — referred specifically to a claim about what Trump had said about Americans who died in World War I, not soldiers in general. Simons falsely claimed that the Atlantic report had been corroborated by other outlets. It has not.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His newest e-book is The Trumpian Virtues: The Lessons and Legacy of Donald Trump’s Presidency. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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