VERIFY: The “Pelosi clap” and “Pelosi tear” happened the same night

The BBC falsely claimed U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s viral “sarcastic clap” and dramatic “paper tearing” occurred on the same night. In fact, the first memeified moment occurred in 2019, while the second took place twelve months later, in 2020.

Background: The convening of the 117th Congress in 2021 saw Nancy Pelosi reelected as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Claim: In a 3 January 2021 retrospective on Nancy Pelosi’s career, the BBC falsely claimed:

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In viral terms, her big moment was her sarcastic #PelosiClap during Trump’s State of the Union speech a month after she took office. It still lives on as a popular gif.

Most controversially that same night, she also ripped up Trump’s speech in front of the TV cameras. Accused of disrespect, she later defended the move, calling his words a “manifesto of mistruths”.

Investigation: On 20 February 2019, the New York Times penned an entire story about Pelosi’s much-memified sarcastic clap at a State of the Union address. That article, titled “The Meaning of the Scene: When Pelosi Clapped at Trump,” dates the viral occurrence to the 2019 State of the Union address, which took place on 5 February 2019. This is clearly the same event to which the BBC was referring as both articles contain an identical image showing the infamous moment. That timeline is supported by similar articles from USA Today (which quotes Pelosi to say “it wasn’t sarcastic”) and WIRED.

At the following year’s State of the Union address, in 2020, Reuters described the scene when Pelosi tore into President Donald Trump’s written remarks.

Pelosi ripped a copy of Trump’s speech on Tuesday night seconds after the Republican president finished delivering it.

In a statement released by Pelosi’s office after the infamous display, she called the speech — the Associated Press reported — the “manifesto of mistruths.”

Rating: As we’ve seen from past fact-checks, the BBC can sometimes report on general themes with an okay level of reliability but has trouble mastering the details of news events such as when they occurred, who was there, or what happened. The claim that Nancy Pelosi’s “sarcastic clap” occurred on the same night she tore-up the State of the Union address is FALSE.

Status: JournaFact contacted the BBC. Without acknowledging our email, it quietly “shadow-edited” its article and published an unlabeled and unacknowledged correction, updating the story. 

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