FACTS IN FOCUS: False claims spread after the Oscars slap

Will Smith slapping comedian Chris Rock onstage at the 94th Academy Awards on Sunday was a moment that was hard to believe.

But fake news about the shocking confrontation that turned one of Hollywood’s biggest nights upside down later hit social media, including a fabricated apology letter attributed to Rock and a miscaptioned reaction photo of a celebrity that became an internet meme has become.

Here’s a closer look at claims that have been circulating widely online.

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CLAIM: Rock publicly apologized for his joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head, saying he “crossed a line I shouldn’t have crossed and paid the tremendous price of my reputation as a popular comedian.”

THE FACTS: The apology, which contained multiple misspellings, is fake. Rock did not issue such an apology, a representative for the comedian told The Associated Press in an email Tuesday afternoon. The fabricated apology attributed to Rock has garnered millions of views on social media platforms. “As a comedian, it can be difficult to understand which lines should and shouldn’t be crossed,” the fake statement said. “Last night I crossed a line I shouldn’t have crossed and paid the tremendous price of my reputation as a popular comedian. Comedy is never about making fun of people or berating them with big trials in their lives. Comedy is about using real-life circumstances to create laughter and bring light to an otherwise dark world.” The false statement was followed by a direct apology to Pinkett Smith, Smith and the rest of her family, and a call for forgiveness at the continued over time. But Leslie Sloane, a publicist for Rock, confirmed in an email that the apology was fake. She didn’t respond to a question about whether Rock planned to apologize. Smith took the stage, hit Rock, then returned to his seat, twice yelling at the comedian to “get my wife’s name out of your (eloquent) mouth.” Responding to a joke Rock made about Pinkett Smith’s shaved head, Smith said he can’t wait to see GI Jane 2. Pinkett Smith has spoken publicly about her diagnosis of alopecia, a condition that causes hair loss. Smith won Best Actor for his role as Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena, in King Richard. During his five-minute acceptance speech, Smith spoke about defending his family. He also apologized to the Academy. On Monday, he issued a stronger apology on Instagram and through his publicist, including an apology to Rock.

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CLAIM: A photo shows actress Nicole Kidman gasping in reaction to Smith beating Rock at the Oscars.

THE FACTS: The photo was taken hours before Smith slapped Rock during the non-televised portion of the awards ceremony. According to the photographer who took the picture, Kidman was reacting to the sight of her fellow best actress nominee Jessica Chastain, who went on to win the award. The photo of Kidman sitting in the audience at the Oscars — arm outstretched and mouth open — quickly went viral online shortly after Smith and Rock’s confrontation. “‘The Slap’ was so powerful that Nicole Kidman’s face moved for the first time in 11 years,” one Twitter user wrote, sharing the photo of Kidman, which has since become a popular meme. “Nicole Kidman responding to (asterisk) that slap (asterisk) we’re all scrolling through twitter this morning,” wrote an Irish magazine on Instagram. But as New York Magazine’s blog Vulture reported Monday, the photo was actually taken during the non-televised portion of the ceremony, hours before the slap took place. It had already appeared on Twitter at 7:34 p.m. EDT. The televised portion of the Oscars began at 8:00 p.m. EDT. “Nicole Kidman reacts to seeing fellow nominee Jessica Chastain at the Dolby Theater Sunday night,” read the Los Angeles Times caption, which was captured by LA Times photographer Myung Chun. Chun confirmed in an email to AP that his photo metadata shows he took the picture at 7:19 p.m. EDT, which was about three hours before Smith and Rock encountered each other. “It seemed to me that Nicole Kidman was responsive to seeing Jessica Chastain across the room during the non-televised event,” he said, adding, “She held out both arms and waved at her. Chastain stopped by to meet Kidman and her husband, Keith Urban.” Chastain won Best Actress for her role in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, in which she portrays the rise, fall, and redemption of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker represents.

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– Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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This is part of AP’s efforts to address widespread misinformation, including working with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content circulating online. Learn more about fact checking at AP.

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