Fact check: Ceremony honoring 500,000 COVID-19 deaths was not filmed at a ‘fake’ White House, nor was it pre-recorded

After President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff held a candle lighting ceremony at the White House to commemorate the grim milestone of 500,000 U.S. deaths from the coronavirus disease, posts on social media claimed that the event had either been pre-recorded or had taken place at a “fake” White House. Pointing to the different facades of the White House and the leaves on the south lawn’s trees as alleged proof, this claim is baseless and false.

President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff attend a moment of silence and candle-lighting ceremony to commemorate the grim milestone of 500,000 U.S. deaths from COVID-19 at the White House in Washington, February 22, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Examples of posts making this claim can be found here  and here .  

One post shows a digital collage with an image of a TV news still of the White House’s south portico with a graphic that reads “WH CANDLE LIGHTING CEREMONY HONORS 500,000 DEAD” (here). The creator of the collage has labeled the image, which shows the south façade’s steps lined with candles, “Fake White House or Pre Recorded.” Underneath is an image labeled “Live Webcam 2/23/2021” showing the north side of the White House. 

As reported here by Reuters,  President Biden, Vice President Harris and their spouses commemorated 500,000 U.S. deaths from COVID-19 with a moment of silence on the evening of Feb. 21, asking all Americans to take part. The event took place near the steps to the White House’s south portico, as shown in a Reuters image here .  

Social media users sharing the collage and claiming that the image shows a “fake” White House appear to miss the fact that the president’s house has two sides: the north façade and lawn, bordered by Pennsylvania Avenue, East Executive Drive and West Executive Drive ; and the south façade and lawn, bordered by West Executive Drive, East Executive Drive, and a public lawn called the Ellipse (   

Paintings, illustrations and photographs showing both sides of the White House between the mid-19th century and the present can be found  here .  

In addition, the creator of the post points to the leaves on the South Lawn’s trees as alleged proof that the Feb. 21 event was pre-recorded, ostensibly because most trees in Washington, D.C. would be bare in the winter. However, Reuters pictures of the South Lawn from Jan. 24, 2021 (here), Jan. 29, 2020 (here) and Jan. 14, 2019 (here) all show these same trees with leaves on them. 

The trees on either side of the south façade’s steps are southern magnolias, or Magnolia grandiflora. As reported here by the Smithsonian Magazine, seventh U.S. President Andrew Jackson first planted a magnolia on the White House grounds in 1835.  

Southern magnolias are evergreen trees, which means they do not lose their foliage during the winter season (here).  


False. The Feb. 21 ceremony honoring 500,000 U.S. lives lost to COVID-19 was not pre-recorded, nor was it filmed at a “fake” White House.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work  here  .