Saturday, September 18, 2021

Is it True That Steve Burns Left 'Blue's Clues' for the Afghanistan War?

The claim: Steve Burns left 'Blue's Clues' in 2002 to fight against the Taliban

Millennials on Sept. 7 received an emotional message from a childhood friend in a green striped shirt: Steve Burns, the host of Nickelodeon's beloved preschool series Blue's Clues.

In his two-minute video message, posted to Nickelodeon's Twitter in time for the show's 25th anniversary, Burns addressed his sudden walkout from the show in 2002 after six years and 100 episodes.

"I just kinda got up and went to college," he said. "And that was really challenging by the way, but great because I got to use my mind and take a step at a time and now I literally am doing many of the things that I wanted to do.”

After Burns' shocking departure, many speculated about what happened, sharing made-up theories that he left because of a drug abuse problem and that he had been killed in a car crash.

His return was met with similar speculation. On social media, many claimed the actor had actually joined the U.S. military and deployed to Afghanistan.

Pictures of Burns wearing the same hat and glasses he wore in the video message have been shared widely, showing him also dressed in military gear, with a vest and camouflage.

Along with the picture, users have also shared a screengrab of Burns' Wikipedia page, which reads: "He is best known as the original host of the long-running children's preschool television program Blue's Clues from 1996 until 2002 ... and for serving as an operator in clandestine operations against the Taliban from 2002 to 2021."

The image, shared on Instagram Sept. 13, accrued more than 4,400 likes within a day of being posted.

A similar image posted Sept. 10, a screenshot of Burns' video with a digitally added military vest and patches, accrued more than 150,000 likes within four days. Both images now have a "False Information" warning.

But Burns' silence after leaving the show wasn't due to top secret missions. He was making music and acting.

USA TODAY reached out to the poster for comment.

Burns' Wikipedia page can be edited by anyone

The claim that Burns was deployed to Afghanistan for the majority of the war is based on an image of his Wikipedia page and the assumption that he "disappeared" at the beginning of the war and only "reappeared" in 2021, as an Instagram post says.

For a brief time, Burns' Wikipedia page did say that he served as "an operator in clandestine operations against the Taliban" from 2002 until 2021, when the last of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan left the country.

But that doesn't mean it's true. Anyone can edit any information posted on the majority of pages on the online encyclopaedia, with a few locked so that only certified users can edit them.

The revision history of Burns' page shows there were about 70 different changes made between Sept. 8, the day after Burns' video was posted on Twitter, and Sept. 11.

There were at least four changes that added uncorroborated information regarding his purported role in the Afghanistan War: that he was part of clandestine operations in Afghanistan; he was the CIA station chief in Pakistan; he served in the special forces against al-Qaida; and that he joined the French armed services to fight "his own war on terror" under a different name.

All these claims are false and were almost immediately deleted by other Wikipedia users because there weren't any "reliable sources" confirming them, according to Wikipedia's edit history.

In fact, there's no evidence Burns ever joined the armed forces or deployed to Afghanistan.

USA TODAY reached out to Burns for comment.

'It was just simply time to go'

While Burns wasn't in the public eye as much as he was when he hosted Blue's Clues, he remained in the music and acting industry.

"I knew I wasn't going to be doing children's television all my life," he said in Behind The Clues - 10 Years Of Blue, a 2006 Nickelodeon interview for the 10th anniversary of the show. "Mostly because I refused to lose my hair on a kids' TV show. And it was happening, fast."

It wasn't just about the hair, however. In a live performance in 2011, Burns said another reason he left was that he didn't feel like he was "the right guy" for the job. He didn't think he was qualified to be a good example for growing kids around the world, he said.

"My contract was up for renewal and I was starting to seriously think: 'As great as this is, they might have the wrong guy,'" he said to an audience at The Moth, a storytelling organization. "Maybe this should be a teacher or a child development specialist."

And in a HuffPost interview in 2016, Burns said the original creators of the show were moving on to other projects in the early 2000s.

"I left the show because it was just simply time to go," he told HuffPost. "I was getting older; I was losing my hair, a lot of the original gangsters on the show, like the people who created it, were all moving on to other careers. It just felt like time."

Burns moved on to make music, TV shows

Burns moved on to make music, though that hadn't been his plan. He told HuffPost his music career was "just a wonderful dream come true, a hobby thing that happened" after the show.

He has released a number of albums.

One of his songs, "Mighty Little Man," later became the theme song for the TV show Young Sheldon, in which Burns made a cameo in an episode in 2020.

Burns didn't only do music, however. He told Business Insider he's done extensive "behind the camera, voiceover work."

"If you hear a guy that sounds like the 'Blue's Clues' guy trying to sell you insurance, or a car, or something, that's me," he said.

Most recently, Burns went back to work in the reboot of the show, Blue's Clues and You.  Burns wrote and directed on the new show, occasionally making guest appearances. He even helped pick the new host, Joshua Dela Cruz.

Fact rating: False

Based on USA Today's research, they have rated FALSE the claim that Burns left Blue's Clues in 2002 to fight against the Taliban. Burns said in interviews he left for a number of reasons, including that he didn't want to lose his hair on children's television and, "It just felt like time." In the last two decades, Burns released music albums, made cameo appearances on TV, did voiceover work, and, most recently, returned to TV for a reboot of Blue's Clues as a writer and occasional guest star.

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