Misleading GOP videos of Biden are going viral. The fact-checks have trouble keeping up.

More Americans may think Joe Biden tried to sit on a nonexistent chair the other day than know the boring truth that there was, in fact, a chair.

The chair-that-was-there was just one of many quick video clips the conservative media ecosystem willed into vitality over the past two weeks, leaving fact-checkers and President Joe Biden’s team with little chance to catch up.

The Republican National Committee, major conservative media outlets and right-wing influencers have succeeded in blasting out videos that they claim show “proof” of Biden’s wandering off, freezing up or even filling his pants with a substance commonly represented by a brown swirl emoji.

Independent fact-checkers and the Biden campaign have pointed out that the videos, while they are un-doctored by artificial intelligence, tend to crumble under even basic scrutiny, such as when the moments are viewed in context or from wider camera angles.

“Fresh off being fact checked by at least 6 mainstream outlets for lying about President Biden with cheap fakes, Rupert Murdoch’s sad little super PAC, the New York Post, is back to disrespecting its readers and itself once again,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement in reference to a video of Biden at a fundraiser with former President Barack Obama over the weekend that landed on the cover of the Post, a conservative tabloid.

While "deepfakes" are misleading audio, video or images that are created or edited with artificial intelligence technology, a "cheap fake," according to researchers Britt Paris and Joan Donovan, is a "manipulation created with cheaper, more accessible software (or, none at all). Cheap fakes can be rendered through Photoshop, lookalikes, re-contextualizing footage, speeding, or slowing."

Still, even if they are deceptive, the videos nonetheless play into voters’ existing concerns about Biden’s age and are tailor-made for internet virality, meaning busy voters may be more likely to encounter the brief incendiary clips than the more rigorous fact-checks that chase them.

“The lie is sprinting the 100-meter dash and the fact-check is taking a stroll on the beach. So it’s never going to catch up. And it’s never going to have the same reach,” said Eric Schultz, a Democratic strategist and Obama spokesperson who on Sunday publicly called out the Post’s characterization of the fundraiser as false.

Last week, Republicans pushed a video of Biden in Europe attending the Group of Seven summit in which he allegedly “wandered off” in a confused haze before Italy’s prime minister pulled him back. Uncut video and shots from wider angles showed Biden was greeting a parachutist who had just landed as part of the ceremony.

The controversy generated by the video grew so large that British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was asked to give his eyewitness account of the moment.

“They had all landed, and he was being very polite. And he just went over to kind of talk to all of them individually,” Sunak told reporters.

Before that, the RNC’s opposition research account suggested Biden was having a medical incident because he was not dancing at a Juneteenth event, though Biden has long said he is not much of a dancer and barely danced at his inaugural ball in 2021.

At the fundraiser in Los Angeles, Biden and Obama were waving to supporters after having received a standing ovation when Biden stared into the audience for a moment before the more punctual Obama signaled it was time to leave the stage. Several people at the event said they did not recognize the New York Post’s interpretation that Biden appeared to "freeze up."

'A pattern of behavior'

Republicans are unapologetic about the individual videos — despite the fact-checks from mainstream media they distrust.

“It’s a pattern of behavior. It’s not like it’s one instance,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt said in an interview. “It’s not like we’re making these videos. This is Joe Biden in real time. We’re just putting it out there for the world to see.”

Asked about the clipped video that Republicans said showed Biden trying to sit in a chair that did not exist (in fact, it was just hidden from view by the camera angle), Leavitt said, “The videos speak for themselves.”

“It’s outrageous that the words ‘cheap fake’ [are] even being used," she said. "There’s nothing cheap or fake about these videos. They are real clips of Joe Biden acting bizarrely.

“The Biden campaign’s entire strategy is to convince people not to believe their own eyes,” she added.

The spread of the videos underscores what academics say could be a particularly tumultuous election cycle. Many major social media platforms have rolled back the few checks and balances on the spread of false or misleading information under pressure from Republicans. Meanwhile, the power and reach of just a handful of accounts on X can spread talking points to millions of people that is then picked up by more mainstream conservative media.

Taking liberties with video editing — or simply misrepresenting what is happening in a video — is nothing new. But former President Donald Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party has pushed the party further across the hazy divide between spin and mendacity, while technology has allowed for clips to be cut and broadcast constantly.

Reaching voters who do not consume much political news is a challenge in the best of cases, and it is made even harder when organizations try to reach the same voters a second time to try to change their views about a stray piece of political content they previously encountered.

Conservative media outlets disseminating such clips include not only famously ideological ones, like Fox News, but also the vast network of local TV news stations owned by Sinclair Broadcasting,dozens of which re-packaged identical versions of the same headline about Biden’s appearing to freeze.

Few in conservative media have offered any resistance to the onslaught of videos. Howard Kurtz, a Fox News host and media journalist, is one of the few notable outliers, having called out the New York Post and fellow host Sean Hannity for their coverage of the G7 video.

And internet platforms’ algorithms and their users’ organic behavior tend to reward the surprising and controversial while ignoring the mundane.

'We can't stop them from doing this'

Democrats’ strategy for dealing with the videos is twofold, according to multiple people familiar with the thinking of the Biden campaign, the White House and allied outside groups.

First, they will try to contain them to the conservative media ecosystem and extremely online spaces of political discourse like X, hoping to prevent them from breaking through into the mainstream as much as possible.

By being aggressive in fact-checking, quickly posting fuller video clips with appropriate context and calling out media outlets that report on them, the White House and the Biden campaign hope to stop them from spreading too far.

“We can’t stop them from doing this. What we can do is fight like hell to get fact-checks and to spread those fact-checks,” said a Biden campaign official who requested anonymity to speak candidly about strategy. “Does it potentially permeate out to independent voters? Yes, and that’s what we’re guarding against and fighting against.”

Second, Democrats are stepping up their own attacks on Trump online, aggressively posting their own made-to-go-viral videos of Trump’s verbal cul-de-sacs, curious tangents and awkward actions.

They include highlighting what they say are Trump’s senior moments, such as one at a rally Saturday night when he said Biden “should have to take a cognitive test” — only to moments later flub the name of the doctor who administered a similar test to him.

Much of it has come from Biden HQ, an account the Biden campaign’s research and rapid-response teams use to blast Trump. For instance, in one clip from the same event, Trump promised to take questions after his speech — “This is different than Joe Biden. He doesn’t take any questions” — but instead left the stage without taking any questions.

Schultz said: “Both candidates are old, but one is coherent and has cogent thoughts. So to the extent that that breaks through, then I think we’ll be OK come November.”

Trump’s campaign has also complained about the Biden campaign’s deceptively portraying videos of its own in the past. That included when Trump told autoworkers there would be a “bloodbath” if he is not elected. Trump’s campaign said that the term specifically referred to the auto industry and that Democrats intentionally mischaracterized it by making it appear that Trump was inciting violence.

Still, Democrats up to and including Biden himself — hardly a digital native — seem to understand the challenge of suppressing viral videos that many Americans want to believe.

“The truth is that the way in which we communicate with people these days, there’s very little — there’s so much opportunity to just lie,” Biden said at the fundraiser in Los Angeles. "So much of it on the internet is absolutely a flat-out lie.”

First lady Jill Biden took on the issue of Biden’s age head-on Saturday at an event for seniors in Phoenix: "Joe and the other guy are essentially the same age, so let’s not be fooled."

According to polls, voters so far do not agree with her. And some Democrats seem to be constantly bracing for some major, unedited moment when Biden shows his age.

NBC News’ national poll in late January found three-quarters of voters, including many Democrats, saying they had major or minor concerns about Biden’s physical and mental health.

misleading gop videos of biden are going viral. the fact-checks have trouble keeping up.
Alex Seitz-Wald

Alex Seitz-Wald is a senior politics reporter for NBC News.

Peter Nicholas, Mike Memoli and Natasha Korecki contributed.

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