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Biden ad manipulates video to slam Trump

Former vice president Joe Biden's presidential campaign tweeted an ad March 3 that included two examples of manipulated video. (Video: Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

“I’ll be damned if I’m going to lose my country to this man at all.”

— former vice president Joe Biden, in a campaign ad, tweeted March 3, 2020

An onslaught of political advertising is par for the course in any election year. The 2020 presidential contest proves to be no exception.

So, on first glance, nothing was unusual when former vice president Joe Biden, who appears to be on track for the Democratic nomination, took a swing at President Trump. On March 3, he tweeted a video with the caption, “We can’t sit by and lose this country to Donald Trump. Today, we take it back — together.” However, while the caption is standard political rhetoric, the attached video included two clips of the president that meet the Fact Checker’s standards for manipulated video. Our guide includes three broad categories: Some video is taken out of context; other content is deceptively edited; or, in the worst instances, it is deliberately altered.

Earlier this week, we examined three videos -- including one by the Trump campaign -- that met our standards for manipulated video. But the Biden campaign isn’t shy about playing the same game of video trickery.

The Facts

The video begins with Biden at a campaign rally, saying, “I’ll be damned if I’m going to lose my country to this man at all.” Over the next few seconds, the video shows a montage of intentionally unflattering clips of President Trump. So far, it looks like a standard Internet campaign ad.

At the 10-second mark, the camera shows a tight shot of the president saying “coronavirus” and then cuts to a wide shot where he says, “this is their new hoax.” Both clips are from Trump’s Feb. 28 campaign rally in North Charleston, S.C., but he never said “coronavirus, this is their new hoax.” Rather, Biden’s ad clipped a large part of Trump’s speech to make it seem as though he had. Here’s the president’s full quote (emphasis added to show the omission):

“Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. You know that, right? Coronavirus. They’re politicizing it. We did one of the great jobs, you say, ‘How’s President Trump doing?’, ‘Oh, nothing, nothing.’ They have no clue, they don’t have any clue. They can’t even count their votes in Iowa, they can’t even count. No, they can’t. They can’t count their votes. One of my people came up to me and said, ‘Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia.’ That didn’t work out too well. They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything, they tried it over and over, they’ve been doing it since he got in. It’s all turning, they lost. It’s all turning, think of it, think of it. And this is their new hoax. But you know we did something that’s been pretty amazing. We have 15 people in this massive country and because of the fact that we went early, we went early, we could have had a lot more than that.”

The full quote shows Trump is criticizing Democratic talking points and the media’s coverage of his administration’s response to coronavirus. He never says that the virus itself is a hoax, and although the Biden camp included the word “their,” the edit does not make clear to whom or what Trump is referring.

Moreover, at a news conference Feb. 29, the day after the rally and three days before Biden’s ad was released, Trump was asked about the “hoax” comment. He clarified, “ ‘Hoax’ referring to the action that [Democrats] take to try and pin this on somebody, because we’ve done such a good job. The hoax is on them, not -- I’m not talking about what’s happening here [the virus]; I’m talking what they’re doing. That’s the hoax. … But the way they refer to it -- because these people have done such an incredible job, and I don’t like it when they are criticizing these people. And that’s the hoax. That’s what I’m talking about.”

Granted, Trump and members of his administration have played down the spread of the virus and falsely touted the strength of their response, as our numerous fact checks have pointed out. But that does not excuse this kind of video manipulation. This is a clear example of deceptive editing, specifically what we label “omission,” according to our guide. It edits out large portions of a video but still presents it as a complete narrative. This effectively skews reality and leaves the viewer to wonder what or who related to coronavirus is, in fact, a hoax?

Just seven seconds later, the ad shows a video of Trump hugging the American flag. In the accompanying audio, Trump says “the American Dream.” Then, with no shortage of drama, there is a pause, a dip to black and a cropped, tight shot of then-candidate Trump saying the words “is dead.”

The second clip and the audio appear to be from Trump’s June 2015 announcement that he would, in fact, run for president. Throughout the 2016 campaign, Trump repeated the phrase “the American Dream is dead.” However, each time — including during his announcement — the then-candidate followed that line with some variation of: “If I get elected president I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and we will make America great again.”

The message is unarguably bleak, but by failing to include the second half of Trump’s repeated line, it isolates the comment from the context of Trump’s political argument. Moreover, the ad does not make clear that the clip is nearly five years old, ignoring the difference between when a candidate and a sitting president makes a provocative, political statement like this.

This is an example of “Missing Context”: The video is unaltered, but the way it is presented to the viewer lacks or misstates the context in which events occurred. In this specific case, this is an example of what we labeled as “isolation” — a brief clip from a longer video to create a false narrative that does not reflect the event as it occurred.

Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Biden’s campaign, defended the ad. “Donald Trump is the most dishonest president in American history and one of the least credible human beings in the world," Bates said. "We don’t trust his next-day cleanup attempt, and he has made many comments in that same vein. And the claim that the American Dream was ‘dead’ in the final year of the Obama administration -- during the longest streak of job growth in American history -- is categorically untrue and another reminder of Donald Trump’s deep cynicism.”

The Pinocchio Test

Biden’s ad presents two separate and distinctly different examples of manipulated video.

While the first, “coronavirus, this is their new hoax,” is a clear example of omission, we were torn between Three and Four Pinocchios. On one hand, the administration continues to promote falsehoods about the virus and vilify Democrats for criticizing its response. However, the video doesn’t point that out or explain what is wrong with this characterization. Rather, it just puts the words “coronavirus and “hoax” close together, leaving the viewer to assume Trump meant that the novel coronavirus itself was a hoax.

The second example is far more straightforward. The ad isolates Trump’s comment with no context.

Ultimately, the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak, the fact that Trump had clarified his comments on the matter before the ad was released, and the blatant way the Biden camp isolated his remarks about the American Dream pushed us to Four Pinocchios. Campaigns must be willing to make their case without resorting to video manipulation.

Four Pinocchios

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