The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Biden video uses misleading edits to hype Trump’s remarks to nurse

Former vice president Joe Biden's campaign framed the president as dismissive of nurses in an ad released on May 8. Parts of the video were deceptively edited. (Video: The Washington Post)

“Wouldn’t it be nice to have a president who listens to someone other than himself?”

— Former vice president Joe Biden, in a tweet, May 8

On May 6, President Trump met with nurses in the Oval Office to sign a proclamation for National Nurses Day. The Biden campaign turned the event into a 30-second attack video, tweeted out by Biden.

With strumming guitar music, the video shows Trump appearing to interrupt a nurse who mentions that supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) have been “sporadic.” The video ends with display text: “Happy National Nurses Week from the president (only to nurses who agree with him).”

But there’s some important footage missing from the ad.

The Facts

This being a Trump event at the White House concerning the coronavirus pandemic, the president couldn’t help but repeat some of his most misleading claims. For instance:

  • “If you would add every country — every country together, we’ve done substantially more testing than the entire world together.” (Nope.)
  • “Two months ago, we didn’t have any ventilators for ourselves. The cupboards were bare.” (Nope.)

The ad focuses on an exchange that Trump has with one of the nurses after a reporter asks them about their experience with equipment shortages. One nurse replies that “it was getting bad,” but then manufacturing had ramped up and filled the gap. But, he added, there was a shortage of personnel.

Then, Sophia Thomas, president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, spoke. “I think it’s sporadic,” she said. “As I talk to my colleagues around the country, certainly there are pockets of areas where PPE is not ideal. But this is an unprecedented time.”

She added, “I’ve been reusing my N95 mask for a few weeks now. I just broke out a new one to come here, just in case I needed to wear it.” She makes a few more remarks and then adds, “My youngest patient has been four days old — a four-day-old infant. And so PPE has been sporadic, but it’s been manageable, and we do what we have to do. We’re nurses, and we learn to adapt and we do whatever the best thing that we can do for our patients to get the job done and get the care provided. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do as covid-19 continues.”

In the video, her comments are shortened to, “I’ve been reusing my N95 mask for a few weeks now … so PPE has been sporadic.” Any nuance — that she is talking about “pockets of areas,” that it is an “unprecedented time” and that it has been “manageable” — is missing.

At the event, Trump responded, “Sporadic for you, but not sporadic for a lot of other people.”

Thomas immediately affirms Trump’s comment: “Oh, no. I agree, Mr. President. Absolutely.”

Trump: “Because I've heard the opposite.”

The Biden video does two tricky things. First, it shows Thomas only saying “Oh,” eliminating the fact that she says she agrees with Trump. Then, the video highlights Trump crossing his arms when he says the line about hearing the opposite.

The impression left is that Trump is a jerk, cutting Thomas off mid-sentence and then folding his arms in a defiant stance. But that’s misleading, especially because she said she agreed with him. (We acknowledge that being challenged by a president might make many people back off a bit, but that’s still not an excuse for eliminating her response.)

The rest of the video shows Trump bragging about “tremendous supply.” It leaves out the fact that two other nurses at the event told Trump that they did not see any issues, including one nurse from New Jersey who said that she often saw news reports about supply issues, but that “in reality, I’m not seeing it. I’m in a hot zone right now.”

Thomas’s comment did appear to surprise Trump, but it’s worth noting that the Food and Drug Administration on its website (updated for May 7) acknowledged that “the supply chain for these [PPE] devices will continue to be stressed if demand exceeds available supplies.” Some manufacturers were distributing PPE based on previous usage, not projected use, the FDA said, adding that “increased use may exceed the available supply of PPE, resulting in shortages at some healthcare organizations.”

The Biden campaign defended the ad.

“President Trump could have prepared the United States for the coronavirus, but instead of heeding warnings from Vice President Biden, public health experts, and the intelligence community, Trump wasted precious months downplaying the threat and blithely praising the Chinese government’s spin,” Michael Gwin, a Biden campaign spokesman, said in a statement to The Fact Checker. “Trump’s failure to act quickly — and his erratic leadership since — has left America dangerously behind where we need to be, especially in getting basic life-saving protective gear to nurses, doctors, and other essential workers on the frontlines of this fight. However, instead of listening to the direct concerns of nurses and other heroes combating the coronavirus about the shortages of protective equipment they face, Trump decided to throw a tantrum in the Oval Office and downplay the fact that health care workers are being forced to risk their lives every day because he has abjectly failed to do his job.”

The campaign also pointed to a survey of nurses in the Boston area published May 7 that found that 50 percent say there is not enough PPE, and an April 16 memo from Veterans Affairs that says current protective medical gear supply levels “do not support providing a mask” to all staff at its hospitals.

The Pinocchio Test

Our main issue with this video is how it was edited to leave a misleading impression. Trump appeared to be taken aback by Thomas’s comment, but the video leaves out much of her nuanced presentation. Then it cuts her response to Trump’s query, making it appear as if he cut her off in mid-sentence, when in fact she said she agreed with the president. Then an added edit highlights the moment Trump crosses his arms.

Whether Trump was listening to Thomas could be subject to dispute, but the video is edited to leave no other possibility. Trump challenged Thomas, but he did not cut her off. Still, PPE resources are still stretched in some communities, so her comment was not out of line.

This is a clear case of manipulated video, according to our guide. It is an example of “deceptive editing-omission.”

The video earns Two Pinocchios.

Two Pinocchios

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