‘Cheap fakes’? Biden’s defenders are getting desperate

The liberal media are going out of their way to silence concerns about his health.

Tom Slater

Tom Slater

Topics Politics USA

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Do you think Joe Biden might be a bit… doddery? Are you worried about the leader of the free world appearing to fade out during public events, mix up the names of politicians and accidentally say explosive things – only for them to be contradicted by his carers (sorry, staffers). Then I regret to inform you that you’ve been fooled – you poor, low-info soul – by right-wing ‘cheap fakes’.

This is the new coinage the White House is using to dismiss allegedly selectively edited videos of Joe Biden, 81, already the oldest US president in history, apparently showing his age at a series of public events. Over recent weeks, a string of clips have gone viral of Biden appearing to ‘freeze’. There was Biden at a Juneteenth celebration, looking like a cardboard cut-out of himself as people bopped beside him. There was Biden at the G7 summit in Italy, wandering in the wrong direction during a world-leader photo-op. Then there was Biden onstage at a Hollywood fundraiser, being gently led off stage by Barack Obama.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre slammed the clips earlier this week as partisan disinformation. ‘They are cheap fakes’, she said, ‘and they are done in bad faith’. Her claim, and that of the ‘fact-checkers’, is that conservative tweeters and journalists made these incidents look much worse than they actually were by editing or cropping out key context. ‘The right-wing critics of the president have a credibility problem because… the fact-checkers have repeatedly caught them pushing misinformation, disinformation’, Jean-Pierre said. She even used the phrase ‘deepfakes’ at one point, thus falsely suggesting the clips might have been outright digital fabrications. (With more than a little irony, Jean-Pierre later had to clarify her misleading comments.) The left-leaning media have also leapt to Biden’s defence, with CBS News running a stern segment on the ‘cheap fakes’ and liberal sites amplifying the White House’s rebuttals.

On social media, liberal and conservative accounts have naturally been poring over these videos like they are mini Zapruder films, arguing the toss and accusing one another of misrepresenting Biden’s behaviour. That this is what political debate has been reduced to is frankly a bit depressing. For what it’s worth, the viral G7 clip definitely did misleadingly crop out a parachutist, who Biden was walking towards to give him a thumbs up, thus making it look like he was just aimlessly wandering off. But at the risk of being labelled a Trumpist wingnut, I dare say Biden doesn’t look exactly sprightly in any of these videos, whatever way they are spliced. Sure, maybe he was just taking in the applause onstage in Hollywood, as his defenders have suggested, but he was then led off stage by his old boss. Okay, he may not have fancied dancing on Juneteenth, which is his aides’ explanation for that bit of ‘freezing’, but he did go on to slur his words during his speech.

The big problem for the White House, of course, is that even if those particular videos of Biden apparently having senior moments aren’t all they seem, there are plenty of others available. He famously had a nice snooze at the Glasgow climate summit. More recently, he has taken to mixing up the names of living politicians with their long-dead counterparts, confusing Emmanuel Macron with François Mitterrand and Angela Merkel with Helmut Kohl (they died in 1996 and 2017 respectively). For a man so keen to downplay his advanced years, Biden does seem to spend a lot of his time communing with the beyond.

Now, he has been known as a blundersome speaker for much of his political career. ‘Don’t underestimate Joe’s ability to fuck things up’, is how Barack Obama once (reportedly) put it. But his gaffes definitely became increasingly out-there as he was vying to be elected president. His more memorable moments ahead of the 2020 election included forgetting Obama’s name, telling parents to ‘make sure you have the record player on at night’ and calling a student a ‘lying dog-faced pony soldier’.

You do not have to be some Very Online Republican to fear that the pressures of the top job may have taken their toll on the commander-in-chief since then, especially now that his slip-ups come with enormous geopolitical consequences. During a visit to Poland in 2022, Biden appeared to tell American troops they would soon be in Ukraine and declared during a big speech in Warsaw that Putin ‘cannot remain in power’. These potentially explosive comments – a call for regime change and direct American conflict with Russia, no less – had to be swiftly ‘walked back’ by his team.

Even a few Democrats are beginning to (anonymously) raise concerns. A report in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month claimed that, in meetings with congressional leaders about Ukraine funding in January, Biden ‘spoke so softly at times that some participants struggled to hear him’, ‘paused for extended periods’ and ‘sometimes closed his eyes for so long that some in the room wondered whether he had tuned out’. ‘Most of those who said Biden performed poorly were Republicans, but some Democrats said that he showed his age in several of the exchanges’, the WSJ reported.

Perhaps Biden is just a victim of plain old ageism. Or ableism. Some suggest his youthful stutter is back with a vengeance, unfairly making him seem much less with-it than is actually the case. His stiff posture is the result of a painful, arthritic spine. None of this means he can’t lead, necessarily. FDR led the Allies from a wheelchair. Churchill spent most of his waking hours drunk. But as happens so often with this administration, the attempted cover-up has made things much worse than they otherwise would have been. Ostentatious attempts by officials or media cheerleaders to insist that Biden is actually as sharp as a tack or to demonise anyone who so much as raises an eyebrow has left voters feeling gaslit. It also hasn’t worked. According to polls, three-quarters of Americans are now worried about Biden’s age.

We saw this in action most outrageously with the backlash to special counsel Robert Hur, who published a lengthy report in February arguing that Biden should not be brought to trial for his alleged mishandling of classified materials, in part because of his mental frailty. Hur described Biden as a ‘sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory’, noting his inability to remember the year he left office as vice-president and the year his son, Beau, died. It would be ‘difficult to convince a jury that they should convict him… of a serious felony that requires a mental state of willfulness’, Hur concluded. For his troubles, he was dismissed as a partisan hack. White House lawyers slammed the report’s ‘sweeping and highly prejudicial language’. On CNN, top legal pundit Jeffrey Toobin hysterically denounced it as ‘an outrage’ and ‘a disgrace’.

Indeed, for all the talk of a right-wing media machine churning out ‘cheap fakes’ for the benefit of Donald Trump, the liberal end of the corporate media has instinctively acted as the Dems’ Praetorian Guard, rubbishing any criticisms and even bona fide scandals that might damage the president’s standing. Remember Hunter Biden, the president’s crack-smoking, influence-peddling son, who has just been convicted on federal gun charges? When the New York Post published some of the contents of his infamous, incriminating laptop in 2020 – raising questions about the president’s own involvement in Hunter’s wheeler-dealing in Ukraine and China – outlets dismissed the scoop as potential Russian disinformation, apparently taking their lead from spooks (who also urged the Big Tech firms to suppress the story).

Rather than stand in solidarity with the New York Post – one of the oldest newspapers in the American republic – as it was being defamed and censored, the liberal media just joined in. ‘We don’t want to waste our time on stories that are not really stories’, declared a haughty NPR, when asked why it wasn’t covering Huntergate. It took more than a year for the New York Times and the Washington Post to sheepishly concede that at least some of the Hunter emails were legit.

Today, no one can credibly pretend it was all just fabricated: in Hunter’s recent trial, prosecutors affirmed the authenticity of the laptop. Even so, there is still a craven lack of journalistic curiosity about the most damning question of the Hunter debacle. Namely, whether or not the president knew about or financially benefitted from his son’s dodgy deals. This was beautifully exposed last year by an exchange between the Washington Post’s Philip Bump and comedy impresario Noam Dworman, on Dworman’s Live from the Table podcast. Dworman asked Bump about a text Hunter sent to his daughter, saying ‘I have to give 50 per cent of my income to Pop’. ‘I have no idea what that means’, Bump said. ‘Has anybody asked her?’, asked Dworman. ‘I don’t know’, came Bump’s blank-faced reply. He became increasingly agitated, then stormed out.

Joe Biden may well be everything his aides and media outriders say he is: a totally upstanding gentleman still in possession of his faculties. But the way in which the White House demonises dissent, presenting any concerns as the products of ‘disinformation’, is an insult to voters’ intelligence. Plus, the way in which liberal journalists now bristle at – rather than, you know, investigate – almost any allegation made against the president and his family is an insult to their profession. Some selective editing pales into insignificance when placed alongside the excesses of Biden’s Pravda.

Tom Slater is editor of spiked. Follow him on X: @Tom_Slater_

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Topics Politics USA


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