close
close

Misleading GOP videos about Biden are spreading like mushrooms. The fact checks can hardly keep up.

More Americans may think President Joe Biden when I recently tried to sit on a chair that didn't exist and then learned the boring truth that there actually was a chair.

The chair that stood there was just one of many short video clips that the conservative media ecosystem has brought to life over the past two weeks, leaving the fact-checkers and Biden's team little chance to catch up.

The Republican National Committee, major conservative media outlets and right-wing influencers have managed to release videos that they claim provide “proof” of Biden wandering around, freezing, or even stuffing a substance down his pants, usually represented by a brown swirl emoji.

Independent fact-checkers and the Biden campaign have pointed out that while the videos were not manipulated by artificial intelligence, they become unstable even with basic scrutiny, such as when the moments are viewed in context or from a wider camera angle.

“Rupert Murdoch's sad little Super PAC, the New York Post, was just scrutinized by at least six mainstream media outlets for lying about President Biden with cheap fakes and is now once again showing disrespect to its readers and itself,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement, referring 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 deceptive audio, video or image files created or edited using artificial intelligence, a “cheap fake,” according to researchers Britt Paris and Joan Donovan, is a “manipulation created using cheaper, more accessible software (or even without). Cheap fakes can be created using Photoshop, imitations, recontextualization of the footage, speeding up or slowing down.”

But while the videos may be misleading, they still play on voters' pre-existing concerns about Biden's age and are tailor-made for online virality. That is, busy voters are more likely to stumble upon the short, inflammatory clips than the more thorough fact-checking that follows them.

“The lie is like a 100-meter dash and the fact-checking is like a walk on the beach. So it will never catch up. And it will never have the same reach,” said Eric Schultz, a Democratic strategist and Obama spokesman who on Sunday publicly called the characterization of the fundraising campaign by the Post as false.

Last week, Republicans released a video of Biden attending the G7 summit in Europe, in which he was said to have “wandered off” in a state of confusion before the Italian prime minister brought him back. Unedited video and wider-angle footage showed Biden greeting a skydiver who had just landed as part of the ceremony.

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

“They had all landed and he was very polite. And he just went over to speak to each one individually,” Sunak told reporters.

Previously, the RNC's opposition investigation report suggested that Biden's medical incident was a result of not dancing at a Juneteenth event. However, Biden has long stated that he is not a great dancer and barely danced at his 2021 inaugural ball.

At the Los Angeles fundraiser, Biden and Obama waved to supporters after receiving a standing ovation as Biden stared into the audience for a moment before the more punctual Obama signaled that it was time to leave the stage. Several people at the event said they not recognized the New York Post's interpretation that Biden appeared to “freeze.”

“A pattern of behavior”

Republicans show no remorse for the individual videos – despite fact-checking by the mainstream media, which they distrust.

“It's a pattern of behavior. It's not like it's an isolated incident.” Trump card 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.”

When asked about the video clip that Republicans say shows Biden trying to sit on a chair that doesn't exist (it's just obscured by the camera angle), Leavitt said, “The videos speak for themselves.”

“It is outrageous that the words 'cheap fake' [are] even be used,” she said. “There is nothing cheap or fake about these videos. They are real clips of Joe Biden's bizarre behavior.”

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

The spread of the videos underscores what scholars say could be a particularly turbulent election campaign. Many major social media platforms have, under pressure from Republicans, rolled back the few checks and balances they have against the spread of false or misleading information. At the same time, the power and reach of just a handful of accounts on X can spread talking points to millions of people, which are then picked up by more conservative mainstream media.

Taking liberties with video editing or simply misrepresenting what is happening in a video is nothing new, but former President Donald Trump's rise to power in the Republican Party has pushed the party even further across the blurry line between manipulation and lying, while technology allows clips to be edited and broadcast constantly.

Reaching voters who don't consume much political news is challenging at the best of times, but it becomes even more difficult when organizations try to reach the same voters a second time to change their minds about a piece of political content they've already been exposed to.

Conservative media outlets distributing such clips include not only notoriously ideological ones like Fox News, but also the vast network of local news stations owned by Sinclair Broadcasting. Dozens of them packaged identical versions of the same headline about Biden's apparent numbness.

Hardly anyone in the conservative media resisted the flood of videos. Howard Kurtz, host and media journalist at Fox News, is one of the few notable outsiders. He criticized the New York Post and fellow host Sean Hannity for their coverage of the G7 video.

And the algorithms of internet platforms and the organic behavior of their users tend to reward the surprising and controversial and ignore the mundane.

“We can’t stop them”

The Democrats' strategy for dealing with the videos is two-pronged, according to several people familiar with the thinking of the Biden campaign, the White House and allied outside groups.

First, they will try to confine them to the conservative media ecosystem and exclusively online-based spaces of political discourse like X, hoping to prevent their breakthrough into the mainstream as much as possible.

From be aggressive By fact-checking, quickly releasing more detailed video clips with appropriate context, and admonishing media outlets that report on them, the White House and Biden team hope to prevent the allegations from spreading too widely.

“We can't stop them. What we can do is fight with all our might to ensure that fact-checking is done and that those fact-checks are disseminated,” said a Biden campaign official who asked to remain anonymous so he could speak openly about his strategy. “Is this potentially getting through to independent voters? Yes, and that's what we're protecting ourselves from and fighting against.”

Second, Democrats are amplifying their own attacks on Trump online by aggressively posting their own viral videos of Trump's verbal dead ends, odd ramblings, and clumsy actions.

That includes highlighting moments that Trump described as a senior at the time, such as when he said at a rally Saturday night that Biden “should take a cognitive test,” only to mess up the name of the doctor who administered a similar test on him moments later.

Much of it comes from Biden Headquarters, an account that the Biden campaign's research and response teams use to attack Trump. For example, in a clip from the same eventTrump promised to answer questions after his speech – “This is different from Joe Biden. He doesn't answer questions” – but instead left the stage without answering questions.

Schultz said: “Both candidates are old, but one is coherent and has compelling ideas. So if that prevails, I think we'll be in a good position in November.”

The Trump campaign has also complained that the Biden campaign has misrepresented videos of itself in the past, such as Trump telling autoworkers there would be a “bloodbath” if he was not elected. The Trump campaign explained that this term referred specifically to the auto industry and that Democrats were intentionally mischaracterizing it by making it look like Trump was inciting violence.

Yet Democrats, including Biden himself – who is 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 we communicate with people today leaves very little opportunity to simply lie,” Biden said at the fundraiser in Los Angeles. “So much of what's on the internet is just outright lies.”

First Lady Jill Biden addressed the question of Biden's age directly at an event for seniors in Phoenix on Saturday: “Joe and the other guy are basically the same age, so let's not be fooled.”

Polls suggest voters so far don't agree with them. And some Democrats seem to be constantly preparing for a big, unforeseen moment when Biden shows his age.

A nationwide NBC News poll in late January found that three-quarters of voters, including many Democrats, have major or minor concerns about Biden's physical and mental health.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com.