Eight days before the 2020 election, you would think that major media outlets would be extra vigilant about publishing potentially misleading video of presidential candidates.
But on Monday morning, NBC News’ Today show irresponsibly aired a deceptively edited clip of Joe Biden, which appears to have originated with the Trump campaign, and purports to show the former vice president mixing up Presidents Donald Trump and George W. Bush.
In a video package about the final week of the campaign, which began with the story about a new COVID-19 outbreak among Vice President Mike Pence’s staff, White House correspondent and recent debate moderator Kristen Welker reported that Biden was “making headlines overnight after appearing to confuse his opponent’s name.”
The clip in question came from a celebrity-filled “I Will Vote” concert live stream Sunday night. “Four more years of, George, uh, George… we’re going to find ourselves in a position where Trump gets elected, we’re going to be in a different world.”
“It comes as the former vice president was pressed to respond to the president’s claims that Biden is not mentally fit to serve,” Welker added before playing another clip of Biden dismissing those claims on 60 Minutes. NBC News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The reality of that moment, and the origin of the video, however, tell a very different story.
The “George” to whom Biden was referring was not, in fact, George W. Bush, but instead comedian George Lopez, who was interviewing the former vice president and his wife along with CNN and The View commentator Ana Navarro.
In a direct message to The Daily Beast, Navarro broke down what actually happened. “George Lopez and I hosted a two and a half hour GOTV virtual concert in support of Biden-Harris,” she wrote. “Joe and Jill Biden spent some time with us at the beginning of the show. It was light banter and laughs.”
“In the clip that’s being circulating, Joe Biden was responding to and addressing George,” Navarro continued. “That’s the George he was referring to. I know it may come as a shock to some Trump supporters, but some Latinos are named ‘George.’ Not everyone is Jose and Maria.”
Finally, she added, “It’s not surprising that the Trump campaign would lie about the clip and take it out of context. But frankly, I had higher expectations for NBC News.”
The provenance of the clip appears to be the “Trump War Room” Twitter account, which on Sunday night posted the exact same 12 seconds that NBC later aired. From there, it got passed around right-wing Twitter overnight until landing in a splashy story on Fox News’ website Monday morning with the headline, “Joe Biden appears to confuse Trump with former President George W. Bush.”
To its credit, Fox has since changed the headline and lede of that story. “GOP accuses Joe Biden of confusing his opponent after ‘George’ comment,” the new headline reads. The first paragraph now explains that while “Republicans on Monday accused Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden of confusing President Trump’s name” during an interview, “observers hit back by pointing out that Biden may have been referring to his interviewer, comedian George Lopez.”
In a statement to Fox News, Biden campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates said that the candidate was “addressing George Lopez, the interviewer, as is a common practice—that is, unless, like Donald Trump, you blow a gasket and storm out because you can’t stomach being fact-checked.”
Later on Monday afternoon, NBC News added an editor’s note to its website that reads, “The video of Joe Biden talking about the 2020 election and ‘four more years of George...’ came from an interview that Biden did Sunday with George Lopez. The fact that Biden was talking with George Lopez was relevant and helpful context that should have been included in the original report.”
Of course, none of this has stopped Trump’s allies from pushing the literal fake-news story as far and wide as they can.
Fox News pundit Brit Hume retweeted the Fox story with its original headline even after it had been updated, along with the comment, “Wondering why Biden has gone to ground again? This may help explain it.”
“It’s getting beyond ridiculous. This guy is not up for the job. The left is using him to get in their radicals,” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted on Monday along with the clip. “Did Biden think he was running against George Bush or George Washington?”
And then there’s the president himself who worked the bit into his latest rally speech in Pennsylvania. “He can’t remember my name!” Trump said of Biden on Monday. “Now, I’m not that big of an ego guy, but I’m the candidate and I happen to be president. He could not remember my name yesterday, this is what you’re putting in office!”
Now, thanks to NBC News, potential voters will be unable to outright dismiss those lies.