Biden’s Public Decline Tests Limits Of White House Spin Operation

(Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Reagan Reese White House Correspondent
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White House communications officials have been forced to spend more and more time doing damage control as election season heats up due to President Biden’s increasing frequency of senior moments.

In the month of June, several clips, interviews and stories about the president have garnered attention for highlighting the 81-year-old’s fitness and gaffes. The White House has rushed to spin each of the incidents, most recently calling the clipped videos of the president freezing and wandering off “cheap-fakes” and a product of right-wing hucksters. (RELATED: ‘Did You Fall On Your Head’: Biden Doesn’t Answer If He’ll Finish Full 4-Year Term Or Give Power To Kamala)

In one recent clip, the president appears to be frozen at a Juneteenth celebration while Vice President Kamala Harris and other attendees dance around him.

A few days later, the president seemed to wander off during a sky diving demonstration at the G7, causing Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to follow him and nudge him back to the group. The president rounded out the week at a campaign event in California where he again appeared to freeze before former President Barack Obama grabbed him by the wrist and led him off stage.

While the videos are the most recent example of the White House’s attempt to spin concerns about Biden’s fitness, other attempts came in the weeks prior over a Wall Street Journal article and an interview with Time Magazine. (RELATED: Biden Appears To Pick A Fight With Reporter Who Questions Him About Age)

The recent videos were clipped by various twitter accounts and media outlets as they streamed live, but the White House claimed the clips were distorted, cropped or taken out of context to misrepresent the president’s actions.

“It was a cheap — you know, a cheap fake.  That was definitely a cheap fake. It was. This was widely fact-checked. That video was widely fact-checked, including by conservative media, on — on what had — what happened that — what occurred,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said about the clip of the president at the G7, which the New York Post twitter account cropped, as it appears they usually do.

“The President walked over to give a thumbs up to divers who had just landed right in front of him. And if you run that tape a little bit longer, you would see — you would see what was happening, what the President was actually doing, and it is a cheap fake,” she added.

Jean-Pierre later called the video a “deep fake” but eventually admitted to the New York Post that she did not mean to use the term. A “deep fake” refers to a fully fabricated video using AI or other video software, which none of the recent viral Biden clips are. White House officials reportedly reached out to the New York Post about retracting its story and front page headline, but the outlet refused, Politico reported.

The White House communications staff repeatedly criticized the Republican National Committee (RNC) twitter account and the New York Post for pushing the clips of the president, adding that the outlet’s footage cropped out the skydiver the president was moving towards. White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates tweeted about the various videos at least 60 times as of Tuesday, Politico reported.

In the same vein, the Biden campaign launched a “task force” to “mitigate the risks posed by AI and cheap fakes,” Politico reported.

Jean-Pierre did not mention that Meloni walked from the other side of the crowd to guide the president back to the group, which then shifted closer to the president to include him.

“You’re always in a difficult position when you are trying to convince your customers or your consumers or your voters or the American people that what they see with their own eyes isn’t real. They’re trying to run a Disney White House or Disney campaign where it’s all fantasy and fake up front, but don’t look behind the scenes where the real stuff happens,” Marc Lotter, the director of strategic communications for the Trump-Pence 2020 campaign, told the Daily Caller. 

Bates addressed the video of Biden being led off stage by Obama, pointing to an Associated Press fact check of the event. The fact check counts how many seconds the president was on stage and cites a source that said Obama wanted to be “chummy.”

“Biden then stands still for about seven seconds looking out at the crowd. He starts moving again when Obama briefly takes his arm and puts his hand on his back as the pair walks offstage,” the fact check says.

“A source who helped organize, and attended, the fundraiser told the AP that there was nothing noteworthy about this moment and that Obama wanted to be “chummy” by walking offstage with Biden,” it continues.

Other shots of the moment cut to a wide angle when the president appears to freeze, before popping back in after Obama has grabbed him. Several other videos stay on the president the entire time, capturing his prolonged pause and Obama grabbing Biden’s wrist.

Jean-Pierre said that Biden and Obama have a friendly relationship during a Monday press briefing.

“Let’s not forget, President Obama, President Biden have a relationship. They are friends. They’re like family to each other, and I think that’s what you saw.  You saw the President put his hand behind the — on the back of — of President Biden, and — and they walked off the stage after — after taking questions or in a — at an event taking questions from Jimmy Kimmel.  That is — that is what you saw,” she said.

As for the president’s Juneteenth moment, Jean-Pierre sparred with Newsmax White House correspondent James Rosen, cheekily pointing out that not dancing doesn’t mean the president is declining.

“The President stood there listening to the music, and he didn’t dance.  Excuse me.  I did not know not dancing was a mental — was a — it was a health issue.  That is a weird thing to actually flag when, if you — if you look at the people who were around him, if th- — you look at the expanded video of the people who were around him, they were not — they were — there were some folks who were not dancing either.  And that has been fact-checked,” Jean-Pierre said, once again making reference to a cropped video.

“I mean, just because you’re standing up, listening to music, and not dancing, that is not a health issue,” she added.

Rosen pointed out that despite the White House’s claims of manipulated media, a majority of Americans have been concerned about the president’s fitness for office for several years.

“The majorities of American voters who are telling pollsters repeatedly for years now that they have serious concerns about this President’s cognitive fitness are being misled by cheap fake videos?  Is that what you’re telling us?” Rosen asked.

“So he is fine?” he followed up three times.

Jean-Pierre answered by pointing to the president’s record.

“The President has done more in his three years — three and a half years as president than most modern-day presidents in what he’s been able to deliver.  He’s able to do that because he knows what he’s doing.  He knows how to deliver for the American people,” she said.

Lotter told the Caller that rather than trying to deny the president’s declining fitness, the spin should be focused on something positive.

“It’s something you can’t change. So you have to try to find a way to try to make it a positive. Reagan was obviously considerably younger and much more, much more polished and a better speaker. But obviously he made light of the fact, and he made a joke about it in that famous debate with Walter Mondale, and everybody laughed and had a good chuckle with it,” Lotter said.

“The problem is they’ve attempted a few times here and there, to basically try to pivot the age question to experience and wisdom, but then they turn around the next day and get all you know up in arms over, and lie about a ‘deep fake,'” he continued.

Biden sat down with Time Magazine, and the transcript of the interview, released June 4, featured several slip-ups and gaffes. During the interview, Biden made an attempt to ease concerns about his age while also forgetting the timeline of calls and where key administration officials were.

A White House official responded to the gaps in the president’s memory to the Daily Caller, saying that people in the executive branch are so busy that they can’t be blamed for not remembering details such as what day of the week certain things happened several weeks ago.

A day later, the Wall Street Journal published an extensive story based on 45 interviews with prominent Republicans and Democrats who expressed concern for the president’s fitness. Ahead of the article’s publication, the White House kept “close tabs” on who the outlet was interviewing for its piece, the WSJ reported.

The WSJ wrote that the White House had apparently instructed the Democrats to give additional pro-Biden commentary to the outlet.

“They just, you know, said that I should give you a call back,” Democratic New York Rep. Gregory Meeks told the WSJ, referring to the White House.

“We thought it was important that all perspectives be represented,” Bates told the WSJ, adding that it was to correct “false and politically motivated claims.”

Several White House communications officials pounced on the article after its publication, as the outlet said Democrats and Republicans alike expressed concern about the president’s health. The WSJ noted that Republicans made up a majority of the concerns but that allies of the president were worried as well.

“Literally, the sole on-record critic in the entire story is Kevin McCarthy, whose interview contradicts his earlier public and private statements about finding the President sharp in their private meetings,” Bates told the Caller. “What’s more, Democratic members of Congress who refuted Republicans’ lies on the record were left out of the article. So was Governor Roy Cooper.”

The White House never clearly addressed whether the concerns from Democrats were fabricated by the Journal or not.