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How Republicans used ‘cheap fake’ videos to attack Biden over 24 hours

PARIS — President Biden, who at 81 is a couple of decades younger than many of the veterans he honored during Thursday’s D-Day commemoration in Normandy, nonetheless found his age and fitness in the spotlight as selectively edited clips of him circulated online to paint the picture of a physically and mentally challenged commander in chief.

The 80th anniversary of D-Day quickly became the latest example of the fast spread of politically damaging manipulated videos, highlighting how the politics of misinformation and conspiracy theories do not stop at the water’s edge — and seem certain to continue through November.

In edited videos, Republican officials and allies of former president Donald Trump repeatedly tried to turn Biden’s Normandy visit into a highlight reel of senior moments and missteps, aimed at showing the president as infirm, addled or out of his depth. Trump, who turns 78 on Friday, has also repeatedly attacked Biden over his age and fitness, and regularly shares videos of the president looking frail.

But an examination of video feeds from the events in Normandy, France, makes clear that the selected clips had been edited to present a particularly damaging — and often misleading — picture.

Such deceptively edited videos — known as “cheap fakes” because they misrepresent events simply by manipulating video or audio, or by leaving out context — have become staples of Republican attacks against Biden. They are easier to make and disseminate than content generated by artificial intelligence and can quickly go viral, allowing Biden’s opponents to take innocuous moments and turn them into attacks on his mental acuity or physical fitness.

“Republicans have resorted to pathetically manipulating and distorting footage of President Biden because they can’t successfully attack his record of delivering results for the American people,” Mia Ehrenberg, a spokeswoman for Biden’s campaign, said in a statement.

Karoline Leavitt, a spokeswoman for Trump’s campaign, defended the videos without addressing the deceptive editing, saying they showed Biden was “too weak” to serve another presidential term.

“Leave it to the Washington Post to cast blame on Republicans for Joe Biden’s clear cognitive decline that was caught on video for the entire world to see,” she said in a statement.

The videos taken from Biden’s D-Day event relied on taking the videos out of context as opposed to editing them in a misleading way. Here are a few examples that show how the phenomenon works:

Biden and the ‘invisible’ chair

A widely shared video was edited to seem like President Biden was sitting in an “invisible chair” at an event. A longer clip shows deceptive editing. (Video: The Washington Post)

The Republican National Committee and right-wing influencers posted a 12-second clip of Biden standing next to French President Emmanuel Macron and appearing to reach down with his hand and bend his knees haltingly. The video ends abruptly with Biden in an awkward position, but some who posted it suggested that Biden was sitting “in an invisible chair,” and Donald Trump Jr. wrote that it was an “embarrassment” that showed American weakness. The full video shows that Biden ultimately sat down shortly after the clip ended, though he appeared to pause briefly while crouched, waiting for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s name to be announced before taking his seat. A wide shot of the stage showed that other people also appeared to crouch, as Biden did, before fully sitting down.

Biden ‘pulled away’ by first lady

A widely shared video allegedly shows first lady Jill Biden leading Biden off stage at a commemorative D-Day event. A longer clip shows deceptive editing. (Video: The Washington Post)

In another video disseminated by Biden’s critics, the president appears to be led away from the D-Day ceremony by first lady Jill Biden as the event is ongoing. A Republican National Committee account on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, wrote that Biden was being escorted out, and another commenter said Biden was being “pulled away” while Macron was still greeting veterans. In reality, Biden, who arrived at the event before Macron, had already greeted the veterans and was leaving the ceremony at its conclusion to attend another scheduled memorial event. Joe and Jill Biden were holding hands and walking side-by-side, with the president leading the way, shaking hands with veterans and saluting some on their way out, before finally exiting the event. The edited clip only shows Biden leaving the event, not shaking hands and greeting veterans before he exits.

A widely shared video allegedly showed President Biden “sleeping” at a commemorative D-Day event. A longer clip shows deceptive editing. (Video: The Washington Post)

Some right-leaning accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers also circulated a six-second clip that appeared to show Biden with his eyes closed during the D-Day ceremonies. A further examination shows that Biden closed his eyes briefly while listening to live translation of the D-Day ceremony — the translation device in his left ear could not be seen in the shortened clip. The president opened his eyes shortly after the edited clip ended, and there was not evidence that he slept through portions of the Normandy events. The allegations were notable because Trump faced claims that he had regularly fallen asleep in court during his hush money trial in New York because he regularly closed his eyes as witnesses testified. It remains unclear whether Trump actually fell asleep at some points during the trial — which ended with him convicted on 34 felony counts of business fraud — and he and his team have vigorously rejected the claim.

Usero reported from Washington.

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