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Editorial: 'Cheap fake' -- Right-wing media pushes Biden-is-senile trope with deception

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in Op Eds

Yes, President Joe Biden tends to shuffle when he walks these days. Yes, he can pause a little too long between sentences. And, no, entering his 80s hasn’t improved his lifelong rhetorical clumsiness.

But the blatant disinformation campaign by right-wing media circus barkers lately, selectively editing imagery of perfectly normal Biden moments to make them look like instances of aimless wandering and confusion, is, in a word, grotesque.

Let’s review:

At the recent meeting in Italy of G7 nations, Biden and other world leaders watched skydivers land near them. Media videos show Biden briefly stepping away from the other leaders to address some of the skydivers, giving a thumbs up and getting smiles from them in return. After a moment, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni interrupts Biden with a tap on his arm to rejoin the group.

There’s nothing remarkable about the scene — at least until the Republican National Committee got done manipulating it.

The RNC’s political research account on X (formerly Twitter) posted a video taken from an angle that makes it look like Biden is wandering aimlessly away from the group and not interacting with anyone. Stripped of context, Meloni’s tap on Biden’s arm creates the impression of an eldercare nurse corralling a wayward geriatric.

“WHAT IS BIDEN DOING?” asks the RNC feed.

Again: He’s talking to the skydivers. Though the editors at the RNC made good and sure that viewers didn’t see that part.

This is what’s known as a “cheap fake.” Instead of a “deep fake,” in which imagery is outright fabricated, cheap fakes are real imagery that has been manipulated through selective camera angles, deceptive cropping and twisted context to give a false impression.

That the RNC would do this is hardly surprising, as former President Donald Trump has effectively commandeered the organization. But the amplification of this fraud by even supposedly serious right-leaning news outlets should give pause to their viewers and readers.

 

“Meander in Chief,” bellowed the New York Post’s front page, with a photo dutifully cropped to confirm the lie. “Biden wanders off during G-7 in Italy,” proclaims an online subhead under a Fox & Friends segment. Others followed suit.

This coordinated misleading of its own news consumers isn’t an isolated incident among right-wing media.

Video from a recent joint appearance with former President Barack Obama shows Biden basking in the audience’s applause for a moment, before Obama accompanies him offstage with a hand on his shoulder. It looks like nothing more than the genuine affection known to exist between the two men — but another Fox News headline declared: “Obama leading Biden off LA fundraiser’s stage just latest example of allies directing president.”

Then there’s the recent report from the shady right-wing publication Washington Reporter, falsely claiming the Biden campaign asked CNN to allow Biden to sit during the network’s upcoming debate. Though CNN debunked it, the claim has continued to bounce around the MAGA echo chamber. “He can’t stand for 90 minutes, but he’s 100% able to be President?” gloat-tweeted Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., on Monday, promoting a lie that was still on his official X account as of Wednesday afternoon.

No one should forget that all this deception is in service to a former president whose own public behavior is not merely geriatric, but often demented.

Trump’s recent, random, bizarre riff on sharks is part of a long-held fantastical belief system that includes wind turbines causing cancer, atomic bombs capable of stopping tornadoes and stealth fighter jets that are literally invisible. Not to mention his continued insistence that he won a presidential election he absolutely lost.

Anything resembling that kind of derangement from Biden would be treated as politically apocalyptic. With Trump, it barely gets a mention because the derangement expectation is already built in, not just among his followers but among pretty much everyone. No one expects normalcy from Trump. Biden, alas, is still held to normal standards.

We have argued Biden should step aside and back a younger, more electable Democrat in this year’s presidential election — not because there’s actual evidence he’s too old for the job, but because enough Americans believe it to endanger his reelection chances (and thus the nation).

That explains the eagerness of right-wing media to promulgate these ageist lies. But if they can’t push their Biden-is-senile narrative without shamelessly misleading their own readers and viewers, maybe it says something about their narrative.


©2024 STLtoday.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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