The White House and President Trump's reelection campaign on Monday circulated two videos that had been manipulated to negatively portray presidential candidate Joe Biden. Both videos spread widely on social media before being flagged as false or manipulated.
The first video was posted on Saturday, Aug. 29, but promoted to new audiences a day later by Dan Scavino, the White House deputy chief of communications.
The video, which purported to show Joe Biden asleep during a TV interview, was a manipulated copy of a 2011 KBAK news segment in which actor Harry Belafonte appears to be napping during a live interview. The manipulated version shared by Scavino substituted Biden for Belafonte and added a snoring soundtrack.
“This is what happens when you corner a rat,” a spokesperson for Joe Biden told BuzzFeed News. “Donald Trump is in so far over his head that rather than even trying to overcome the crises he has helped trigger and has exacerbated — the botched response to the pandemic and the climbing death toll, the economic collapse, and unrest and division — he is founding his incoherent case for doing even more damage in a second term on pretending he is not president now and pretending he's running against someone other than Joe Biden."
Reached for comment, the Trump campaign pointed to a Trump War Room tweet saying journalists “can’t take a joke.”
By Monday afternoon, the video had been labeled as “Manipulated Media” by Twitter, marked as false by Facebook fact-checkers, and removed entirely from the YouTube account that originally posted it. By the end of the day, the video tweeted by Scavino was removed because of a copyright issue. It was viewed over 2 million times on Twitter.
The video was originally created by Damon Imani, who told BuzzFeed News over Twitter direct messages that he had intended it to be a parody. Imani said he’s 28, lives in Denmark, and follows US politics because, he said, “It's a complete circus!” He said he wished Scavino had tweeted the original video instead, which included a disclaimer.
“I think if people had shared the original video from my account, the disclaimer that I tweeted in the video thread would’ve reached out to way more people so that the Twitter label could’ve maybe been avoided,” he said.
The second manipulated video was posted by @TrumpWarRoom, the official Twitter account of the Trump campaign. “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” the Democratic nominee says in the three-second clip. But the video had been edited to remove crucial context. Had the clip been a few seconds longer, audiences would have heard Biden say something very different.
“Since they have no agenda or vision for the second term, Trump and Pence are running on this, and I find it fascinating: ‘You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.’ And what’s the proof? The violence we’re seeing in Donald Trump’s America,” Biden said in the speech that Trump’s campaign tweeted.
While the Trump campaign claimed that the out-of-context video was a parody, Twitter labeled it “Manipulated Media” and removed the ability to comment, like, or share it, unless it’s a quote-tweet.
The doctored interview format that made it look like Biden’s asleep has been used before. In 2018, conservative media outlet CRTV used it to make then–Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez appear incompetent. The video garnered nearly a million views at the time. In that case, too, the creators said it was parody.
The two Biden videos spreading on Monday played directly into the lines of attack Trump set up during the Republican National Convention last week. The president has nicknamed the Democratic nominee “sleepy” and spent much of his convention speech telling supporters they won’t be safe should Biden be elected.
For his part, Belafonte told New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman that Trump should be voted out.
“They keep stooping lower and lower. A technical glitch in an interview I did 9 years ago now becomes another one of their lies, more of their fake news,” he told Haberman. “I beg every sane American-please vote them out. I knew many who gave their life for the right to vote. Never has it been so vital to exercise that right.”