Right-wing Twitter was in a frenzy Sunday night when President Donald Trump’s campaign tweeted a clip purporting to show Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden referring to Trump as “George” during a virtual campaign event.
“Joe Biden confuses President Trump with George Bush,” the Trump War Room, an official campaign account, tweeted along with a 13-second clip of Biden’s remarks.
The so-called gaffe was picked up by several outlets, including Fox News, Mediaite and NBC News. Right-wing websites Breitbart and The Daily Caller also published stories on it.
By Monday morning, Trump had seized on the clip, telling his more than 87 million Twitter followers that Biden couldn’t remember his name and that the “Fake News Cartel” was “working overtime to cover it up.”
But Trump, his right-wing allies and several of the news outlets that published stories about Biden’s “George” remark failed to mention a key detail: He was speaking to comedian George Lopez at the time.
Lopez had asked Biden why Americans should vote for him.
“Well, first of all, the reason they should vote is that there’s a lot on the ballot this year,” Biden said, adding: “This is the most consequential — not because I’m running, but because who I’m running against — this is the most consequential election in a long, long, long time.”
“And the character of the country, in my view, is literally on the ballot,” he continued. “What kind of country are we going to be? Four more years of, George, uh … George, uh … is gonna find ourselves in a position where, if Trump gets elected, we’re gonna be in a different world.”
Both Biden’s campaign and Lopez said the former vice president had been referring to Lopez when he said “George.”
“He 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,” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement, appearing to refer to Trump’s decision to walk out of a recent interview with journalist Lesley Stahl of CBS’s “60 Minutes.”
Lopez on Monday retweeted political commentator Ana Navarro-Cárdenas, who was part of the virtual campaign event with Lopez on Sunday.
“This is a damn lie,” Navarro-Cárdenas had tweeted. “But that won’t stop them. This is the kind of unethical crap they do to spread false narratives.”
By Monday afternoon, some outlets had updated their stories to note that Biden had been speaking to Lopez when he said “George.” But not before the false claim was peddled to millions and millions of people.
The clip tweeted by the Trump campaign has been viewed on Twitter more than 1.9 million times and shared more than 14,000 times.
Asked for comment, Matt Wolking, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, stood by the campaign’s claim that Biden was confused.
“All the media gaslighting in the world can’t hide the fact that Joe Biden either confused President Trump with former President George Bush or he thinks the country is in danger of experiencing ‘four more years of George’ Lopez,” Wolking said in a statement.
Fox News digital reporter Tyler Olson published a story Monday morning titled “Joe Biden appears to confuse Trump with former President George W. Bush.” In his story, Olson reported that celebrities were part of the campaign event, but did not mention Lopez, with whom Biden was speaking at the time.
HuffPost reached out to Olson on Monday afternoon for comment but did not receive a response from him. However, Olson’s story was subsequently updated to include Lopez’s role in the event and featured a new title: “GOP accuses Joe Biden of confusing his opponent after ‘George’ comment.”
Fox News declined to comment about the initial omission of that detail.
And though the story was eventually updated, it had been shared on the “Fox & Friends” Facebook page, which boasts more than 2.6 million followers. The post was shared more than 7,000 times.
The Daily Caller added an editor’s note to its story on Monday, claiming that Biden was “very likely addressing Lopez after appearing to forget Trump’s name” rather then “confusing Trump for either of the former presidents George W. or H.W. Bush.”
As of Monday afternoon, Breitbart hadn’t updated its story to include Lopez.
But it wasn’t just the usual Trump-friendly websites that peddled the right-wing misinformation.
NBC News’ Kristen Welker delivered a report about the “George” comment during Monday morning’s episode of the “Today” show, which averages more than 3 million viewers daily. She didn’t mention Lopez in the segment.
“Biden making headlines overnight after appearing to confuse his opponent’s name,” Welker said during the broadcast. “It comes as the former vice president was pressed to respond to the president’s claims that Biden is not mentally fit to serve.”
NBC later added an editor’s note to the “Today” show video on its website.
“The fact that Biden was talking with George Lopez was relevant and helpful context that should have been included in the original report,” reads the note.
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