Biden said the n-word on video, ‘fact-checkers’ declared that ‘false’ anyways

In the run-up to the November 2020 U.S. presidential election, the fact-checking outlets Snopes and PolitiFact declared as “false” a claim that then-candidate Joe Biden had said the n-word as a Senator. Biden had in fact said that word and video of him saying it is readily available.

Summary

  • Two weeks before the November 3rd, 2020 U.S. presidential election, Snopes applied a “false” fact-check label to a video of then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) saying the n-word, a racial slur widely considered to be off-limits to non-Black speakers.
  • Snopes headline raised the question “Did Biden Use Racial Slurs in the Senate?” a question that, by its simple nature and the existence of video evidence, is unequivocally true.
  • Snopes, in explaining its “false” label, raised the assertion that Biden was only reading a quote from someone else. Their original headline never asked “Did Biden use racial slurs in the Senate . . . while quoting someone else.”
  • While quoting someone else’s racial slurs, Biden always had the opportunity to read around the particular word and substitute “n-word” in the place of the literal word “n***er” but he chose not to. Whether Biden chose to use the racial slur for its most dramatic impact does not negate the fact that he said the slur.
  • Addressing the claim raised in their own title, a “True” rating would have been most appropriate, however, Snopes has a history of using the “mostly true,” “mixture” and “mostly false” labels to address arguable nuanced claims. Each incremental tier would have been less accurate than a “true” label but more accurate than a “false” label.
  • PolitiFact similarly fact-checked the same quote by Biden earlier in 2020, again, using a “false” fact-check label where a “true” label would have been more accurate.

In a 1985 Senate hearing considering then-President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of William Bradford Reynolds to serve as associate attorney general of the United States, Sen. Biden said, “The court concluded, quote: ‘The governor’s opposition to the Nunez plan was predicated in significant part on his delineation of a majority Black district centered in Orleans Parish.’ And in confidential portions of your staff memo, they brought to your attention the allegation that an important legislator, in defeating the Nunez plan in the basement, said, quote: ‘We already have a (n—–) mayor; we don’t need another (n——) big-shot.’”

Biden’s 1985 comments were shared on social media.

Biden was speaking in opposition to Reynolds nomination on the grounds that Reynolds had opposed a Democrat-backed redistricting plan (the Nunez plan) that would have created a majority black congressional district in Louisiana. Biden accused Reynolds of ignoring racist comments issued by the state’s lawmakers in opposition to the plan.

PolitiFact notes Biden said to Reynolds, “I have been here 13 years, and you are one of the best lawyers we have ever had sit in front of us that worked for the federal government. And you are clearly not a racist. You are not out there saying, ‘Man, I want to get those Blacks.’ And then I sit back and I ask: If that is the case, how could he look at all this and not come to the conclusion that something was rotten in Denmark?”

Both Snopes and PolitiFact claimed that video verifiable evidence of Biden saying the n-word were false, because he was only using it to raise controversy about a partisan redistricting case. Biden said the n-word. Biden could have spoken around the word but he chose not to.

Those that take objection non-Black individuals using the n-word may do so for the simple fact that they believe non-Black invididuals shouldn’t say the word in any context, regardless of their intent. For example, comedian Jimmy Kimmely apologized for past use of the n-word, acknowledging members of his audience may have been “genuinely hurt” despite their use in a comedic setting. As such, people may have found Biden’s comments objectionable, not because they disagreed with his overall opposition to Reynold’s nomination, but simply because they found Biden saying the word itself to be inappropriate.

PolitiFact, in its conclusion, wrote, “It’s true that Biden twice used the word on camera, as the video says. But context matters, and the video doesn’t make clear that Biden was quoting from a passage in a court ruling when he said it.” If the underlying claim is “true” as PolitiFact acknowledges, but lacks context, it can’t reasonably be declared as false.

Snopes’ fact-checking methodology states a “true” statement is one where “the primary elements of the claim are demonstrably true;” a “mostly true” statement is one where “the primary elements of the claim are demonstrably true, but some ancillary details surrounding the claim may be inaccurate.” A Snopes “mixture” rating is one where “the primary elements of the claim are demonstrably false, but some ancillary details surrounding the claim may be accurate.” Each one of these ratings is more accurate than Snopes’ “false” statement rating, which it classifies as one where “the primary elements of the claim are demonstrably false.”

PolitiFact’s fact-checking methodology states a “mostly true” statement is one where “the statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information;” a “half true” statement is “is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context” and a “mostly false” statement “contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.” Each one of these ratings is more accurate than a PolitiFact “False” rating, which the fact-checking outlet states simply “is not accurate.”

Poynter, PolitiFact’s parent organization, states in its “fact-checkers’ code of principles” that “We follow the same process for every fact check and let the evidence dictate our conclusions.” In this case, PolitiFact abandoned its established fact-checking process and did not follow its own governing principles, as laid out by its parent organization.

 

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