USA Today “fact-checks” meme showing Biden looked at his watch during ceremony for fallen troops. Debacle ensues

On Wednesday, USA Today’s fact-checking wing issued a fact-check to a meme, shared on Facebook, showing President Joe Biden looking at his watch during a dignified transfer ceremony for U.S. troops killed in Kabul, Afghanistan. The meme accurately depicted Biden’s behavior at the ceremony, though USA Today initially declared it “partly false.”

Summary

  • A meme posted on Facebook on Aug. 30, showed a pair of photos, one of Biden and one of former President Donald Trump, comparing their behaviors at a dignified transfer ceremony for U.S. troops killed overseas.
  • In the meme, Trump is seen saluting the coffin of a U.S. service member, while Biden is seen looking at his watch.
  • USA Today initially fact-checked the meme by claiming Biden checked his watch, but only after the ceremony had ended.  The fact-check headline initially read “Fact check: Biden honored service members killed in Kabul, checked watch only after ceremony.”
  • This claim was not true, and USA Today had to correct its story, noting photographic evidence showed Biden checking his watch at least three times throughout the ceremony.
  • USA Today issued an update, stating, “Corrections & Clarifications: This story was updated Sept. 2 to note that Biden checked his watch multiple times at the dignified transfer event, including during the ceremony itself. The rating on this claim has been changed from partly false to missing context.”
  • While USA Today said the meme was no longer “partly false” it’s fact-check still indicates a demerit for “missing context.”
  • It remains unclear from USA Today’s update, what context is missing.

On August 26, 13 U.S. service members were killed in a suicide bombing attack at the Hamid Karzai International Airport, while conducting evacuation operations out of Afghanistan.

On August 29, several of the bodies of the U.S. troops killed were brough back to the U.S. through Dover Air Force base. They were offloaded from a military transport plane in a ceremony known as a dignified transfer. Biden was in attendance at that ceremony and was photographed checking his watch as the ceremony progressed.

During an interview with Fox News on Monday, Aug. 30, the fathers of two of the U.S. Marines killed both said Biden checked his watch at multiple times during the ceremony.

Despite this available information, USA Today issued its fact-check two days later, on Sept. 1, claiming Biden only checked his watch after the ceremony. Based on that claim, USA Today declared the meme to be “partly false.”

Upon being made aware of its error, USA Today changed its fact-check, noting Biden had in fact checked his watch during the event. USA Today updated its article, adding “Associated Press photos taken 10 minutes apart show Biden checking his watch during the ceremony.”

While acknowledging that the central premise of the meme, that Biden checked his watch during a ceremony for fallen troops, was true, it still behaved as though there was something erroneous about the meme.

In it’s update notice, USA Today wrote, “Corrections & Clarifications: This story was updated Sept. 2 to note that Biden checked his watch multiple times at the dignified transfer event, including during the ceremony itself. The rating on this claim has been changed from partly false to missing context.”

It is unclear from the updated article what context is missing.

While admiting the offending meme wasn’t “partly false,” the implication that something is factually wrong remains when the fact check indicates “missing context.”

The MetaFact Group reached out to the author of this particular fact check, Daniel Funke, for clarification as to what context is still missing. He has not responded.

Though he did not respond, Funke limited who could respond to a tweet he shared of the original fact check.

 

Funke also tweeted, “As many of you already know, this story has been corrected. Biden checked his watch multiple times during the ceremony. I regret the error.”

Funke’s apology does not provide any new information as to what context was missing from the original meme, and thus, even after acknowledging the first error, the fact check remains flawed.

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