Fact check: Allegations that Joe Biden wore an earpiece at town hall, debate are false

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Devon Link, NewsyBag
Published 6:18 p.m. ET Sept. 29, 2020 | Updated 7:59 p.m. ET Sept. 29, 2020

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President Donald Trump claimed Joe Biden will “get a big shot of something” before the upcoming debate for energy. Trump has repeatedly questioned Biden’s stamina and mental acuity and has suggested he take a drug test before their debates. (Sept. 25)

AP Domestic

Claim: Biden wore an earpiece during a CNN town hall and will do it again for presidential debates

As America prepares to watch President Donald Trump and Vice President Joe Biden square off in the first debate of the election season, Biden’s critics are preparing their arguments to invalidate his possible success.

“Joe’s flesh colored earpiece was spotted at his last townhall. Staffers can give him answers at the presidential debates,” claims a meme posted to Facebook Sept. 22.

“Why does Joe Biden not have an ear canal? Because he’s wearing a specialty designed earpiece so he can recite whatever is told to him,” another Facebook user questioned on Sept 24. “His cognitive function is impaired. He is UNFIT to serve as POTUS,” the post concluded alongside a meme with an up-close image of the same photo and an ear’s anatomy.

NewsyBag reached out to both Facebook users for comment.

There’s no truth to the allegations, which surfaced a week ahead of the first debate and again that day. The Biden campaign also denied claims that they refused to consent to an inspection for an earpiece ahead of the debate.

More: Fact check: Joe Biden did not botch the Pledge of Allegiance in speech

Biden did not wear an earpiece in CNN town hall video

Biden’s wardrobe and the CNN logo in the background indicate the photo was taken while Biden was speaking at CNN’s Sept. 17 town hall.

Videos of the town hall that CNN posted to YouTube show Biden’s head and ear much clearer than the photo. He does not appear to be wearing an earpiece.

The part of Biden’s ear the meme purports to be an earpiece is much more likely light reflecting off his skin. His ear canal is not visible due to the angle at which the photo was taken. 

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The shadow of Biden’s ear canal is visible at 3:07, 4:33 and 6:48 into one clip CNN posted to YouTube, proving he was not wearing a flesh colored earpiece.

Biden campaign says he didn’t wear an earpiece

The Biden campaign’s deputy campaign manager and communications director, Kate Bedingfield, responded to Trump’s unfounded claims that Biden would not agree to earpiece inspection and breaks every 30 minutes during the debate.

Biden campaigns’s @kbeds, responding to Trump claims that Biden won’t agree to an ear inspection and wants breaks ever 30 minutes: “Of course he’s not wearing an earpiece and we never asked for breaks.”

— Matt Viser (@mviser) September 29, 2020

“Of course he’s not wearing an earpiece and we never asked for breaks,” Washington Post reporter Matt Viser quoted Bedingfield on Twitter Sept. 29.

Asked to clarify whether Biden’s campaign had initially agreed to have candidates inspected for earpieces before the debate, @SymoneDSanders: “This is so ridiculous. This is absolutely ridiculous”

— Matt Viser (@mviser) September 29, 2020

A tweet followed with a denial about ear inspections.

“This is so ridiculous. This is absolutely ridiculous” Viser quoted Biden’s Senior Advisor Symone D. Sanders in another tweet.

When the campaign responded to NewsyBag’s request for comment on the matter, Deputy National Press Secretary Matt Hill directed us to Viser’s tweet.

More: Fact check: The third and final presidential debate

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A long history of earpiece accusations

This is not the first time a presidential candidate has been accused of cheating during a debate.

On Oct. 7, 2008, blogger Ann Althouse accused Barack Obama of wearing an earpiece during a presidential debate. She later conceded that the photo might have depicted reflecting light rather than an earpiece, but still held that it could have been true.

“Just because the thing I saw wasn’t there doesn’t mean there wasn’t something there that I didn’t see,” she wrote.

In 2016, critics accused Hillary Clinton of wearing a flesh-colored earpiece during a debate. Snopes investigated the claim and rated it false.

Also, this is not the first time Biden has been accused of trying to cheat while speaking publicly. After delivering a powerful Democratic National Convention acceptance speech in August, Biden was falsely accused of prerecording his speech. NewsyBag investigated that claim and found it to be false.

More: Fact check: Claim that Biden called the Second Amendment ‘obsolete’ is satire

Our ruling: False

We rate the claim that Biden wore an earpiece so his staff could feed him answers during a CNN town hall FALSE. Video from the town hall indicates he was not wearing an earpiece on Sept. 17. And on Sept. 29, the Biden campaign denied accusations he will do so during the presidential debate.

Our fact-check sources:

  • NewsyBag, Sept. 29, “How to watch the first presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump”
  • Joe Lucido’s Sept. 22 Facebook Post
  • Laura Eisenhower’s Sept. 24 Facebook Post
  • NewsyBag, Sept. 17, “Biden: ‘I’ve benefited’ from being white, offers stark contrast to Trump on race”
  • YouTube, CNN, Sept. 17, “Biden asked about police reform and violent protests at CNN town hall”
  • YouTube, CNN, Sept. 17, “See the moment Joe Biden got upset at CNN town hall”
  • The Detroit News, Sept. 29, “Trump, Biden campaigns spar over earpieces before debate”
  • Matt Viser’s Sept. 29 Tweet
  • Matt Viser’s Sept. 29 Tweet
  • Althouse, Oct. 7, 2008, “Live-blogging the big ‘town hall’ debate.”
  • Althouse, Oct. 7, 2008, “[I doubt that] Obama wore an earpiece that was clearly visible on HDTV”
  • Snopes, Sept. 27, 2016, “Hillary Clinton Wore Secret Earpiece During First Presidential Debate?”
  • NewsyBag, Aug. 25, “Fact check: Joe Biden delivered his Democratic nomination acceptance speech live”

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Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here, for more.

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