Accuracy in Media

With the Iowa caucuses less than two weeks away, the Democratic Party presidential candidates attempted to distance each other on specific policy stances and past positions. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) published a video featuring former vice president Joe Biden praising changes in Social Security, which Biden’s campaign called a “doctored video.” But the media appeared to excuse Sanders’s claim about Biden, despite left-leaning PolitiFact calling Sanders’s claim a false accusation.

In the video, Sanders’s campaign claimed that Biden lauded a Republican proposal to cut Social Security benefits, such as freezing the cost-of-living adjustments and other similar changes. It said, “In 2018, Biden lauded Paul Ryan for proposing cuts to Social Security and Medicare.” Paul Ryan had since retired from politics, but he was the former Republican House speaker.

Politico published an article noting that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined Sanders in criticizing Biden for his alleged Social Security policy stance. Its headline was, “Warren joins Bernie in jabbing Biden on Social Security.” Politico appeared to take Sanders’s side in the argument and said that although PolitiFact rated it as “false,” “[t]here is no evidence, however, that the Sanders campaign altered any video.”

NBC News took a crack at the controversy in its article, headlined, “Biden demands apology from Sanders over ‘doctored’ video on Social Security.” The article did not mention how Sanders’s claim was rated “false” by PolitiFact and nor did the article investigate whether the video was altered as the Biden campaign claimed. NBC News appeared to take Sanders’s campaign at its word that it did not alter a video of Biden’s past remarks.

CNN’s take on the controversy was more accurate than NBC News, but close to what Politico published. Like Politico, CNN said, “Though the video takes Biden’s remarks that day out of context, it has not been altered.” It also took note of PolitiFact’s rating, though that line was buried deep into the article.

Overall, the mainstream media offered excuses for the Sanders campaign, while the Biden campaign demanded an apology from Sanders’s campaign for publishing misleading information. Though the media acknowledged that there was no video tampering or alterations, the media failed to emphasize that the out-of-context video clip was dishonest politicking by the Sanders campaign. By extension, the media excused Sanders’s campaign for using misinformation to mislead potential voters and the general public on Biden’s Social Security record.

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