When did President Joe Biden not say what he actually said? When fact-checking website Snopes decides he didn’t, of course.
On Thursday, during a Veterans Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, our president made another gaffe. This isn’t a surprise, given that Veterans Day — like, indeed, every other 24-hour period beginning at midnight and ending at 11:59 p.m. — falls on a day that ends in a Y.
However, Biden’s Veterans Day gaffe was one of those unfortunate ones that involved race. For the second time in less than a month, Biden told a corny anecdote regarding baseball Hall of Famer Satchel Paige.
The first time Biden tried it, with the pope, he called Paige “a famous African-American baseball player” who didn’t get to pitch in the majors until late in his career. Upon winning a game as a pitcher at the age of 47, Paige shared his view on age with reporters: “How would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”
— Joanna Preston (@JoPrestonTV) October 29, 2021
“You’re 65; I’m 60,” Biden joked to the pontiff.
When he told the story to the pope, Biden didn’t mention that before Paige pitched in the American League for the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns, he pitched for various teams in the Negro Leagues. You probably can see where this is going:
Biden tells a story about “the great negro at the time” Satchel Paige. pic.twitter.com/VcyfHQkCEm
— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) November 11, 2021
“I’ve adopted the attitude of the great Negro at the time, pitcher of the Negro Leagues, who went on to become a great pitcher in the pros — in Major League Baseball — after Jackie Robinson. His name was Satchel Paige,” Biden said in the Veterans Day clip.
According to Fox News, Biden was directing the story at former U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Donald Blinken, the 96-year-old father of Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“I’m 50 years old and the ambassador’s 47,” the punchline now went, although that wasn’t quite the punchline on Twitter — given Biden’s “Negro” sound-bite.
Yes, we get it — the president didn’t mean to call Paige “the great Negro at the time.” He was transitioning into the fact Paige was a Negro Leagues pitcher — but knowing the context, it still sounds really bad. Even Snopes’ Nur Ibrahim had to acknowledge that it was “the latest entry in the Biden Gaffes Hall of Fame.”
However, Ibrahim went on to conduct a fact-check against a straw-man, arguing there had been “some misrepresentation.”
“Partisan commentators latched onto the part of the speech where Biden appeared to call mid-20th century legendary Black baseball player Satchel Paige ‘the great negro at the time,’” Ibrahim wrote. “Ultimately, Biden’s fractured anecdote appeared to be aimed at conveying to Blinken that he was only as old as he felt.” (Really now?)
“While he did indeed utter the words ‘I’ve adopted the attitude of the great Negro,’ and said them in that order, the context surrounding that sentence fragment does not support the claim or implication that Biden ‘called’ or ‘referred to’ Satchel Paige as ‘the great Negro,’” Ibrahim concluded.
There are two problems with this. The first is that neither of the tweets she used in her article as examples — presumably to fact-check against — actually said “that Biden ‘called’ or ‘referred to’ Satchel Paige as ‘the great Negro.’” In addition to the Townhall.com tweet, there was one from Turning Point USA’s Benny Johnson:
BIDEN: “I’ve adopted the attitude of the great negro at the time… his name was Satchel Paige.” pic.twitter.com/NOi6c09tBd
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) November 11, 2021
Nowhere is the exact verbiage “called” or “referred to” used. Ibrahim did list a Mediaite story in her sources in which two right-wing blue checkmarks used those words in tweets, although only one — Carmine Sabia of Conservative Brief — didn’t include the video where the context was clear. (Raheem Kassam, editor in chief of The National Pulse, did.)
Joe Biden just called Satchel Paige “the great negro.”
— Mediaite Is Fake News (@CarmineSabia) November 11, 2021
🚨 Joe Biden refers to baseball player as “great negro”. pic.twitter.com/eR8gQ5vlLr
— Mediaite is Fake News. (@RaheemKassam) November 11, 2021
Snopes is fact-checking, even though neither of these tweets was included in the actual fact-check. But it gets worse, because look back at the hair-splitting definition as to why the “partisan commentators latched” onto this quote in a misrepresentative way: Biden “did indeed utter the words” he said, but he neither “called” nor “referred to” Paige by them, even though those three things are near-synonyms.
Let’s say one is to give Ibrahim and Snopes’ editors the benefit of the doubt, noting that “uttered” in this sense (“to give public expression to: express in words,” per Merriam-Webster) is slightly different than “called” (“to speak of or address by a specified name: give a name to”) or “referred to” (“to talk about or write about [someone or something] especially briefly: to mention [someone or something] in speech or in writing”).
However, if one is to imply Snopes is employing this level of linguistic meticulousness in its fact-checking, it might have wanted to look up “misrepresentation” as well.
According to Merriam-Webster, “misrepresent” is defined first as “to give a false or misleading representation of usually with an intent to deceive or be unfair.” The most one can ascribe to Messrs. Kassam and Sabia is verbal inexactitude — not “misrepresentation.” If this really is what Snopes’ fact-check is about, it is more guilty than anyone else.
I’m pretty sure, however, that’s not what this is all about, given that Snopes is the outfit that once fact-checked conservative Christian satire site the Babylon Bee. Instead, it feels almost like an instinctive reaction: “Is Biden trending on Twitter for a bad gaffe? Quick — to the Snopes-mobile!” And these are the people who are, in part, charged with deciding what’s misinformation and what isn’t. Fantastic.
It’s also worth noting that Snopes’ claim of “misrepresentation” omits the fact that President Biden’s racially problematic gaffe didn’t happen in a vacuum. In fact, as Townhall.com pointed out in a follow-up to the tweet Snopes referenced, he has a history.
This is a trend. https://t.co/mbHGXyChJc
— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) November 11, 2021
Townhall was being kind. Here’s Biden calling senior adviser Cedric Richmond, who is black, “a boy who knows Louisiana very, very well.”
BIDEN: “I’m here, uh, uh, eh, the FEMA’s director’s on, uh, uh, FEMA Director Criswell, she’s on. And I’m here with, uh, with my senior adviser and a boy who knows Louisiana very, very well, man, and, and New Orleans, Cedric Richmond.” pic.twitter.com/kCm33nykma
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) August 30, 2021
And there was Biden on the campaign trail telling an audience, “Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.”
Joe Biden slip-up in Iowa tonight.
“Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.”
Yikes…have fun mitigating that one. pic.twitter.com/m2VxZbnFHF
— Andrew Clark (@AndrewHClark) August 8, 2019
This isn’t even counting the stuff Joe Biden meant.
“If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black,” he told a radio program during the 2020 campaign.
In 2006, as he was ramping up for a later-aborted 2008 run at the presidency, he told an Indian man, “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.” This past March, he had a bit of a reprise when he told an Indian NASA engineer that Indians were “taking over the country.”
But remember: Joe Biden just “uttered” that Satchel Paige was a “great Negro at the time,” he didn’t “refer to” him that way.
Fine, Snopes. Great work, as always.
Can we all just acknowledge, however, that given Biden’s history, the president’s handlers should have ensured he never, ever told an anecdote that got him anywhere in the vicinity of the words “Negro Leagues?”
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