GOP spreads false claim that White House 'cut off' Biden's microphone

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The Republican National Committee started things rolling with the false claim that an ordinary press pool event was suspicious.

The Republican Party and two media outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch pushed a false story about President Joe Biden that made its way into questioning of Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.

During Blinken's appearance, Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the ranking Republican on the committee, asked him about a video clip shared the day before by the Republican National Committee on both its RNC Research Twitter feed and GOP War Room YouTube account and picked up by Fox News and the New York Post.

On Monday, Biden met with federal and state fire officials to receive a briefing at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. The video clip shared by the RNC, which it titled "White House feed cuts out as Biden starts to ask a question," was taken from the White House feed of that meeting and shows the president asking a question, in the middle of which the feed ends.

The clip was included later that day in a story published by Fox News with the headline "White House abruptly cuts feed of Biden mid-sentence as he asks question at wildfires briefing."

The New York Post ran the story under the headline "White House livestream cuts Biden mid-sentence as he goes off script."

Risch told Blinken, "Look, we've all seen this, we saw it as recently as yesterday — somebody in the White House has authority to press the button and stop the president, cut off the president's speaking ability and sound. Who is that person?"

Laughing, Blinken responded, "I think anyone who knows the president, including members of this committee, knows that he speaks very clearly and very deliberately for himself. No one else does."

Risch persisted, asking, "Are you saying that there's no one in the White House that can cut him off, because yesterday that happened, and it's happened a number of times before then. It's been widely reported that somebody has the ability to push the button and cut off his sound and stop him from speaking. Who is that person?"

"There is no such person," Blinken replied.

After the exchange, having previously amplified the video from the Republican Party, Fox News then broadcast the Risch's questioning of Blinken about it.

"It's come to the point, John, where senators are now asking about this in hearing rooms," noted host Sandra Smith on the program "America Reports."

"It does seem to happen a lot," replied host John Roberts.

But the entire series of events, from the Republican Party to Fox News to the Senate hearing and back to Fox News, is based on the false premise that the video feed cutting off during an event involving the president is unusual.

In Biden's schedule from Monday the video feed of his briefing with federal and state fire agencies in Idaho is designated as "Out-of-Town Pool Spray at the Top."

That means that the video presented online and fed to television outlets was always intended to include only the comments from Biden and other officials made before the start of the event, not the entirety of the meeting.

"Translation of 'pool spray at top' -- reporters will hear some opening remarks and then leave as the president begins to engage in the briefing," noted Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler.

CNN fact checker Daniel Dale tweeted, "Prompted by a Republican National Committee tweet, right-wing media covered this like the White House was nervously censoring Biden as he went off script. In fact, as you've probably seen, it's entirely normal for the press to be ushered out/the cam to be shut off mid-meeting."

Observers noted the circularity of the entire episode: the Republican Party claiming that ordinary operations are somehow an example of a White House feeling the need to shield the president from his own words; right-wing outlets Fox News and the New York Post boosting the false claim; a Republican senator calling the false story "widely reported" and asking a Cabinet secretary to confirm it during a Senate hearing; and Fox then picking up the hearing as news.

Wrote Kessler, "It's especially dismaying that a senior senator like Risch would fall prey to such nonsense and waste valuable time on it during an important national security hearing."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.