On Nov. 19, 2023, U.S. President Joe Biden and the first lady, Jill Biden, spent time with around 400 service members and their families, sharing an early Thanksgiving meal at Norfolk Naval Station in Norfolk, Virginia. During the gathering, the president served food at a buffet line and also separately gave remarks and thanked the crowd for their service.
One particular moment during Biden's remarks was reposted and highlighted by social media users, political blogs and at least one tabloid. In this story, we'll first provide facts and video evidence regarding Biden's remarks at the event. Then, we'll explain the way that the moment in question was being framed online.
The event was broadcast in a lengthy C-SPAN video. The Forbes Breaking News YouTube channel also uploaded a shorter video of the same gathering. For the purposes of this story, we will be referencing times in the Forbes video so that readers can watch the moments mentioned.
"We only have one truly sacred obligation, and that's to prepare those who we send in harm's way, care for them and their families when they come home and make sure they are never forgotten," Biden said, beginning at the 4:31 mark in the YouTube video. "You literally are the backbone, the spine, the sinew of this nation. Only 1% of you, and this is important to keep in mind, 1% of you, that’s all, that protects the 99% of us."
Around three minutes later, at the 7:35 mark in the YouTube video, Biden noticed a little girl seated at table near the front of the crowd wearing a headband with a design of cat ears. He then walked over to her and pointed to the headband.
"I love your ears. I love – they're really cool," Biden said. He asked her name. She answered, "Catherine" (or perhaps a different spelling), and he answered, "Beautiful name."
Biden then said to the same girl, "Well, nice to see you. How old are you, 17?" He paused for a moment and looked up after another person yelled, "No, she's six." Biden said, "Six!" He next looked to a little boy (who may have been the person who yelled her age) and said, "And how old are you? 15?" Then, Biden said, "Four!"
During this part of the event when he asked the ages of the two young children, the C-SPAN and YouTube videos showed several service members, their families and others who were smiling at the president's remarks and laughing right after Biden's age guesses.
One of the women laughing and then nodding at Biden's remarks on the left-hand side of the video appeared to be one of the girl's parents, guardian or person who had been designated to watch the girl during the event, according to a second video of the same woman who was helping children along in the line where the president and others had been serving the meal at the event. (That moment begins at the 12:15 mark in this different YouTube video.)
The Associated Press reported of the moment that Biden had "lightheartedly bent down and joked" with the first child:
Biden also talked at the dinner with service members about watching Beau Biden’s children while he was deployed, but then appeared too overcome with emotion to continue and said, “I don’t want to talk about this.” The sadness was fleeting. A moment later he lightheartedly bent down and joked with a 6-year-old, saying “What are you, 17?”
“Happy, happy Thanksgiving,” Biden said. “May God love you all.”
After Biden engaged with the two young children, the Republican National Committee Research X account, which has more than 500,000 followers, posted a 16-second video clip of a camera angle that was different than C-SPAN's and Forbes' and that was captioned as, "BIDEN: 'I love your ears.'"
The video ended before Biden asked the second child his age. Had both age guesses been included in the clip, it perhaps would have provided the context that The AP had mentioned in its reporting.
Political blogs and at least one tabloid attempted to report about the moment with Biden and the little girl in their headlines.
The Post Millennial published the headline, "CREEPY JOE: Biden asks 6-year-old girl if she's 17, says 'I love your ears.'"
The Washington Times reported, "‘Creepy Joe’ charges resurface after Biden asks 6-year-old girl if she’s 17."
The Daily Mail also published, "Creepy Joe strikes again? Biden slammed for telling girl, 6, 'I love your EARS' at Thanksgiving event."
In other words, any users who simply read these headlines but didn't look further for context might not leave with the facts. Simply look back at NPR's years-old April Fools' Day joke about "Why Doesn't America Read Anymore?" That joke had the aim of showing readers just how many online users would choose to comment under a Facebook post after only reading a headline and without even clicking on the article to read the story.
For the full context and visible reactions from service members and their families who attended the event and reacted to Biden's remarks as they happened, we refer readers to the full and unedited C-SPAN video.
We reached out to the White House to ask about the online reaction to Biden's remarks and will update this story if we receive a response.
“BREAKING NEWS: Bidens Invoke Son Beau In Friendsgiving Remarks To Service-Members & Their Families.” YouTube, Forbes Breaking News, 19 Nov. 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzeZVPuJ7Co.
“BREAKING NEWS: Bidens Serve Friendsgiving Dinner To Military Service-Members And Their Families.” YouTube, Forbes Breaking News, 19 Nov. 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mM5BdSdFlwE.
“President and First Lady Participate in Friendsgiving Dinner with Service Members and Families.” C-SPAN.org, 19 Nov. 2023, https://www.c-span.org/video/?531977-1/president-lady-participate-friendsgiving-dinner-service-members-families.
Weissert, Will. “The Bidens Start Thanksgiving Early by Serving Dinner and Showing ‘Wonka’ to Service Members.” The Associated Press, 19 Nov. 2023, https://apnews.com/article/biden-thanksgiving-troops-military-norfolk-naval-station-4453eee2e8194cf767d47b1b7e12c563.
“Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore?” NPR, 1 Apr. 2014, https://www.npr.org/2014/04/01/297690717/why-doesnt-america-read-anymore.