On a black background, Biden's face is seen in the middle of the image with a blue outline of Hawaii in the bottom right corner.

Andrea Austria / Media Matters I Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

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Right-wing media falsely claim that Biden fell asleep during ceremony honoring victims of Hawaii wildfires

Harris Faulkner: “Many are saying that he may have nodded off. Yet another moment highlighting the concerns over his age and mental fitness.”

On August 21, President Joe Biden visited Lahaina, Hawaii to pledge support for the residents of Maui and to attend a ceremony honoring victims of the devastating wildfire. After a video of Biden with his eyes momentarily closed circulated online, right-wing media claimed that Biden had fallen asleep during the ceremony. Despite numerous fact-checks asserting that Biden was awake throughout the entire ceremony, right-wing media still used the debunked narrative to criticize Biden and call into question his mental fitness.

  • Biden visited Maui on August 21 amid tragic wildfires that have devastated the island, killed over 100 residents, and displaced thousands

    • Biden arrived in Lahaina, Hawaii, on August 21 to tour the devastation and to pledge support to the people of Maui. The fire became the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century and claimed the lives of at least 115 people. [Associated Press, 8/21/23]​​
    • On August 22, Fox host Sean Hannity posted a misleading, low-quality video of Biden supposedly falling asleep during a ceremony held to honor the victims of the wildfire. Hannity’s post went viral on X (formerly Twitter), gaining more than 800,000 views in a little over a day. Right-wing media ran with this narrative and spread the manipulated video despite a higher-resolution video on C-SPAN having shown that Biden was not, in fact, asleep. [NBC News, 8/22/23; Washington Post, 8/23/23]
    • “It’s unfortunate they feel the need to lie. Instead, they should join him in supporting the people of Maui,” wrote White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates in an email statement. Bates also posted a list of independent fact-checkers to Twitter/X that have each determined that the claim was completely false. The list included fact-checkers such as PolitiFact and Snopes as well as right-wing outlet the Washington Examiner, which issued a correction to the original version of its coverage to include the C-SPAN footage, stating that the outlet “regrets the error.” [Washington Examiner, 8/22/23]
  • Right-wing media have ignored the facts and continue to suggest that the president was asleep during the event

    • On The Faulkner Focus, host Harris Faulkner used the event to question Biden’s health, describing the event as him supposedly nodding off as “yet another moment highlighting the concerns over his age and mental fitness.” Faulkner also called the president a “pathological narcissist” who “maybe “doesn’t want to do this job anymore.” [Fox News, The Faulkner Focus, 8/23/23]
    • An article on Townhall titled “Did Biden Just Fall Asleep During a Maui Fire Event?” pushed the myth, stating that he “appeared to fall asleep.” The article’s author took the opportunity to criticize Biden’s response to the wildfire in general as well, arguing that “Biden's visit -- which lasted less than 24 hours -- came after he refused to comment on the situation during a multi-week beach vacation in Delaware.” [Townhall, 8/22/23]
    • PJ Media also published an article describing Biden as out-of-touch and disrespectful, saying he “apparently fell asleep while listening to Maui residents discuss their losses.” The author later instructs readers: “Note the woman on the left of the frame wiping tears from her eyes while Brandon slumps over, seemingly catching some much-needed shut-eye after cutting his vacation short to try to put out the growing political fire in Hawaii.” “Brandon” is a nickname conservatives frequently employ to deride Biden. [PJ Media, 8/22/23]
    • On Fox News, Laura Ingraham claimed that Biden “appeared, at least, to be nodding off” during the ceremony in Maui after calling Biden a “pathological liar” for allegedly embellishing the story of a house fire he described experiencing while speaking at the ceremony. She continued on to assert that he will never face the sort of backlash that former President Donald Trump faced during his visits to natural disaster sites because “Democrats are never held accountable,” and there are “always two different sets of rules.” [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 8/22/23]
    • Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk criticized Biden for a previous alleged gaffe as well as for his response to the Maui wildfire. In his post, Kirk cited both a screenshot of Biden with his eyes closed during the ceremony for Maui victims and a screenshot of Biden appearing to check his watch during a ceremony for Afghanistan veterans. [Twitter/X, 8/22/23]
    • Kirk also claimed that “octogenarian Joe Biden” is a “national embarrassment” for appearing to fall asleep during the ceremony. [Twitter/X, 8/22/23]
    • QAnon figure Woke Societies claimed that Biden “fell asleep” during the ceremony honoring victims of the wildfire. Woke Societies called Biden’s alleged behavior “completely embarrassing and nothing but shame,” and incorrectly characterized the memorial ceremony as a “press briefing.” [Twitter/X, 8/22/23]
    • Anti-LGBTQ account Libs of TikTok claimed that Biden made his trip to Maui “all about himself.” Libs of TikTok also reiterated the false claim that Biden fell asleep during the ceremony honoring wildfire victims and claimed that he “compared a small house fire to thousands losing everything” when speaking of a house fire he previously experienced. [Twitter/X, 8/22/23]
    • Turning Point USA influencer Graham Allen called Biden’s alleged nap during the ceremony “unbelievable.” Continuing in his post, Allen exclaimed, “THIS IS NOT LEADERSHIP!!!” [Twitter/X, 8/22/23]
    • Collin Rugg, co-owner of the conservative site Trending Politics, posted about the alleged gaffes that Biden made during his visit, including appearing to “briefly fall asleep during a ceremony in Maui honoring the hundreds of people who died.” Rugg also mentioned Biden allegedly joking about how hot the ground was upon his arrival, as well as the allegedly “embellished” story Biden told during the ceremony about a house fire he once experienced. [Twitter/X, 8/22/23]
    • On Telegram, QAnon influencer ULTRA Pepe Lives Matter falsely claimed that people told Biden to “go F himself” and “[flipped] him off” after “predictably” sleeping during the ceremony. [Telegram, 8/22/23]
    • In response to an NBC News article fact-checking claims that Biden was sleeping at the ceremony, right-wing commentator Ian Miles Cheong falsely asserted, “Actually he was taking a nap not ‘bowing his head in solemnity.’” Cheong continued in his post to say that “the propaganda press fools no one.” [Twitter/X, 8/23/23]