For months, the Trump campaign’s media allies have falsely suggested that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is “hiding” in his basement — further evidence that the conservative media figures pushing for the president’s reelection are struggling to find talking points that stick.
Right-wing media have grown desperate for a way to distract voters from President Donald Trump’s incompetent handling of coronavirus and racial injustice as Biden’s lead in the polls grows. Unable to launch racist or sexist attacks against the Democratic candidate, outlets like Fox News are at a loss, resorting to flooding the zone with an assortment of smears in the hopes that one of them resonates with voters. Recently, right-wing media have also tried to claim that the election really isn’t about Biden at all, and it is instead a fight to prevent Democrats from destroying American society.
Accusing Biden of “hiding” in his basement is another outgrowth of that effort. These attacks, despite sharing little basis in fact, are repeated endlessly by media figures like Sean Hannity. Last week alone, Fox hosts and guests referred to Biden being in his basement or in a bunker at least 50 times according to a Media Matters review.
In reality, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is not “hiding.” While the Trump campaign insists on holding dangerous mass gatherings during a pandemic, the Biden campaign has chosen to hold small events which respect social-distancing guidelines. Biden has also made multiple speeches in recent weeks, weighing in on police brutality and the Trump administration’s handling of COVID-19.
The right-wing media’s response to Biden’s June 25 speech in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, illustrates the end goal of this tactic. During his speech on June 25, Biden immediately corrected himself after mistakenly stating that the death toll from coronavirus in the United States was greater than 120 million, rather than 120,000. Yet that didn’t stop right-wing media figures like Hannity from seizing on the verbal slip-up without playing video of Biden’s correction in the seconds following the statement. By taunting Biden, conservative media are hoping not to encourage actual policy debates, but instead to goad the candidate into providing more material for these dishonest attacks.
Below is just a sampling of the smear that Biden is “hiding” repeated on Fox News, social media, and conservative talk radio last week alone.
Fox News hosts and “news”-side figures alike promoted the attack
- Fox’s overtly pro-Trump prime-time hosts as well as some of its straight “news” -side anchors like Bret Baier promoted this talking point. On June 25, minutes after Biden gave a campaign speech in Lancaster, Pennsylvania — which Fox chose not to air — Baier suggested that “Democrats are warming to Biden just staying in the basement.”
- During an interview with senior Biden adviser Symone Sanders, Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace said, “President Trump says that one of the reasons that Biden is holed up in his basement is because he's not up to campaigning,” asking, “Does the former vice president contribute to the president being able to make that argument by being out of public view so often?”
- As protests against police brutality continued across the country, Hannity argued on June 23 that Biden has no “plan to restore order in America's liberal cities.” Hannity complained that media outlets “are shielding Joe Biden” and that Biden is “all but shut off from the outside world, not weighing in on the big issues of the day.”
- The same day on The Five, hosts compared Trump and Biden’s recent campaign events. Co-host Jesse Watters claimed that “Biden's playbook is hide in the basement,” and co-host Greg Gutfeld mocked Biden, joking, “He's like one of those guys who thought the War of the Worlds was real and hid in the basement for three days and is still there.”
- On her Fox show on June 23, Laura Ingraham said Biden is “hiding as a strategy. That's a campaign strategy. That's not an accident. They can't put him out there.” Her guest Victor Davis Hanson, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, baselessly suggested that Biden has a “cognitive problem” that has been worsened by his decision to “relocate in a basement and not have intellectual stimuli.”
- On Outnumbered on June 22, co-host Dagen McDowell joked that the Biden campaign could have a bumper sticker reading “winning by cocooning.” Even after co-host Leslie Marshall pointed out that Biden has in fact spoken with media outlets recently, Fox contributor Charlie Hurt still insisted that “eventually he does have to come out of his bunker.”
The “hiding” talking point also spread on social media
- Fox contributor Newt Gingrich tweeted: “So the invisible candidate hiding in his basement has decided to have an invisible convention in which no group will have an opportunity to dissent or question. JFK’s Profiles in Courage has been replaced by a profile in hiding. Basement Biden-what a slogan.”
- Conservative talk radio host Michael Savage tweeted: “#BIDEN IS A HOLOGRAM IN A BASEMENT.”
- On Facebook, the conservative political blog RedState posted a link to a piece about plans for a virtual Democratic National Convention, writing: “But will he really be in Milwaukee, or will he be in his basement?”
- Donald Trump Jr. tweeted a link to an article discussing Biden’s old comments on desegregation and wrote: “Joe Biden as always gets a pass while hiding in his basement!”
- Newsmax TV host John Cardillo tweeted: “Biden couldn't get 100 people to a rally, that's why he's hiding in the dungeon.”
- Pro-Trump super PAC America First Action referenced Biden’s Lancaster appearance tweeting: “Today, #HidinBiden will emerge from his basement, not for his first press conference in 84 days, but to travel to Pennsylvania, a state where he has pledged to kill over 600,000 jobs.”
- National Pulse Editor-in-Chief Raheem Kassam posted on Facebook a video of his appearance on The Ingraham Angle where he discussed recent protests and the protesters’ actions. Kassam wrote: “If you listen really closely you can hear Joe Biden in his basement screaming ‘I am their leader, I must follow them!'"
- Newsmax TV host Wayne Allyn Root wrote on Facebook: “Any delusional Democrat who ignores ‘Basement Biden’ and his brain problems...should now called “DEMENTIA DEMOCRATS” or “DEMENTIACRATS.”
Right-wing radio hosts repeated the claim to their audiences
- The day after Biden’s appearance in Lancaster, Rush Limbaugh lamented that Trump has had difficulty linking Biden to recent protests because “Biden hasn’t been anywhere. He’s been encouraging it” — referring to “violence” at recent protests — “to the extent that we can make sense of what he says, but he’s holed up in the basement.”
- Hannity has been tirelessly pushing this attack on his radio show as well. On June 23, Hannity claimed that the Biden campaign doesn’t “want him out in public to be seen. … You can’t run a campaign sitting alone in your basement bunker.”
- On June 25, host Hugh Hewitt claimed that Biden is “in the basement” to avoid answering questions about his involvement in the case of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
- On June 22, host Mark Levin complained about media coverage of the low turnout for Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Levin pointed to the TV audience for the rally and mocked Biden saying, “Meanwhile, there’s Biden in his padded basement. He can’t even keep an audience of one; his wife doesn’t even want to be around him, apparently.”