Joe Biden with a Fox News logo

Andrea Austria / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

Right-wing media manufacture outrage over Biden awarding a Medal of Honor

Right-wing media are lashing out at President Joe Biden following a ceremony to award the Medal of Honor to a Vietnam War veteran, in which Biden delivered remarks praising the man’s heroism, placed the medal around his neck, shook his hand, and exchanged salutes with him before leaving as the room erupted in a standing ovation. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre later explained that Biden planned to leave during a pause in the ceremony to reduce the audience’s possible exposure to COVID-19 after the first lady tested positive.

Conservatives are twisting Biden’s departure at the end of the ceremony, which was prior to a closing prayer, as an insult to veterans and an example of problems with his age — even though the right-wing cable networks Fox News and Newsmax, which were covering the event live, made no comment of it at the time. This smear is reminiscent of right-wing media previously manufacturing another scandal in 2021 to falsely claim that Biden was disrespecting veterans. In that instance, Fox manipulated video of the event to falsely allege Biden had been disrespectful despite Fox’s live coverage not commenting on his behavior whatsoever.

  • Live coverage from Fox and Newsmax didn’t comment on Biden’s departure after he awarded the medal

    • The White House transcript of the ceremony showed that Biden spoke for most of the 15-minute ceremony. The official transcript shows Biden’s remarks on the valor of Army Capt. Larry Taylor’s rescue of fellow soldiers in his helicopter gunship during the Vietnam War, and that Biden’s presence at the ceremony ended after presenting the Medal of Honor to Taylor amid applause. [The White House, 9/5/23]
    • Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum didn’t comment on Biden’s departure during her live coverage of the ceremony. After Biden left, MacCallum simply remarked: “Never a dry eye in the house in these moments when we get to learn about extraordinary heroism,” and repeated a summary of Taylor’s heroic actions that earned him the medal. [Fox News, The Story, 9/5/23]
    • Newsmax’s live coverage of the end of the ceremony also didn’t comment on Biden’s departure. [Newsmax, American Agenda, 9/5/23]
    • White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre later explained that Biden planned to leave during a pause in the ceremony to reduce the audience’s possible exposure to COVID-19 after the first lady tested positive. During the September 6 White House press briefing, Jean-Pierre said, “He left as planned … when there was a pause in a program in order to minimize his close contact with attendees who were about to participate in a reception.” Jean-Pierre emphasized that Biden has repeatedly tested negative following the first lady’s positive COVID-19 test result days earlier. She added that prior to the ceremony, Biden “spent a good amount of time” with Taylor and his family. [The White House, 9/6/23]
  • Right-wing media smears twisted Biden’s participation in the ceremony beyond recognition

    • Townhall: “Joe Biden just BOLTED out of the room immediately after awarding the Medal of Honor to Army Captain Larry Taylor. The ceremony continued on for several minutes afterwards. Biden completely missed a concluding prayer.” [Twitter/X, 9/5/23]
    • Right-wing network The First: “WATCH - Confused Biden walks-away in the middle of a Medal of Honor ceremony…” [Twitter/X, 9/5/23]
    • Young Americans for Liberty: “A very confused President Biden walks out in the middle of Medal of Honor ceremony before the benediction.” [Twitter/X, 9/5/23]
    • The Gateway Pundit: “SICK! Joe Biden Abruptly Walks Out of Medal of Honor Ceremony Before the Closing Benediction – Humiliates Recipient.” [The Gateway Pundit, 9/5/23]
    • RedState: “WATCH: Biden Leaves Everyone Confused as He Walks Out in the Middle of a Medal of Honor Ceremony.” [RedState, 9/5/23]
    • Benny Johnson: “Biden JUMPS Off-Stage During Medal of Honor Ceremony! INSULTS War Hero.” [Twitter/X, 9/5/23]
    • Fox anchor Bret Baier smeared Biden’s departure from the ceremony as an example of the president showing his age. After claiming that Biden simply leaving the award ceremony as it concluded was somehow indicative of Biden’s age limiting his capacity as president, Baier inexplicably claimed this had happened “just moments ago,” when the ceremony actually concluded approximately three hours prior. [Fox News, Special Report, 9/5/23]
    • Fox host Sean Hannity also misrepresented Biden’s departure from the ceremony to claim it showed a problem with his age. After Hannity commented on polling showing voter concerns over Biden’s age, he said: “Right on cue, the president today got confused and dazed and, well, he walked out during a Medal of Honor ceremony before the event was even over. Please somebody help this guy.” An on-screen graphic falsely stated: “Oblivious Joe Biden walks out mid-ceremony.” [Fox News, Hannity, 9/5/23]
    • Newsmax host Rob Schmitt said Biden had a “very odd moment” and “just wandered off, leaving the war hero on stage.” [Newsmax, Rob Schmitt Tonight, 9/5/23]
    • Newsmax host Eric Bolling also used the manufactured outrage to push questions about Biden’s fitness for office. Bolling said that Biden “doesn’t know where he is.” His guest — another disgraced former Fox host, Megyn Kelly — said: “What happened today is horrifying. I mean, he — truly, how is he going to run the country when he can’t even run a Medal of Honor ceremony, he can’t do anything. He looked completely lost.” [Newsmax, Eric Bolling The Balance, 9/5/23]
    • Fox News Digital sourced outrage from others in right-wing media to claim Biden was “ripped” over his departure. The article featured right-wing outlets such as Townhall and RedState, and Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen. [Fox News, 9/6/23]
    • New York Post also cited outrage from right-wing commentators and referenced a 2021 smear of Biden attending a ceremony for slain Afghanistan War veterans. The New York Post wrote that Biden was “blasted” for departing the ceremony before the closing prayer, citing “military veterans” that included a right-wing podcaster, a Republican lawmaker, and a right-wing gun activist. The Post noted that the lawmaker had referenced “when Biden appeared to glance at his timepiece during a solemn ceremony for the 13 US troops killed in an August 2021 terror attack near the Kabul airport in Afghanistan.” [New York Post, 9/5/23]
  • Right-wing media previously manufactured a smear that Biden disrespected fallen troops arriving from Afghanistan

  • In August 2021, Biden visited Dover Air Force Base for a ceremony to transfer the remains of U.S. troops killed during the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Like the new smear, Fox’s live coverage of the event did not note anything amiss with Biden’s actions. But after other right-wing media personalities began manufacturing a scandal centered around Biden briefly glancing down during the ceremony, purportedly to look at his watch, Fox began manipulating its own video of the event to support the smear campaign. As is the case with the latest example of manufactured outrage, Biden's actions occurred after the ceremony had concluded.