Monday, November 28

Fact Check: Did Biden put a medal on backwards during ceremony?


A common caricature of Joe Biden among his critics is what they see as his lack of mental fortitude, attributed by some to his age.

The president, who has called himself a gaffe machine, has often misspoke in speeches, leaving White House staff to clean up afterward.

This seeming absent-mindedness may yet damage his chances of re-election in 2024, should he decide to stand for another term, with even left-leaning pundits concerned of his capabilities.

However, the clamor to make fun or point out these flaws can also lead to accidental or deliberate distortion of truth, as Biden’s opponents jump on the social media bandwagon.

Biden Medal of Honor
A viral Twitter post claims that U.S. President Joe Biden recently presented a medal on the wrong way round to its recipient, part of an ongoing critical narrative questioning Biden’s fitness for office. Pictured here, awarding the Medal of Honor to retired US Army Specialist Five Dwight W. Birdwell for his actions in the Vietnam War, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, July 5, 2022.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Claim

A tweet sent on July 6, 2022, with the caption “Biden puts medals on backwards” shows a video clip of the president presenting what appears to be a military decoration.

The video, which has more than 40,000 engagements, shows a short blue ribbon worn around the recipient’s neck. It has also spread on other social media platforms, including Telegram, where it was quickly weaponized by pro-Kremlin channels.

The Facts

Videos of Joe Biden, shared on social media, have often been used out of context as evidence that he’s not fit for office.

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In May 2022, a clip of the president saying “Don’t jump” to a White House photographer was used to incorrectly claim he had made the remark to a Paralympic athlete. In November 2021, it was also wrongly claimed that he had read a teleprompter instruction during a speech.

In this most recent case, footage of the president has again been posted without appropriate context or knowledge.

The clip from Twitter was pulled from a longer video filmed on Tuesday, July 5, 2022, at the White House in which president Biden presented the Medal of Honor, the highest award for military valor in action, to four veterans of the Vietnam war.

The medal is attached by a short blue ribbon that sits on the collar of the recipient and, according to the American Battlefield Trust, it is the only American military decoration to be worn in this way.

Until World War II it was most often pinned to the breast of recipients but after 1942, the blue neck ribbon was adopted to distinguish it from other honors.

A video library showing former presidents presenting the medal can be found on the CMOHS website.

It appears those who tweeted that Joe Biden had put on the medal backwards, may have thought the medal itself was hanging lower on the back of the recipient, pulling the ribbon against the throat (even though at the start of the clip you can see the ribbon attached around the back of neck).

The clip on Twitter is edited not to include the full video, which clearly shows the president presenting the medal on its short ribbon to the recipient.

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The soldier in the clip is army specialist Dwight W. Birdwell. The audience at the White House ceremony were told how on January 31, 1968, Birdwell “under intense enemy fire” moved a wounded tank commander to safety during conflict at the Tan Son Nhut Airbase near Saigon during the Tet Offensive, a series of attacks by North Vietnamese forces on outposts in South Vietnam.

Birdwell, a citizen of the Cherokee nation, then used the tank to fire back at the enemy force. Having spent all available ammunition, Birdwell then moved to a downed squadron commander’s helicopter to retrieve weaponry used to further suppress the enemy forces.

Birdwell was wounded when his machine gun was hit by fire but he refused evacuation, later leading a group of defenders to engage directly with the enemy, disrupting the assault until reinforcements arrived.

A full biography of Birdwell and his extraordinary actions in Vietnam can be found on the U.S. Army website.

Other veterans presented the honor by president Biden were army major John J. Duffy, army specialist Dennis M. Fujii, and staff sergeant Edward N Kaneshiro.

While Biden is regularly castigated on social media, often for statements lacking vital context, this particular example of misinformation is particularly egregious, hijacking a solemn occasion meant to honor servicemen who put their lives at risk, simply to make an ill-informed jab.

The Ruling

Fact Check - False

False.

The video shared on Twitter does not show president Biden putting on a medal backwards. The clip was taken from a White House ceremony in which four veterans of the Vietnam war were presented with the Medal of Honor, the highest award for military valor in action. The medal is attached by a blue ribbon which sits at the collar of the recipient. It is the only type of U.S. military decoration which is worn this way.

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FACT CHECK BY Newsweek’s Fact Check team

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