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Ad Watch: Fact-checking a video about Biden’s academic record

Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) gestures at a news conference on Capitol Hill, Sept. 17, 1987. (AP) Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) gestures at a news conference on Capitol Hill, Sept. 17, 1987. (AP)

Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) gestures at a news conference on Capitol Hill, Sept. 17, 1987. (AP)

Daniel Funke
By Daniel Funke May 7, 2020

If Your Time is short

  • A video posted on Facebook by Brad Parscale includes an old clip of Joe Biden listing his academic accomplishments, followed by news reports refuting the claims.

  • The clip of Biden comes from a campaign stop he made in April 1987 in New Hampshire. C-SPAN published the footage, which shows Biden confronting a voter.

  • Biden misled on a variety of claims about his academic career, including his law school class rank and how many undergraduate degrees he had. He issued a statement in September 1987 after news reports corrected his record.

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign is digging up old footage of Joe Biden’s past misstatements to make a point about the presumptive Democratic nominee’s current accuracy.

On May 5, Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, published a video on Facebook that includes an old clip of Biden talking with voters about his academic record. It’s followed by several television news reports that refute the former United States senator’s claims.

"Joe Biden has been lying about his personal life for decades," Parscale wrote in the caption of the video, which has been shared tens of thousands of times.

Trump shared the video on his own Facebook page May 5. And it was published as Biden continues to face scrutiny for sexual assault allegations made by his former aide, so we wanted to check it out.

Parscale’s video pulls clips from real newscasts about a misstatement Biden made in the run-up to the 1988 election. But his caption — that the former vice president has been "lying about his personal life for decades" — is unproven. We found no reports that Biden repeated the claims after 1987.

We emailed Parscale asking for the source of the video. In response, a spokesman for the Trump campaign sent us a video from the Media Research Center, a conservative nonprofit organization, from September 2019.

That video pulls footage from an April 1987 C-SPAN clip and archived news reports. In the C-SPAN footage, Biden, who was running for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 1988 election, answers a question about his academic record during a campaign stop in New Hampshire.

"I went to law school on a full academic scholarship, the only one in my class who had a full academic scholarship," Biden said. "The first year in law school, I decided I didn’t want to be in law school and ended up in the bottom two-thirds of my class. And then decided I wanted to stay, went back to law school and, in fact, ended up in the top half of my class."

Biden also claimed he "graduated with three degrees from undergraduate school."

"I’d be delighted to sit down and compare my IQ to yours if you’d like, Frank," he said.

Biden graduated from Syracuse University’s law school in 1968, but not in the top half of his class. He also did not receive three undergraduate degrees. And, according to a September 1987 Newsweek report, Biden didn’t attend law school on a full academic scholarship, either.

In a statement published in response to the Newsweek story, and covered by the New York Times, Biden said his "recollection of this was inaccurate.''

"I graduated from the University of Delaware with a double major in history and political science. My reference to degrees at the Claremont (N.H.) event was intended to refer to these majors — I said 'three' and should have said 'two,’" Biden said in the statement, according to the Times.

Biden graduated 76th of 85 students in his law school class, and Newsweek reported that Biden had attended Syracuse on a half scholarship based on financial need. The Democratic candidate did not directly dispute the reporting, but he said that he also received money from the school itself and the Higher Education Scholarship Fund of Delaware.

"I exaggerate when I'm angry, 'but I've never gone around telling people things that aren't true about me," Biden told the Times.

We reached out to the Biden campaign for a comment, but they did not provide one on the record. 

In his 2007 autobiography "Promises to Keep," Biden addressed his comments on the 1988 campaign trail. He said he lost his temper because he was getting sick with the flu, and "it sounded to me as if one of my own supporters doubted my intelligence."

"At a small campaign event in Claremont, N.H., I lost it. I shouldn’t have been there in the first place," Biden wrote. "I didn’t feel any better afterward; what I’d said was a quick and stupid rant that I wished I’d never said. Worse than that, without realizing it I’d exaggerated my academic record."

"Thank God, I thought as I left the event, there weren’t many people in the room to see my outburst."

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Our Sources

Facebook video from Brad Parscale, May 5, 2020

Facebook video from Donald Trump, May 5, 2020

Newsweek, "Biden's Belly Flop," Sept. 28, 1987

The New York Times, "Biden Admits Errors and Criticizes Latest Report," Sept. 22, 1987

PolitiFact, "Tara Reade has accused Joe Biden of sexual assault. Here’s what we know," April 30, 2020

"Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics," 2007

Syracuse University College of Law, Joseph R. Biden Jr, Class of 1968

Vanderbilt Television News Archive, accessed May 6, 2020

Video from C-SPAN, April 1987

Video from the Media Research Center, Sept. 17, 2019

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