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Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., holds up documents detailing President Donald Trump's plan for dealing with the Coronavirus during a House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus crisis hearing, Friday, July 31, 2020 on Capitol Hill. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP) Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., holds up documents detailing President Donald Trump's plan for dealing with the Coronavirus during a House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus crisis hearing, Friday, July 31, 2020 on Capitol Hill. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., holds up documents detailing President Donald Trump's plan for dealing with the Coronavirus during a House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus crisis hearing, Friday, July 31, 2020 on Capitol Hill. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy August 31, 2020

House Republican’s video manipulates activist’s computerized voice to attack Biden

If Your Time is short

  • Activist Ady Barkan speaks through computer voice assistance.

  • A video shared by Rep. Steve Scalise spliced together footage from different parts of Barkan’s July interview with Biden to make it seem like Barkan asked a question that he did not ask.

  • The manipulation gave the impression that Biden wants to defund the police. Biden has rejected that idea. He has proposed investing more in a program for community police.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., shared a video that used manipulated footage of activist Ady Barkan to falsely accuse former Vice President Joe Biden of wanting to defund the police. Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, has repeatedly rejected that position.

The video created the false impression by splicing together clips from a July interview between Biden and Barkan, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS. Barkan speaks through the use of a computerized device that translates his eye movements into an artificial voice. 

The manipulation hinged on a portion of the interview where Biden talked about police reform. Scalise’s video spliced Barkan’s words to make it seem like he asked if Biden agreed "that we can redirect some of the funding for police." 

But that was not a question that Barkan posed. The video was altered to add "for police."

"These are not my words," Barkan said in a tweet asking Scalise to remove the video and apologize to the disability community. "I have lost my ability to speak, but not my agency or my thoughts. You and your team have doctored my words for your own political gain."

The manipulated video was first reported by the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel, who tweeted screenshots highlighting its deceptive editing. 

Twitter flagged the video as "manipulated," after which Scalise deleted it and posted a new version that omitted the spliced footage of Barkan. The video was flagged according to Twitter’s policy against "synthetic and manipulated media," a Twitter spokesperson confirmed. 

A Scalise spokesperson said the edit combined two of Barkan’s questions for time and clarity, and Scalise stood by the false suggestion that Biden wants to defund the police on Twitter

"Look, it shouldn’t have been edited," Scalise said on Fox News. "But at the same time, the comments were always about — in fact, twice in that interview, he asked Joe Biden if he was for redirecting money away from police. And in both times, Joe Biden said yes."

In fact, Biden has proposed additional police reforms and oversight and called for a $300 million investment in a community policing grant program.

The Barkan interview and Biden’s stance

The Biden-Barkan interview was posted July 8 by NowThis News, which edited it down to about 27 minutes. The Biden campaign previously gave PolitiFact an unedited audio recording of the exchange, since NowThis trimmed some of Biden’s responses to condense the conversation.

Featured Fact-check

The unedited audio shows that when Barkan steered the conversation toward racism and police brutality, Biden made clear that he does not support defunding the police.

It also shows that, despite what Scalise’s video suggests, Barkan never asked, "Do we agree that we can redirect some of the funding for police?" Scalise’s video, which can be viewed via the Internet Archive, spliced two of Barkan’s questions together. 

The questions came as Barkan proposed redirecting some police funds to social services.

"We can reduce the responsibilities assigned to police and redirect some of the funding for police into social services, mental health counseling, and affordable housing," Barkan said, suggesting that one particular killing might not have happened had a "wellness counselor" showed up at the scene instead of an officer. "Are you open to that kind of reform?"

"Yes, I proposed that kind of reform," Biden said, according to the unedited audio. "And by the way, the idea though, that’s not the same as getting rid of or defunding all the police."

As Biden continued explaining his proposals for police reform, Barkan interjected: "But do we agree that we can redirect some of the funding?"

"Yes. Absolutely," Biden said. "And by the way, not just redirect, condition them. If they don’t eliminate chokeholds, they don’t get Byrne grants. If they don’t do the following, they don’t get any help."

Biden described a similar idea for oversight during an interview with CBS News in June. "No, I don’t support defunding the police," he said. "I support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness and, in fact, are able to demonstrate they can protect the community and everybody in the community."

Biden has proposed investing an additional $300 million in the Community Oriented Policing Services Program, or COPS. The program provides police departments with technical and training assistance, hiring grants and access to mental health and wellness resources.

Biden has rejected the idea of defunding the police multiple times: in a spokesperson’s statement, in an op-ed, in a number of local and national news interviews, and in a questionnaire from an organization of law enforcement officers.

Those in Barkan’s circle shared that takeaway.

"Ady Barkan and Vice President Biden agreed on a lot, and disagreed on issues like Medicare for All and defunding the police," said Liz Jaff, the president of Barkan’s Be A Hero political fund, in a statement on Scalise's video that Barkan shared on Twitter.

Previously, Jaff told CNN that "though Ady would have loved Joe Biden to announce in this interview that he is in favor of defunding the police, the vice president never said it."

Our ruling

Scalise shared a video that said Barkan asked Biden, "Do we agree that we can redirect some of the funding for police?"

That’s not what Barkan asked. The video spliced together audio from two different questions, taking advantage of the fact that Barkan speaks with computer voice assistance. 

Biden has repeatedly said he does not support defunding the police, including during his conversation with Barkan.

We rate Scalise’s video Pants on Fire!

Our Sources

Steve Scalise on Twitter, Aug. 30, 2020, accessed via the Internet Archive

Steve Scalise on YouTube, "Steve Scalise | Fox and Friends August 31, 2020," Aug. 31, 2020

Steve Scalise on Twitter, Aug. 30, 2020

Steve Scalise on Twitter, Aug. 30, 2020

Dave Weigel on Twitter, Aug. 30, 2020

Ady Barkan on Twitter, Aug. 30, 2020

Joe Biden on Twitter, Aug. 30, 2020

NowThis Politics on Facebook, Aug. 30, 2020

The Washington Post, "Twitter flags GOP video after activist’s computerized voice was manipulated," Aug. 30, 2020

Be a Hero on Medium, "Be A Hero Statement on Doctored Video Footage of Ady Barkan," Aug. 30, 2020

CNN, "Fact check: Trump campaign, Pence take Biden's policing comments out of context," July 10, 2020

PolitiFact, "Biden says Trump wants to cut local law enforcement aid. That’s correct," Aug. 25, 2020

PolitiFact, No, Joe Biden isn’t 'on board with defunding police,'" Aug. 5, 2020

PolitiFact, "Ad Watch: Super PAC attacks Biden in misleading ‘defund the police’ ad," July 29, 2020

PolitiFact, "No, Joe Biden will not ‘abolish’ police or prisons, as Donald Trump said," July 17, 2020

PolitiFact, "Pence takes Biden’s comments on police funding, ‘enemy’ out of context," July 10, 2020

PolitiFact, "Ad Watch: Fact-checking the Trump campaign’s 'defunding the police' ad," July 8, 2020

PolitiFact, "Joe Biden says he doesn’t want to defund police," June 9, 2020

PolitiFact, "‘Defund the police’ movement: What do activists mean by that?" June 9, 2020

Statement from Twitter, Aug. 31, 2020

Statement from Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, Aug. 31, 2020

Statement from the office of Rep. Steve Scalise, Aug. 31, 2020

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House Republican’s video manipulates activist’s computerized voice to attack Biden

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