The Internet had lots of questions about the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Here’s one of them: Was Clinton wearing an earpiece?
"Has Hillary Been Caught Cheating (Again)?" asked Charisma News, a Christian political website. "Was Hillary Wired for Trump Debate?" asked the conservative website World Net Daily. The U.K.-based Express website summarized, "Did Hillary Clinton wear an earpiece to CHEAT the US debate? Conspiracy theory sweeps web."
It’s not the first time Clinton has faced such suggestions. As Snopes.com has noted, some questioned whether Clinton had been wearing one at NBC’s commander-in-chief forum on Sept. 7. Snopes concluded that there was "nothing unusual" and what viewers were seeing "most likely captured a light source temporarily reflecting on Clinton's ear."
A reader suggested we check out what happened at the first debate -- an even higher-profile event with upward of 80 million Americans watching. So we will. (Snopes gave a False rating to a related claim that Clinton had a bulge in the back of her jacket at the debate that could have been a "coughing prevention machine.")
The original post, at Charisma News, said the device "was meant to match her skin tone almost perfectly." The article speculated that the device could be a hearing aid, an "inductive earpiece" used by actors to better hear cues, or an "anti-seizure device."
"None of these paint a particularly good picture for the Democratic presidential nominee. Either she has an as-yet undisclosed health condition, ranging from mild to severe, or she's been cheating during the televised debates," the article says.
For the record, Clinton campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin told PolitiFact that Clinton "was not wearing an earpiece." Asked whether she has a hearing aid, he said, "No."
So, let’s take a look at the original evidence offered -- a Reuters photo and an enlargement that some say show the suspicious, fleshy bulge in Clinton’s ear.
To be honest, we don’t see any device in this image. (What’s more flesh-like than flesh itself?) But we decided to look at some other images in our wire service archive to see if anything else made her ear look unusual.
When we reached out to Charisma News, an editor suggested that we contact the author of the article. We emailed him the images, but we did not hear back.
Image 1 (Damon Winter/New York Times)
Image 2 (Doug Mills/New York Times)
Image 3 (Associated Press/David Goldman)
Image 4 (Associated Press/David Goldman)
In these four close-ups, we see nothing that mirrors what the original Reuters image showed (which, again, didn’t even look like a device to us). We just see a lot of ear flesh.
When we ran these images by Richard Quindry, a Philadelphia-area photographic and Photoshop expert, he said that only image 2 could even potentially show anything -- the narrow white form inside the ear canal. But even saying that that shape is something other than skin would be speculative at best, he said.
Each of the other images -- as well as the original Reuters image -- show "nothing" to support a claim that she used an earpiece, Quindry said.
Internet claims suggested that a debate photograph of Clinton showed her wearing an earpiece. Neither the original photograph presented as evidence nor other enlargements of photographs taken at the debate show anything that looks like an earpiece or a hearing aid. Pants on Fire!