Fact check: Allegations that Joe Biden wore an earpiece at town hall, debate are false

Claim: Biden wore an earpiece during a CNN town hall and will do it again for presidential debates

As America prepares to watch President Donald Trump and Vice President Joe Biden square off in the first debate of the election season, Biden’s critics are preparing their arguments to invalidate his possible success.

“Joe’s flesh colored earpiece was spotted at his last townhall. Staffers can give him answers at the presidential debates,” claims a meme posted to Facebook Sept. 22.

“Why does Joe Biden not have an ear canal? Because he’s wearing a specialty designed earpiece so he can recite whatever is told to him,” another Facebook user questioned on Sept 24. “His cognitive function is impaired. He is UNFIT to serve as POTUS,” the post concluded alongside a meme with an up-close image of the same photo and an ear’s anatomy.

USA TODAY reached out to both Facebook users for comment.

There’s no truth to the allegations, which surfaced a week ahead of the first debate and again that day. The Biden campaign also denied claims that they refused to consent to an inspection for an earpiece ahead of the debate.

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Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden steps off a plane at Tampa International Airport in Tampa, Fla., on a visit for campaign events on Sept. 15, 2020. Stories circulating online incorrectly assert a video of Biden deplaning here shows him waving to an empty field. An Associated Press reporter traveling with Biden on Tuesday confirmed he was waving to firefighters and other ground personnel outside the frame of the video.

Biden did not wear an earpiece in CNN town hall video

Biden’s wardrobe and the CNN logo in the background indicate the photo was taken while Biden was speaking at CNN’s Sept. 17 town hall.

Videos of the town hall that CNN posted to YouTube show Biden’s head and ear much clearer than the photo. He does not appear to be wearing an earpiece.

The part of Biden’s ear the meme purports to be an earpiece is much more likely light reflecting off his skin. His ear canal is not visible due to the angle at which the photo was taken. 

The shadow of Biden’s ear canal is visible at 3:074:33 and 6:48 into one clip CNN posted to YouTube, proving he was not wearing a flesh colored earpiece.

Biden campaign says he didn’t wear an earpiece

The Biden campaign’s deputy campaign manager and communications director, Kate Bedingfield, responded to Trump’s unfounded claims that Biden would not agree to earpiece inspection and breaks every 30 minutes during the debate.

“Of course he’s not wearing an earpiece and we never asked for breaks,” Washington Post reporter Matt Viser quoted Bedingfield on Twitter Sept. 29.

A tweet followed with a denial about ear inspections.

“This is so ridiculous. This is absolutely ridiculous” Viser quoted Biden’s Senior Advisor Symone D. Sanders in another tweet.

When the campaign responded to USA TODAY’s request for comment on the matter, Deputy National Press Secretary Matt Hill directed us to Viser’s tweet.

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A long history of earpiece accusations

This is not the first time a presidential candidate has been accused of cheating during a debate.

On Oct. 7, 2008, blogger Ann Althouse accused Barack Obama of wearing an earpiece during a presidential debate. She later conceded that the photo might have depicted reflecting light rather than an earpiece, but still held that it could have been true.

“Just because the thing I saw wasn’t there doesn’t mean there wasn’t something there that I didn’t see,” she wrote.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama and his wife Michelle speak to Tom Brokaw after the town hall-style presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Oct. 7, 2008.

In 2016, critics accused Hillary Clinton of wearing a flesh-colored earpiece during a debate. Snopes investigated the claim and rated it false.

Also, this is not the first time Biden has been accused of trying to cheat while speaking publicly. After delivering a powerful Democratic National Convention acceptance speech in August, Biden was falsely accused of prerecording his speech. USA TODAY investigated that claim and found it to be false.

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Our ruling: False

We rate the claim that Biden wore an earpiece so his staff could feed him answers during a CNN town hall FALSE. Video from the town hall indicates he was not wearing an earpiece on Sept. 17. And on Sept. 29, the Biden campaign denied accusations he will do so during the presidential debate.

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