Conservative Media Conglomerate Amplifies Misleading Attacks on Biden’s Fitness

Sinclair Broadcast Group has flooded local broadcasts and news sites with reports based on bogus Republican narratives.

A collage illustration of President Joe Biden looking somewhat puzzled on an electronic device at the Sinclair company.

Mother Jones; Pou/ROPI/ZUMA; Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA/LightRocket/Getty

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

This story was originally published on Judd Legum’s Substack, Popular Information, to which you can subscribe here.

This month, Sinclair Broadcast Group has flooded a vast network of local news websites with misleading articles suggesting that President Biden is mentally unfit for office. The articles are based on specious social media posts by the Republican National Committee (RNC), which are then repackaged to resemble news reports. The thinly disguised political attacks are then syndicated to dozens of local news websites owned by Sinclair, where they are given the imprimatur of mainstream media brands, including NBC, ABC, and CBS. 

For example, on June 10, Biden attended an event on the White House lawn celebrating Juneteenth. The event included a musical performance, and Biden listened with a broad smile but did not dance. The RNC’s “research” team posted a clip of Biden on X with the caption, “Why isn’t Biden moving?”  Hours later, the RNC’s post was embedded into an article published by Sinclair’s National Desk, with the headline, “Biden appears to freeze, slur words during White House Juneteenth event.” 

“On June 6, Sinclair devoted an entire article to amplifying the right-wing fabrication that Biden soiled himself on stage.”

The article claims, without evidence, that Biden was “dazed” and only “snapped out of his stupor” when the man next to him put his arm around his shoulder. It also quotes the Trump campaign’s social media response to the same RNC video: “Lights are on but no one’s home.” The incident was described as one of “multiple senior moments” for Biden during the event. 

The other “senior moment” highlighted in Sinclair’s article is based on a clip posted on X by Fox News’ Sean Hannity, one of Donald Trump’s closest allies. Hannity posted a low-quality clip of Biden’s speech at the event with the caption, “Biden sparks concern as he slurs his words during Juneteenth speech.” Biden, who has been open about overcoming a stutter that he has had since childhood, slightly swallows the word “history.” But the full video of his speech shows that he spoke clearly. 

The article concludes by promoting an absurd rumor, based on a deceptively edited clip, that Biden soiled himself on stage while attending a D-Day celebration in Europe a few days earlier. “Biden’s strange stooping motion caused several terms to trend on X, including ‘diaper,’ ‘pooping’ and ‘pooped,'” Sinclair’s National Desk reported

On June 6, Sinclair also devoted an entire article to amplifying the right-wing fabrication that Biden soiled himself on stage. The URL for the article even includes the word “pooping.” According to Sinclair, the incident “paints a poor picture for President Biden, 81, who is fighting off harsh criticisms of his physical and mental capabilities.” Another article referencing “pooping” was published by Sinclair and syndicated to its affiliates on June 7.

Each of these crass political smears masquerading as journalism was syndicated to at least 86 local news websites owned by Sinclair.

Articles produced by Sinclair’s National Desk are published at the exact same time on every local website. The June 10 article, for example, was published on each website at exactly 9:24 AM Eastern. This suggests these articles are automatically syndicated, and local journalists at affiliates are not able to exercise editorial discretion. When these articles are syndicated, they appear alongside identically formatted articles on local government, weather, and sports.

Sinclair did not respond to a detailed list of questions about these articles and its editorial practices. Instead, Sinclair sent the following statement: “It is evident that you are promoting a specific agenda regarding Sinclair, a false narrative you continue to push irrespective of the facts, allowing you to gain clicks and some notoriety. We do not believe you can remain objective.”

On June 13, Sinclair’s National Desk published an article headlined, “Biden appears to wander away during G7 summit, escorted back by Italian PM.” The article links to a social media post by right-wing polemicist Collin Rugg, who commented on a video clip by RNC Research.

The tactics Sinclair is using on local news websites are similar to those it is deploying on local television.

Rugg says Biden “appears to start wandering off at the G7 summit and has to be handled back in,” describing it as a “clown show.” The Trump campaign claimed Biden was “wandering around like a brain-dead zombie.” Sinclair, echoing the Trump campaign’s political attack,  described it as one of “a string of strange incidents for Biden.”

There was nothing strange about the incident. The G7 leaders watched a skydiving demonstration, with each parachuter carrying a flag for each nation. Biden briefly walks away from the group to give another parachuter a thumbs up. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that Biden “was being very polite and went over to talk to all of them individually.” 

Nevertheless, Sinclair framed the G7 incident as another example of Biden’s mental infirmity. The article linked Biden’s conduct to Sinclair’s previous allegation that Biden was “dazed” during the Juneteenth celebration and suggestions that Biden soiled himself at the D-Day event. It was then syndicated to the same large network of local news affiliates. Baseless attacks by the RNC, the Trump campaign, and Sean Hannity were now legitimized under the branding of ABC, CBS, and NBC. 

Sinclair was participating in a disinformation campaign led by Trump supporters and Trump himself. “[Biden] goes over to France and something happened and it’s not good, I don’t know what it is,” Trump said in an interview with right-wing influencer Charlie Kirk. This is the level of journalism that is being automatically syndicated to dozens of local news outlets, which most Americans still trust as a source of information. 

The tactics Sinclair is using on local news websites are similar to those it is deploying on local television. Last week, Popular Information and Public Notice exposed how Sinclair aggressively promotes specious claims about President Joe Biden’s fitness for office through dozens of local newscasts

All four Sinclair articles attacking Biden’s age this month were written by Jackson Walker, a member of Sinclair’s “Rapid Response Team.” Walker was hired by Sinclair less than two months after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in May 2023

Walker spent his college years writing for The College Fix, a national right-wing student publication. The College Fix is based in Hillsdale, Michigan, and is connected to Hillsdale College, a far-right educational institution closely aligned with Trump.

The College Fix was founded in 2011 by John J. Miller, the director of journalism at Hillsdale College. Its purpose, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, is “to groom young conservatives for careers in the news media by placing college students in internships with right-leaning publications.” Many academics have criticized The College Fix for factual inaccuracies, biased language, and publishing articles that “were completely off base.”

On X, Walker frequently highlights when his stories are circulated by Libs of TikTok, an anti-LGBTQ activist. Walker retweeted a post by Libs of TikTok that highlighted one of his articles and described the LGBTQ community as a “child mutilation cult.”

Other articles published by Walker this year include “US Oil & Gas Association accuses ‘Leftists’ of hypocrisy,” “Stefanik files misconduct complaint against judge in Trump trial,” “Female darts player forfeits competition over trans opponent,” and “House Judiciary Committee slams Biden after Penguins bobblehead theft.”

Unlike the articles attacking Biden’s age, however, these articles appear on a much smaller number of Sinclair affiliates.

GREAT JOURNALISM, SLOW FUNDRAISING

Our team has been on fire lately—publishing sweeping, one-of-a-kind investigations, ambitious, groundbreaking projects, and even releasing “the holy shit documentary of the year.” And that’s on top of protecting free and fair elections and standing up to bullies and BS when others in the media don’t.

Yet, we just came up pretty short on our first big fundraising campaign since Mother Jones and the Center for Investigative Reporting joined forces.

So, two things:

1) If you value the journalism we do but haven’t pitched in over the last few months, please consider doing so now—we urgently need a lot of help to make up for lost ground.

2) If you’re not ready to donate but you’re interested enough in our work to be reading this, please consider signing up for our free Mother Jones Daily newsletter to get to know us and our reporting better. Maybe once you do, you’ll see it’s something worth supporting.

payment methods

GREAT JOURNALISM, SLOW FUNDRAISING

Our team has been on fire lately—publishing sweeping, one-of-a-kind investigations, ambitious, groundbreaking projects, and even releasing “the holy shit documentary of the year.” And that’s on top of protecting free and fair elections and standing up to bullies and BS when others in the media don’t.

Yet, we just came up pretty short on our first big fundraising campaign since Mother Jones and the Center for Investigative Reporting joined forces.

So, two things:

1) If you value the journalism we do but haven’t pitched in over the last few months, please consider doing so now—we urgently need a lot of help to make up for lost ground.

2) If you’re not ready to donate but you’re interested enough in our work to be reading this, please consider signing up for our free Mother Jones Daily newsletter to get to know us and our reporting better. Maybe once you do, you’ll see it’s something worth supporting.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate