“Deep in the heart of Delaware, Joe Biden sits in the heart of his basement. Alone. Hiding. Diminished. … Biden has no answers. And after five decades of failure, he never will.”

—Voice-over of Trump campaign ad “Delaware,” released Aug. 5, 2020

You can understand the frustration of the Trump campaign in the age of the coronavirus pandemic. The president can’t hold the big rallies he loves. And his opponent, former vice president Joe Biden, is not on the campaign trail either, preferring instead to host events via Zoom from his home.

So that doesn’t leave much footage for the Trump campaign, especially of the inevitable gaffes that it loves to exploit. So, in effect, the campaign decided to create its own footage by manipulating photographs.

Political ad-makers often seize the ugliest, nastiest photos they can find of the opponent. But this takes it to a whole new level. We’re going to keep our focus on these images, not the other (dubious) claims made by the ad.

There are three photos that were manipulated. Here’s an explanation based on the order in which they appeared in the ad.

“Alone. Hiding.”

The ad displays these words as it shows an image of Biden appearing to be alone, sitting on the floor, though, oddly, he also appears to be talking.

The original photo appeared in the Gazette, a newspaper based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It showed at least 10 people in the shot engaged in conversation with the candidate.

“The image, which was used without the Gazette’s permission, was taken by Photo Editor Liz Martin in December when Biden was visiting the home of Coralville Mayor John Lundell,” the newspaper reported. “About three dozen supporters and journalists were at the event, Martin said, and Biden sat on the floor to give someone else his seat.”

The ad tightly crops the photo so that many of the participants in the conversation cannot be seen. Then it deletes people who were immediately behind Biden, including a woman in a coat and a cameraman.


The next still image appears to show a grimacing Biden in an interior setting. But it’s actually a photo of Biden speaking at a nature preserve in Cedar Rapids in September 2019. At one point, he removed the microphone from the stand and started wandering around, taking questions from the audience.

The photographer, Mark Peterson, snapped the photo for Politico as Biden paused to consider a question.

The ad removes the microphone. It removes the green trees behind Biden. And then it adds a background image of an empty interior space, with a door opening visible in the background. The result is that Biden appears to be alone and troubled.

“Never will.”

The final image in the ad has relatively minor Photoshopping but is out of context. By now, the viewer is primed to believe Biden is in a basement; the photo is dark and he appears to be alone, as much of the background is fuzzed out.

But, as can be seen in the original Associated Press photo, Biden is actually praying at the brightly lit Bethel AME church in Wilmington, Del., in June following the killing of George Floyd in police custody.

We sought comment from the Trump campaign but did not get a response.

Two of these photos fall under the category of “doctored” in the Fact Checker’s Guide to Manipulated Video. In the most egregious case, one image literally takes Biden from a nature preserve and puts him in a darkened room, even deleting the microphone that would signal he was speaking to people.

We’ve taken a tough line on manipulated video, and we’re going to be equally tough on the use of these images because the framing of the ad — Biden alone in his basement — is largely based on them.

Before the coronavirus appeared, Biden ran a traditional campaign, holding town halls and meeting with people. The fact that the Trump campaign is forced to take images of events of Biden with people and twist them into him being alone demonstrates how little material they actually have for an attack ad.

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