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Biden spokesman condemns mischaracterizations of former VP's behavior

Joe Biden with hands on Stephanie Carter's shoulders, while Ash Carter speaks at podium.
A photo that has circulated this week of Biden putting his hands on Stephanie Carter's shoulders. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden's spokesman Bill Russo said in a new statement Monday that some of the photos being circulated on the internet that allegedly depict Biden inappropriately touching women and children have been mischaracterized and photoshopped, calling them "smears and forgeries."

The big picture: The statement echoes in part what Stephanie Carter wrote Sunday about a photo that has gone viral this week of Biden placing his hands on her shoulders. Carter said that Biden was comforting her on the day her husband Ash Carter was being sworn in as secretary of defense, after he sensed that she was uncharacteristically nervous. Allegations of Biden's inappropriate behavior resurfaced last week after Nevada Democrat Lucy Flores alleged that Biden had smelled her hair and kissed her on her head during a campaign event in 2014.

  • Russo's statement also addressed a 2015 photo of Biden leaning in to speak with Sen. Chris Coons' daughter during a Senate swearing-in ceremony. Coons defended Biden after the photo of their interaction circulated, noting: "Joe was just being thoughtful.... I could hear him. He was leaning forward and whispering some encouragement to her ... he was encouraging her about how to get through a day with lots of cameras and lots of folks watching."

Full statement:

"In the coverage so far of Lucy Flores' essay in New York Magazine, reports have made repeated references to supposedly similar, well-documented instances in which the Vice President crossed a line between affectionate or supportive behavior and something — however unintentional — more inappropriate or unwelcome.
"One such instance involved Stephanie Carter, the wife of former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, and the other Senator Chris Coons' daughter. Each was ostensibly captured by a photo that some have interpreted in a way that is reflected consistently, and without scrutiny, in the reporting. Ms. Flores herself has cited the Carter photo as an example of the behavior she experienced.
"Here's the problem: in neither case is the often repeated and recirculated interpretation true. Both Stephanie Carter and Senator Coons have now felt compelled to speak out to put these ugly urban legends to rest.
"As Stephanie Carter relates her own experience, she had a fall earlier in the day of her husband’s swearing-in as Defense Secretary and was 'uncharacteristically nervous.' Sensing that she was ill at ease, the Vice President gave her a hug and later, thanking her for her encouragement of her husband in this new and demanding phase of his career, 'kept his hands on my shoulders as a means of offering his support.' She writes that the infamous photo 'was misleadingly exacted from what was a longer moment between close friends — sent out in a snarky tweet.' Ms. Carter is now reclaiming her story — the true one.
"Senator Coons has reclaimed his daughter's story. The Washington Post has now reported in an interview with the Senator in which he states that his daughter, who has known Vice President Biden all her life, views him as a 'grandfather figure.' Mr. Biden was whispering 'praise for her composure and offering to connect with his own daughter so that they could talk about the challenges of having fathers in the political spotlight. She was not bothered,' the Senator told the Post; 'she did not think of it as anything.'
"So, one now-fabled photo was, in fact, 'misleadingly extracted' from a consoling 'moment between close friends,' and the other captured a grandfatherly word of praise and offer of support for the daughter of long-time friends of the Biden family.
"In other words, the familiar characterizations of these two photos that have been uncritically perpetuated, turn out to be false. The Carter and Coons accounts are not 'updates' of old stories; they are corrections of false ones.
"And they are not the only ones. There are other, even more insidious examples of claims about the Vice President that have no foundation: the use of photoshopped images and other manipulations of social media. Perhaps most galling of all, a cropped photo of the Vice President comforting his grandson outside of his son Beau's funeral has been used to further this false narrative.
"These smears and forgeries have existed in the dark recesses of the internet for a while. And to this day, right wing trolls and other continue to exploit them for their own gain.
"The Vice President has issued a statement affirming that in all the many years in public life that he has shaken a hand, given or received a hug, or laid his hand on a shoulder to express concern, support, or reassurance, he never intended to cause discomfort. He has said that he believes that women who have experienced any such discomfort, regardless of intention, should speak and be heard, and that he will be among those who listen.
"But the important conversation about these issues are not advanced, nor are any criticisms of Vice President Biden validated, by the continued misrepresentation of the Carter and Coons moments, or a failure to be vigilant about a cottage industry of lies."