The claim: Video shows Tom Cotton questioning Merrick Garland about Hunter Biden’s laptop
On Feb. 20 Facebook videos (direct link, archive link) shows a clip of Sen. Tom Cotton questions Attorney General Merrick Garland.
“WHERE’S THE LAPTOP!” the caption reads. “Tom Cotton DESTROYS Garland with LEAKED DOCUMENTS from Hunter Biden’s Laptop.”
The video was seen more than 90,000 times in a week.
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Our rating: False
The video shows Cotton asking questions about a Justice Department memo promising to address a “rise in criminal conduct” at school board meetings. He does not ask about or allege anything about Biden or files from his laptop. The miscaptioned video is an example of a trend in misinformation known as “false framing.”
Committee hearing covered DOJ memo about school board conduct
The video in the Facebook post shows part of an October 27, 2021, meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The meeting was about oversight of the Justice Department, focusing on the memo department Mr threats against school officials.
The memo was prompted in part by a letter from the National School Boards Association, which called for using the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security, its National Threat Assessment Center and other federal agencies to stop “threats and acts of violence” against school officials during school board meetings. The association apologized for the letter in the days before the judicial hearing.
In the 8-minute, 22-second clip, Cotton aggressively questions Garland about the origin of the memo and argues it is an overreach that unfairly targets parents who speak out at school board meetings. A video of the exchange was posted to Cotton’s official YouTube account.
Garland defended the memosaying the department was merely offering support and assistance to school officials facing threats or violence.
Fact check: FBI is not using threat tags on parents who protest at school board meetings
At no point in the video does Cotton even mention Biden or his laptop. The computer figures prominently in House investigations that began in February 2023 into the business dealings of Biden, the president’s son.
USA TODAY has debunked numerous posts that pair false captions with videos of politicians or cable news programming, a type of misinformation known as “false framing.”
Mike Caulfield, a research scientist at the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, previously told USA TODAY the technique works in two ways. First, users tend to trust a post that features authentic footage from what they recognize as a credible source. This style of misinformation then exploits how users often scroll past the video with the sound off, never realizing that the caption doesn’t match what the video shows.
USA TODAY reached out to the user who shared the post for comment.
Our fact-check sources:
Sen. Tom Cotton (YouTube), Oct. 27, 2021, Senator Cotton Q&A During Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing
Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Oct. 27, 2021, Oversight of the Department of Justice FULL COMMITTEE HEARING
Office of the Attorney General, Oct. 4, 2021, Memo on addressing threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff
Mike Caulfield, Oct. 18, 2022, Email interview with USA TODAY
USA TODAY, Oct. 5, 2021, Merrick Garland asks FBI to address threats against school boards over COVID-19 restrictions, masks, racial debates
USA TODAY, Oct. 27, 2021, ‘We did not sic the FBI on parents’: Attorney General Merrick Garland defends school memo
USA TODAY, Nov. 4, 2022, Fact check: Video shows House GOP criticizing Jan. 6 committee, not laughing at Liz Cheney
USA TODAY, Feb. 8, Hunter Biden, White House, House GOP clash over widening investigation of Joe Biden’s son
Politico, Oct. 25, 2021, School board group backtracks on letter for security help from DOJ
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Video shows hearing on DOJ memo, not Hunter Biden’s laptop