Fact check: Claim about Biden quote on MLK assassination, George Floyd death is missing context

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The claim: Biden said MLK's death 'did not have the worldwide impact ' that George Floyd's did

On Jan. 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President Joe Biden faced criticism from socal media users after a video from April 2021 surfaced that seemed to show him comparing the impacts of King's 1968 assassination with that of the May 25, 2020, murder of George Floyd by a police officer.

"Even Dr. King’s assassination did not have the worldwide impact that George Floyd’s death did," Biden says in the short clip. He sits at a white table, logos for his presidential campaign decorating the background.

Thousands of social media users shared the video and hundreds of thousands watched it on the national holiday honoring King, with responses that included disbelief, outrage and derision of Biden.

"This is what happens when they take away his teleprompter," right-leaning Facebook page The Scoop Politics captioned the video in a Jan. 17 post that was viewed over 330,000 times in less than two days. "Someone put Grandpa to bed."

Any context for the comment is left out of the 10-second clip, and in many of the posts, it's unclear where Biden is or when he made the comment.

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Biden did say that King's death didn't have the same impact as Floyd's, but context for the video makes it clear he wasn't comparing the legacy or historical relevance of the men themselves. Rather, he was making a point about the way the cellphone video of Floyd’s death led to large numbers of people knowing about and protesting his murder by police.

USA TODAY reached out to users who shared the video clip for comment.

FILE - The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stands with other civil rights leaders on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., April 3, 1968, a day before he was assassinated at approximately the same place. From left are Hosea Williams, Jesse Jackson, King and Ralph Abernathy. (AP Photo/Charles Kelly, File)
FILE - The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stands with other civil rights leaders on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., April 3, 1968, a day before he was assassinated at approximately the same place. From left are Hosea Williams, Jesse Jackson, King and Ralph Abernathy. (AP Photo/Charles Kelly, File)

Viral clip takes Biden's comments out of context

Posts of the 10-second clip and memes about Biden's comparison leave out important context, leading to misinterpretation among social media users.

The recording was taken at a campaign event that Biden held in Philadelphia on June 11, 2020, while protests in response to Floyd's murder were still in full force across the country, according to CNBC's live stream of the event on YouTube. The event was a roundtable discussion about "how to make sure the economic reopening is effective and safe after weeks of coronavirus lockdown," according to CNBC.

On May 26, 2020, a cellphone video circulated that showed Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck for over 8 minutes. Three officers could be seen standing by while Floyd cried, "I can't breathe, I can't breathe."

Biden's comparison of the impact of MLK's death with that of Floyd's specifically relates to the spread of this cellphone video.

In Biden's comments following the now-viral excerpt, he draws a parallel between how television aided the civil rights movement in the 1960s and how cellphone video catalyzed protests against police brutality after Floyd's death. He implies that in these cases, visual evidence forced people – even skeptics – to confront racial injustice.

"But even Dr. King’s assassination did not have the worldwide impact that George Floyd’s death did," he says at around 50:30 into the CNBC video. "Because, just like television changed the civil rights movement for the better when they (TV viewers) saw Bull Connor and his dogs ripping the clothes off of elderly Black women going to church and fire hoses ripping the skin off of young kids – that, all those folks around the country that didn’t have any Black populations heard about this, but they didn’t believe it – but (then) they saw it. It was impossible for them to close their eyes."

He goes on to say that the prevalence of cellphones today allowed the video of Floyd's murder to reach an unprecedented number of people.

"With George Floyd, what happened to George Floyd, now you’ve got how many people around the country, millions of cellphones,” he says. "It’s changed the way everybody’s looking at this. Look at the millions of people marching around the world."

Biden ended the comment by saying that because so many people had seen the video and so many had protested, he was hopeful that the response to the video shows that there was more support for addressing racial inequities in the country.

"So my point is that I think people are really realizing that this is a battle for the soul of America," he says. "I am convinced that with rational proposals that cost a lot of money, the American public is ready to step up, they understand the need to make these systemic changes, dealing (with issues ranging) from racism to structures that our economy has stacked the deck against anybody that doesn't have any money."

Our rating: Missing context

Based on our research, we rate MISSING CONTEXT the claim that Biden said King's death "did not have the worldwide impact " that Floyd's did, because without further context it could be misleading. Context not included in the clip shows that Biden's comment about the impact of King's assassination versus Floyd's death was more about how communication technology has changed since the civil rights movement than it was about the relative historical importance of the two mens' legacies, or about King's work.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Biden quote about MLK, George Floyd taken out of context

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