On social media, photos and video aren’t necessarily what they seem.
Stephanie Carter, the wife of former defense secretary and Philadelphia native Ash Carter, wrote in a Medium post Sunday that a viral photo from her husband’s swearing-in ceremony in 2015 was “misleadingly extracted” and taken out of context to mock then-Vice President Joe Biden.
Photographers captured Biden — with both hands grasping Carter’s shoulders — leaning in and whispering into her right ear. Over the years, the photo has been widely shared as the centerpiece of a “creepy Uncle Joe” meme featuring close encounters of Biden on the campaign trail or swearing in officials during his tenure as vice president. The photo recently resurfaced after former Nevada state representative Lucy Flores accused Biden of inappropriately smelling her hair and kissing her on the back of her head in 2014.
“It is a clear violation of my bodily autonomy to not be touched, unless I give you permission to touch it,” Flores said on MSNBC, after having penned a viral essay about the encounter for The Cut.
Stephanie Carter wrote that she didn’t know Flores, but decided to describe her interaction with Biden after seeing her photo used during cable news coverage of Flores’ comments. Carter said she wanted to reclaim her story “from strangers, Twitter, the pundits and the late-night hosts.”
“After the swearing in, as Ash was giving remarks, [Biden] leaned in to tell me ‘thank you for letting him do this’ and kept his hands on my shoulders as a means of offering his support,” Carter wrote, noting that the couple had become close friends with Biden and his wife, Jill, over the years. “But a still shot taken from a video — misleadingly extracted from what was a longer moment between close friends — sent out in a snarky tweet — came to be the lasting image of that day.”
She added, “I thought it would all blow over if I didn’t dignify it with a response. But clearly that was wishful thinking."
Biden acknowledged in a statement that, over the years, he’s shown “expressions of affection,” but at no time “did I believe I acted inappropriately.” The statement came after Biden’s spokesperson released a statement saying that neither Biden nor his staff had “an inkling that Ms. Flores had been at any time uncomfortable, nor do they recall what she describes."
Meanwhile, a Connecticut woman on Monday told the Hartford Courant that Biden had touched her inappropriately and rubbed noses with her at a 2009 fund-raiser for U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D., Conn.).
“It wasn’t sexual, but he did grab me by the head,” Amy Lappos, then an aide to Himes, told the newspaper. “He put his hand around my neck and pulled me in to rub noses with me. When he was pulling me in, I thought he was going to kiss me on the mouth.”
Lappos said she never filed a complaint, and a spokesperson for Biden declined to comment to the Courant, instead referring to a statement issued about the Flores controversy.
Some former Biden staffers have publicly defended him following Flores’ accusation.
“He empowered women on his staff and was always supportive of us," former chief of staff Sheila Nix wrote on Twitter. “Not only did [he] fight for women through the policies he advocated, he treated women on his team with full respect.”
As Biden prepares to potentially announce a presidential run, there has been a renewed focus on photos and video clips of his trademark affectionate and hands-on personal style. Biden described himself as “a tactile politician” during a March 16 speech in Dover, Del.
In another awkward Biden moment that went viral in 2015, the vice president whispered in the ear of the young daughter of Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.) before kissing her on the side of her head during her father’s swearing-in ceremony. Coons’ daughter appears uncomfortable in the video, but Coons has repeatedly said Biden was simply praising her composure during his swearing-in.
“She doesn’t think the vice president is creepy,” Coons told Fox News anchor Chris Wallace in 2015. “He’s known my kids their whole lives. ... He was being Joe. He was being thoughtful and he was being sweet.”