How the Media Reacted to Biden Falling Versus Trump Not Falling

June 2, 2023

Have you heard this one? A Republican president and a Democratic president walked off stage after commencement speeches at military colleges three years apart. The media coverage was a joke.

Then: In 2020, then-President Donald Trump slowly descended a ramp at West Point in New York after taking a weird sip of water, and mainstream media pretended it was a national crisis.

New York Times: "Trump’s Halting Walk Down Ramp Raises New Health Questions":

President Trump faced new questions about his health on Sunday, after videos emerged of him gingerly walking down a ramp at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and having trouble bringing a glass of water to his mouth during a speech there.

Mr. Trump — who turned 74 on Sunday, the oldest a U.S. president has been in his first term — was recorded hesitantly descending the ramp one step at a time after he delivered an address to graduating cadets at the New York-based academy on Saturday.

CNN: "Why the Donald Trump-West Point Ramp Story Actually Matters":

1) Trump is 74 ...

2) Trump’s medical past is a total mystery ...

3) Trump makes his opponents’ health a major issue ...

So yes, of course, the president’s tentative and slow walk down a ramp is a story. Donald Trump made it one.

Washington Post: "Trump Tries To Explain His Slow and Unsteady Walk Down a Ramp at West Point":

In addition, Trump wrote that he "ran down" the final stretch of the ramp. Video footage of the episode shows the president picking up his pace slightly for the final two steps, but that would hardly be considered a run or a jog by any standard definition...

MSNBC: "Unsteady Appearance Prompts New Scrutiny of Trump's Health:

Just as importantly, there have long been questions about the president's physical wellbeing that have gone largely unaddressed. In November 2019, for example, Trump made an unscheduled, two-hour trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for what was described as the first "phase" of the president's physical. As we discussed at the time, the circumstances were curious.

Late-night hosts, like Stephen Colbert of CBS's "The Late Show," meanwhile, dropped any pretense of concern.

Now: Joe Biden, 80 and seen as too old to be president by most Americans, fell at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado on Thursday, and media rushed to assure the nation that the president was totally "fine," as per the White House.

Reuters: "Biden Trips and Falls During Graduation Ceremony, Recovers Quickly":

President Joe Biden tripped and fell after handing out the last diploma at a graduation ceremony at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado on Thursday, but got up quickly and walked back to his seat.

The 80-year-old U.S. president fell forward, caught himself with his hands, then got up on one knee while helped by three people. He walked back to his seat unassisted.

After Biden was helped up, he pointed behind him, seeming to indicate that he had tripped over a sandbag used to hold the teleprompter in place. He mingled with other officials afterward, smiling and giving a "thumbs up" sign.

CNN: "White House Says Biden Is Fine After Tripping on Sandbag and Falling on Stage at Air Force Academy Commencement"

Biden appeared fine afterward, walking without assistance to his seat in the stands. He was seen smiling and jogging toward his vehicle at the ceremony’s conclusion.

The White House said the president was fine after the fall and he later joked about it, yelling "I got sandbagged!" to reporters after stepping off Marine One Thursday evening.

New York Times: "Biden Falls Onstage at Air Force Commencement"

Mr. Biden had delivered an energetic speech to the Air Force graduates before helping to hand out the diplomas. He fell after he distributed the final diploma and was headed back to his seat.

"He’s fine," Ben LaBolt, the White House communications director, said in a tweet Thursday afternoon. "There was a sandbag on stage while he was shaking hands."

Embarrassing moments are not uncommon for presidents, who spend much of their tenure in front of cameras. President Gerald Ford was repeatedly roasted by comedians for frequently tripping during his presidency.

President Donald J. Trump, a day before his 74th birthday in 2020, appeared slow and unsteady as he walked down a ramp from the stage after the West Point commencement ceremony, prompting online speculation about his health.

NBC News: "President Joe Biden tripped and fell during an Air Force Academy event Thursday in Colorado. His aides say he doing fine, but Republican critics were quick to pounce."

While some coverage noted concerns about Biden's age, on MSNBC the joke was that conservatives noticed his fall.