Biden ‘Fellow Down Under’ Controversy

On September 16 2021, Trendolizer identified a post (“???????: Biden Seemingly Forgets Australian Prime Minister’s Name, Calls Him ‘That Fella Down Under’”) as showing signs of viral popularity.

It began:

President Biden seemingly forgot the name of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a joint press conference this week, referring to him as “that fella down under.”

“Thank you Boris,” said the President, referring to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “I wanna thank, uh, that, uh fella down under… Thank you very much pal!”

The New York Post labeled the moment a “gaffe.” Fox News’ “Biden appears to forget Australian prime minister’s name” piece claimed:

President Biden appeared to forget the name of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a joint press conference Wednesday evening [September 15 2021], calling him “Mr. Prime Minister” and “that fellow Down Under.”

Fox embedded a Bloomberg @Quicktake tweet from the morning of September 16 2021 about the referenced exchange, during which U.S. President Joe Biden appeared to have blanked on Scott Morrison’s name. Notably, the “moment Biden appears to forget Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s name” was difficult to hear, recorded at a lower volume as Biden turned toward a screen to his right:

It was clear the footage was real and not edited; Biden did describe Morrison as “that fellow down under.” The White House published a transcript on September 15 2021, titled “Remarks by President Biden, Prime Minister Morrison of Australia, and Prime Minister Johnson of the United Kingdom Announcing the Creation of AUKUS,” and the “gaffe” was transcribed:

[PM Boris Johnson] Now, the UK will embark on this project alongside our allies, making the world safer and generating jobs across our United Kingdom.

Thank you. Over to you, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you, Boris. And I want to thank that fellow down under. Thank you very much, pal. Appreciate it, Mr. Prime Minister.

I’m honored today to be joined by two of America’s closest allies — Australia and the United Kingdom — to launch a new phase of the trilateral security cooperation among our countries.

Absent from the Bloomberg Quicktake clip and video iterations of Biden’s “fellow down under” quip was what Biden said immediately afterward. The second sentence from Biden’s mouth began with “As Prime Minister Morrison …”:

As Prime Minister Morrison and Prime Minister Johnson said, I want to thank you for this partnership, your vision as we embark together on this strategic mission.

Although Australia, the UK, and U.S. partnership — AUKUS — it sounds strange with all these acronyms, but it’s a good one, AUKUS — our nations will update and enhance our shared ability to take on the threats of the 21st century just as we did in the 20th century: together.

In discourse about Biden “forgetting” Prime Minister Morrison’s name, that detail was occasionally raised by commenters. Responses sometimes speculated that Biden read Morrison’s name from a teleprompter, but there was no indication the “fellow down under” comment was due to Biden “forgetting” Morrison’s name.

It is true that Biden called Morrison that “fellow down under” and “pal,” but clips like Bloomberg’s ended quickly — not showing that Biden said “Prime Minister Morrison” directly thereafter. Despite speculation about what was and was not on a teleprompter, the claim rates, at best, Decontextualized — and perhaps serves as an object lesson in how easy it is to create disinformation simply by removing context.