On November 7 2020, former Vice President Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election; and on that day, Twitter user Dan Barker (@danbarker) shared a purported memo to Biden’s staff from 2014 concerning their “family obligations”:
Barker attached a photograph of the memo in question (signed “Joe”) and wrote:
By coincidence: exactly 6 years ago today [November 7 2014], as Vice President of the USA, Joe Biden sent this note to his staff.
I presume in the background, thoughts of his first wife & daughter who died long ago; or his son, who died of cancer just a few months after this note.
That memo read:
MEMORANDUM TO STAFF OF THE VICE PRESIDENT
FROM: VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN
RE: FAMILY OBLIGATIONS
DATE: NOVEMBER 7, 2014
To My Wonderful Staff,
I would like to take a moment and make something clear to everyone. I do not expect nor do I want any of you to miss or sacrifice important family obligations for work. Family obligations include but are not limited to family birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, any religious ceremonies such as first communions and bar mitzvahs, graduations, and times of need such as illness or a loss in the family. This is very important to me. In fact, I will go so far as to say that if I find out that you are working with me while missing important family responsibilities, it will disappoint me greatly. This has been an unwritten rule since my days in the Senate.
Thank you all for the hard work.
On Twitter, the document was presented with no source or attribution, and if it was on official letterhead, that portion was not visible in the image. Initial inquiry into Biden’s “family obligations” letter led to reporting about the viral tweet, not the source of the document itself.
Biden’s purported “family obligations” memo wasn’t the first of its sort to tug at heartstrings before and after the 2020 election. Not long before voters headed to the polls, a Twitter user shared a letter from Biden to her widowed mother in 2002:
In the course of investigating whether that letter was real, we uncovered a number of similar social media posts over the years from Americans who also received similar — but not identical and equally heartfelt and compassionate — letters from Biden.
On Google Trends, searches for “Biden staff letter” and “Joe Biden letter to staff” spiked in the days after Barker’s tweet appeared. In a date-restricted search, we found an August 2016 article about the 2014 Biden memo (“Joe Biden Sent His Employees a Memo About Spending Time With Family”), which provided an initial source for the claim.
In August 2016, then-Lt. Gov. of California Gavin Newsom spotted the memo in a copy of the print version of Esquire, and shared the page on Facebook:
At the bottom of the page was text reading:
DEPT. OF TOUGH LOVE.
WHAT WOULD JOE DO?
However, the trail initially went cold at that point. We weren’t able to find any scanned-in copies of the source article, nor was it clear the memo was directly attributed to Biden. A “what would Joe do?” caption hinted at a possibility the memo represented a bit of artistic license on the part of Esquire, and that the memo might not have been authentic.
In another search, we turned up a single, text-only source indicating that the text of the letter did appear in Esquire in its September 2016 issue, which would have hit newsstands in August 2016. But the context in that text-only transcription of the magazine’s September 2016 issue did not shed much more light on the context of the letter.
In addition to a transcription of the depicted memo, it seemed only a short blurb accompanied it (not a full profile or article about Biden). In its totality, the balance of the reporting read:
DEPT. OF TOUGH LOVE
WHAT WOULD JOE DO?
Esquire has obtained the above memorandum (from a source inside the Office of the Vice-President— okay, it was the veep himself). Joe Biden, not coincidentally, was recently named a 2016 Father of the Year.
A memo attributed to Joe Biden about “family obligations” dated November 7 2014 appeared to first go viral when a print version of it was shared by Gavin Newsom on Facebook in August 2016; it originated with the September 2016 issue of Esquire in print. The memo to Biden’s staff periodically went viral from that point forward, and did so once again on the day Biden was elected President in November 2020. As sourcing for the memo to Biden’s staff was shaky and we were unable to find source material that was not anecdotal, we currently rate this claim Unknown until we are able to uncover more supporting evidence.