On 7 September 2016, a photograph purportedly showing Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wearing a ‘secret earpiece’ during NBC’s “Commander-In-Chief Forum” was widely circulated online:
This photograph was shared with a wide range of conspiracy theories — some claiming that the image somehow proved Clinton was in poor health, others maintaining it demonstrated she is a puppet of billionaire George Soros — but the most prevalent accusation was that Clinton was wearing an earpiece so her campaign team could furtively feed her answers to moderator Matt Lauer’s questions.
Although this photograph was frequently shared as a “high-res” image showing Clinton wearing an earpiece, it’s actually a cropped version of an image taken by news photographer Brendan Smialowski:
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks during a veterans forum aboard the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid September 7, 2016 in New York, New York
Smialowski’s image has been cropped to show only Clinton’s face (and then blown up back to size), revealing what looks like a small light inside Clinton’s ear. However, this “object” can’t be seen in other photographs of the candidate from the same event:
A video of Clinton’s appearance on the “Commander-In-Chief” forum can be viewed on NBC News. We’ve captured some additional screenshots from her appearance that show that she is not wearing any external device inside her ear:
Hillary Clinton’s Flickr page has additional photographs showing Clinton’s deviceless left ear:
The “earpiece” photograph most likely captured a light source temporarily reflecting on Clinton’s ear.
While “earpiece-gate” centered around Hillary Clinton, some Internet users accused her opponent Donald Trump of wearing a similar ‘secret earpiece’ during the same event and shared a purported photograph of it:
But the Trump photograph was taken at a campaign event in Arizona on 16 December 2015, where wearing such an earpiece would have been expected and allowable, not during the “Commander-In-Chief” form in September 2016, where the use of an earpiece would have been frowned upon.
A video of Trump’s appearance at the NBC forum likewise shows that he was not wearing an earpiece during that campaign event.