Did Macron Scold Biden at NATO Summit?

Single photographs can be misinterpreted easily.

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Image via LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images

Claim

A photograph shows French President Emmanuel Macron scolding U.S. President Joe Biden during a NATO summit in 2021.

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In June 2021, world leaders from dozens of countries met in Brussels for the 31st formal meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). U.S. President Joe Biden held a number of bilateral meetings and news conferences during the event, and although a number of world leaders made remarks praising the American president — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Biden was “a big breath of fresh air,” and French President Emmanuel Macron said it was “great to have a U.S. president who’s part of the club” — some Biden critics focused on a single image from the multi-day trip that they claimed showed Macron “scolding” the U.S. president:

This is a genuine image of Biden and Macron. However, the claim that Macron was “scolding” Biden is based purely on speculation.

A single photograph is rarely enough to tell the entire story of an interaction. In fact, we’ve covered multiple instances in which single photographs were misrepresented and shared with misleading or fabricated context. In May 2017, for example, an image of Pope Francis “frowning” with former President Donald Trump was shared alongside an image of the pope “smiling” with former President Barack Obama. These photographs were both real, but they only showed a single moment from each president’s meeting with the pope and did not accurately depict his mood during these meetings. We found other images that showed the pope smiling with Trump and frowning with Obama.

This tactic of cherry-picking a single image to create a misleading narrative was also at play when users shared the image that supposedly showed Macron “scolding” Biden. Although one could share this “scolding” image along with claims that Biden was “bullied” by European leaders, one could share other photographs (such as the one at the top of this page) to claim that Biden was best buds with Macron. 

This image of Macron “scolding” Biden is available via Getty Images. The caption states that the two leaders were having a discussion before the start of the NATO summit:

“US President Joe Biden (R) and French President Emmanuel Macron (L) have a conversation ahead of the NATO summit at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters in Brussels, on June 14, 2021.” 

We did not find video showing the specific moment captured in this photograph, but we did find some footage of Biden and Macron talking before the start of the NATO summit. You can catch a glimpse of Biden and Macron speaking at the 3:08-minute mark of the following video. 

 
You can’t hear what they are saying to one another, but it doesn’t appear that this is a heated conversation. Reporting from the NATO summit also made no mention of unusual tensions between the two world leaders. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Reuters reported:

The United States is back as a cooperative leader of the free world under President Joe Biden, France’s Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday, illustrating the relief felt by many key U.S. allies that the tumult of Donald Trump’s presidency is over.

Macron’s remark echoes that of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson who hailed Biden on Thursday as “a big breath of fresh air”.

Neither Macron nor Johnson drew an explicit parallel between Biden and Trump, though both praised Biden’s distinctly cooperative tone and officials said there was relief after Trump at times shocked and bewildered many European allies.

Biden, asked by a reporter if America was back, turned to Macron and gestured with his sunglasses towards the French president that he should answer that question.

“Yes definitely,” Macron said. “It’s great to have a U.S. president who’s part of the club and very willing to cooperate.”

“What you demonstrate is that leadership is partnership,” Macron told Biden as they sat on an outdoor terrace with a sweeping view of the turquoise sea behind them.

Biden and Macron shared several moments together in June 2021. We found several images of them laughing together and even walking arm in arm. Reporting from the event also indicated that Macron’s attitude toward the new U.S. president was generally positive. Here’s a video of Biden and Macron during a meeting a few days before the NATO summit: