Why Is Media Allowing Joe Biden to Lie About Drunk Driver Killing His First Wife?

September 20th, 2008 3:48 AM

Along with the claim that Joe Biden had a "blue-collar" upbringing -- he had a decidedly upper class (though not "rich") childhood -- Joe Biden has for years claimed that his first wife and his daughter were killed by a "drunk driver" in 1972. However, closer examination of the records proves that the man driving the truck that slammed into the Biden family car was never charged with drunken driving. So, why has the media allowed this perception that Biden lost his wife to a drunk driver to persist?

As late as 2007 Biden said that the man who was involved in the fatal crash that killed his wife and daughter was a "guy who allegedly ... drank his lunch" before he got behind the wheel of his truck and in 2001 the TV show Inside Edition aired a tape of Biden saying the truck driver "stopped to drink instead of drive." Additionally, several media outlets have included the drunk driver claim in their bios of the Senator from Delaware.

This drunk driving accusation, though, is simply a Biden creation and every time this claim is uttered it pains the family of the poor, maligned man involved in the tragic accident with Biden's family, truck driver Curtis C. Dunn. Gannett-owned DelawareOnline reports the anguish that Biden's continued lie causes the man's family every time it is uttered.

"To see it coming from [Biden's] mouth, I just burst into tears," Dunn's daughter, Glasgow resident Pamela Hamill, 44, said Wednesday. "My dad was always there for us. Now we feel like we should be there for him because he's not here to defend himself."

In truth, there was no finding of alcohol being involved in this tragic incident. In fact, some investigators thought at the time that the accident was caused by Biden's wife pulling out into the intersection not having seen Dunn's truck bearing down upon her. It was simply a horrible accident with no blame saying Dunn was at fault, much less drunk.

According to the research that DelewareOnline did for the story, neither Biden's book nor his website bio contains that drunk driver reference but Biden has delivered the claim in several appearances.

The New York Times reported the 2007 crowd at the University of Iowa grew silent as Biden gave his version of what happened that day.

"Let me tell you a little story," The newspaper quoted Biden as saying. "I got elected when I was 29, and I got elected November the 7th. And on Dec. 18 of that year, my wife and three kids were Christmas shopping for a Christmas tree. A tractor-trailer, a guy who allegedly -- and I never pursued it -- drank his lunch instead of eating his lunch, broadsided my family and killed my wife instantly, and killed my daughter instantly, and hospitalized my two sons, with what were thought to be at the time permanent, fundamental injuries."

Biden told a similar story when addressing an audience at the Bob Carpenter Center at the University of Delaware a few days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"It was an errant driver who stopped to drink instead of drive and hit a tractor-trailer, hit my children and my wife and killed them," Biden said, according to a transcript archived on his Senate Web site.

Now, I suppose for a politician looking for the sympathy vote, saying your wife was killed by a drunk is better than saying that your wife made a fatal mistake behind the wheel. But the truth says something else, entirely contradicting Biden's great campaign soundbites.

"The rumor about alcohol being involved by either party, especially the truck driver, is incorrect," said Jerome O. Herlihy, a Delaware Superior Court judge who was chief deputy attorney general and worked with crash investigators in 1972.

Still, there have been several news sources that have included the drunk driver aspect in Biden bio reports.

For instance, Cristina Chang of the Huffington Post posted on September 10, 2008:

But Delaware's Senator-elect would face a more difficult challenge soon after his election, when a drunk driver struck the car carrying his family, killing his wife Neilia and daughter Naomi and severely wounding sons Hunter and Beau.

The Economist Magazine published a story on August 28th saying the same basic thing:

He endured an unspeakable personal tragedy, shortly after his first run for the Senate in 1972, when his wife and daughter were killed by a drunk driver.

And NPR initially published a Biden bio with the same drunk driver claim, but later corrected the story with this disclaimer:

Correction: Earlier versions of this story said that a drunk driver was responsible for the deaths of Sen. Biden's wife and daughter. There is no evidence that the driver was drunk.

Kudos to NPR for correcting the record.

But, here is the thing. Biden himself has made this claim in public at least two times -- most likely far more. So, why has the media basically stayed mum about this lie? Isn't it important for the American people to know what sort of man Biden is? Why are they ignoring this story?

As Thomas Lifson of the American Spectator says, "Is this an attempt to exploit the death of his first wife for political gain? The thought is sickening. Even if Biden was inititially misinformed, he and his campaign have allowed a lie to propagate throughout the media."

But, should we put the onus on the lying politician as Lifson seems to do, or should we place the onus on the media that should be investigating and illuminating this lie? Of course, it is a disgusting exploitation of his wife's tragic death but that he uses that tragedy on the campaign trail isn't the problem. In fact, it is a legitimate segment of his life's story perfectly proper to use for campaign fodder. What isn't legitimate is inventing aspects of that story out of whole cloth to make it seem a more sympathetic tale instead of sticking to the truth.

Isn't the news about getting to the truth?

Apparently not because, thus far, they are letting Biden get away with a whopper.

(Photo credit: reason magazine)