The wife of former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter responded for the first time to a picture taken of her with then-Vice President Joe Biden during the swearing-in ceremony for her husband in February 2015.
The photograph and the video gained national attention because Biden appeared to be uncomfortably close to Stephanie Carter, placing his hands on her shoulders, nuzzling her hair, and whispering in her ear. The video was replayed on a late-night comedy show and the photo continues to be used on television, social media, and internet memes.
Carter has for years hoped that if she didn’t address the picture it would go away but after comedian Jimmy Fallon showed the photo again on his show in March she wrote a blog post to explain that the picture is misleading.
“I thought it would all blow over if I didn’t dignify it with a response. But clearly, that was wishful thinking,” Carter wrote.
She explained that the photo is “a still shot taken from a video—misleadingly extracted from what was a longer moment between close friends.”
According to Carter, her husband’s post as defense secretary was the crowning achievement of his career. On the morning of the swearing-in ceremony, the couple visited Arlington National Cemetery. On arriving at the Pentagon, Stephanie Carter slipped on ice and fell, with several reporters witnessing the scene.
“Later, we went to the White House for the swearing-in and I was feeling self-conscious and tentative (not a normal state for those who know me) about the fall—and perhaps about how much our life might change,” Carter wrote.
“By the time then-Vice President Biden had arrived, he could sense I was uncharacteristically nervous—and quickly gave me a hug,” Carter continued. “After the swearing in, as Ash was giving remarks, he leaned in to tell me ‘thank you for letting him do this’ and kept his hands on my shoulders as a means of offering his support.”
Carter said that she continues to hear about the picture even though years have passed since it was taken. People who she hasn’t met since high school have reached out and jokingly asked what Biden had whispered in her ear.
“It didn’t stop the next day or the day after or the day after that,” Carter wrote. “Ash tried to joke that it was the only way people knew that he had been sworn in. At his first available opportunity, he told the press that we had been friends with the Bidens for years and it wasn’t at all what people thought.”
Carter said that attention to her photo spiked again in March after Lucy Flores accused Biden of inappropriately touching and kissing her. Flores alleges that during a 2014 campaign event during her unsuccessful run for Nevada lieutenant governor Biden had placed his hands on her shoulders, nuzzled her hair, and kissed her on the back of her head.
“He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified,” Flores wrote. “He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head. My brain couldn’t process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused.”
Carter wrote that Flores deserves to be believed but that her story is different.
“Let me state upfront that I don’t know her, but I absolutely support her right to speak her truth and she should be, like all women, believed. But her story is not mine,” Carter wrote. “The Joe Biden in my picture is a close friend helping someone get through a big day, for which I will always be grateful.”
Biden told supporters last month that he plans to run for president, but has not yet made an official announcement. In an average of early Democratic primary polls, he holds a comfortable lead over all of the contenders, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)
Biden’s campaign would have to address dozens of images and videos similar to the one Carter responded to, many of them compiled on a satirical “Biden 2020” webpage.