Fake New York Times headline spreads online following presidential immunity ruling

A US Supreme Court ruling found Donald Trump is entitled to substantial immunity from criminal prosecution for "official acts" in office, postponing the former US president's 2020 election interference case. But a screenshot shared on social media of a New York Times headline supposedly calling on President Joe Biden to "drone strike" his political rival in response is fabricated. 

"To Serve His Country, President Biden Should Drone Strike Donald Trump," text of a headline that appears to have been published by the New York Times editorial board says, in a purported screenshot shared on X July 1, 2024.

"In full compliance with the Supreme Court ruling," adds the user, implying Biden would be granted immunity if he were to do so as sitting president.

<span>Screenshot of an X post taken July 1, 2024</span>
Screenshot of an X post taken July 1, 2024

The claims spread elsewhere on Facebook and on X here, here and here.

The Supreme Court ruled on the issue of presidential immunity on July 1, as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee faces criminal charges over his attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden and inciting the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

The conservative-dominated high court determined that Trump -- and all presidents -- enjoy "absolute immunity" from criminal prosecution for "official acts" taken while in office, but can still face criminal penalties for "unofficial acts." A a lower court must now determine which of the charges facing Trump involve official or unofficial conduct.

The text of the purported headline alludes to the question that has been repeatedly raised during this historic case -- whether presidential immunity extends so far that a president could order the military to assassinate a political rival.

In her 29-page dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor warned that a president is now immune from criminal prosecution if he ordered such an assassination or if he organizes a coup to hold on to political power (archived here).

However, posts purporting the New York Times editorial board published an article calling on Biden to "drone strike" Trump are false and the screenshot is altered.

"I can confirm that this headline is fabricated and no such article was published by The New York Times," a spokesperson said in a July 1, 2024 email.

The altered image appears to derive from a June 28 editorial (archived here) published after the first Biden-Trump debate of the 2024 election titled: "To Serve His Country, President Biden Should Leave the Race."

<span>Screenshot of a New York Times article taken July 2, 2024</span>
Screenshot of a New York Times article taken July 2, 2024

On July 1, Biden warned that the US Supreme Court's landmark ruling sets a "dangerous precedent."

"For all practical purposes, today's decision almost certainly means there are no limits to what a president can do. This is a fundamentally new principle, and it's a dangerous precedent," he said in a speech at the White House (archived here).

The 6-3 decision comes four months ahead of the presidential election. Facing four criminal cases, Trump has been seeking to delay the trials until after the election. If he defeats Biden, Trump could order the federal cases against him closed once sworn in as president.

More of AFP's reporting on US politics can be found here.