ChatGPT wrongly insists Trump-Biden CNN debate had 1 to 2-minute delay

Poll OpenAI’s ChatGPT fell for an inaccurate claim that Thursday night’s US presidential debate between Trump and Biden on CNN would have a one to two-minute delay, rather than the usual few seconds.

Though not an Earth-shattering blunder, it’s another demonstration that these systems have little to no ability to actually understand what’s true and false. They just parrot.

The claim that the cable TV network would be using such a pause originated on X on Thursday afternoon, when a web journo alleged the longer delay would potentially allow the broadcaster to edit the footage. The tweets were viewed millions of times, judging by Twitter’s own metrics, and fueled speculation that the video feed would be altered to make Donald look bad and Joe sound great.

But the claim was quickly rebutted by CNN itself. Talk of the one or two minute delay did not make it into the mainstream media.

Nevertheless, it seems the xeets made a strong impression on ChatGPT, which at the time of writing on Friday was convinced – sort of – that the minute-long delay was actually used. The Register queried both the GPT-3.5 and GPT-4o versions of the chatbot earlier today to check.

“Did the CNN Presidential debate between Trump and Biden on June 27, 2024 have a 2 minute delay?” we asked.

“The CNN Presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden on June 27, 2024, did indeed include a two-minute delay,” ChatGPT with GPT-4o answered. “This delay was implemented to ensure that any unexpected incidents could be managed before broadcasting live to the public. The debate, held without a live audience, was moderated by CNN anchors Jake Tapper and Dana Bash.”

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We pressed ChatGPT for its sources, and it linked to articles from TV Insider and The Wrap, both of which never mentioned the one or two-minute delay. We then had a back-and-forth with ChatGPT, telling the software that its sources didn’t have any info on any special delays, and it quickly ended with the bot finally admitting the truth.

“I couldn’t find any information confirming that the CNN Presidential debate between Trump and Biden on June 27, 2024, had a 2-minute delay,” it said.

We reproduced a similar conversation when asking about a one-minute delay, and also confirmed that GPT-3.5 made the same error. We also asked about the CNN debate delay without specifying the date, and in one instance ChatGPT answered that there was a two-minute delay for the September 29, 2020 debate from the last election cycle. Another time, ChatGPT claimed a two-minute delay was a rule for the two 2020 debates.

Incidentally, the September 29 debate was hosted by Fox and not CNN as ChatGPT claimed.

Strangely enough though, ChatGPT seems to only make these claims when explicitly asked about them. We actually opened the conversation with GPT-4o by asking it whether there was a delay at all, and it had a very different answer.

“The CNN Presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden on June 27, 2024, was broadcast with a 5-second delay.”

In fact, when we asked ChatGPT about three, four, and five-minute delays, which were never rumored, ChatGPT said there was a five-second delay every single time.

Source of AI blunder potentially revealed by Copilot

Microsoft Copilot also made a similar mistake, according to NBC News, which showed the OpenAI-powered tech claiming that the delay was for “potential editing of parts of the transmission.”

Unlike ChatGPT, however, Copilot cited a source that mentioned a one or two-minute delay: The website of former CNN and Fox News host Lou Dobbs. Copilot apparently relies on Dobbs’ website for up-to-date information, despite the news there having a clear slant against Joe Biden.

“The debate is totally rigged,” one of the site’s articles stated.

At the time of writing, Copilot won’t generate any response whatsoever to questions about the presidential debate. This is unusual behavior for Microsoft’s AI chatbot, which will usually express how it doesn’t want to answer certain questions before shutting down.

Meta AI and Google Gemini didn’t make the same false statements about delays, though in the latter’s case it was because it refused to answer the question. We’ve reached out to OpenAI and Microsoft for comment. ®


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