Read this slowly: The White Houses press secretary has tweeted a manipulated video shared by the editor-at-large of conspiracy theorist outlet Infowars to attempt to justify its decision to suspend the press credentials of CNNs chief white house correspondent. CNNs Jim Acosta had his press pass pulled by the White House earlier today after press secretary Sarah Sanders claimed he had plac[ed] his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job. Acosta disputes this. This is a lie. The journalist had being trying to continue asking president Trump questions during a contentious exchange at a White House press briefing. During this exchange Trump cut over him verbally — saying thats enough — at which point a female White House intern moved towards Acosta and attempted to take the microphone out of his hands. The journalist dodged and then blocked several attempts to take the microphone by using his arm and the side of his hand against the interns arm, addressing her with pardon me maam as he did so, and indicating that he was trying to ask Trump another question. You can see what happened in a video shared by NBC News which captured footage of the incident (below). In the footage the intern can be seen stopping trying to remove the mic after Acosta speaks to her. He goes on to ask Trump if he is worried about indictments coming down in [the Russia] investigation. Trump does not answer, repeating thats enough and put down the mic. Getting no answers, Acosta does then relinquish the mic. BREAKING: White House aide grabs and tries to physically remove a microphone from CNN Correspondent Jim Acosta during a contentious exchange with President Trump at a news conference. Far right conspiracy theorist outlet Infowars quickly spun into action after this episode — publishing a couple of posts on its website couching Acostas actions as a physical confrontation with female White House staffer, and asking in a lengthy video post whether Acosta assault[ed] a woman?. In the video Infowars editor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson can be seen following the modern political disinformation playbook — avoiding personally claiming the incident constituted an assault while repeatedly showing manipulated, slowed down footage, stripped of its audio, to make it look like an assault — all the while suggestively reframing what happened to whip up hyperpartisan sentiment (what if this had been a conservative reporter ranting at Obama etc) in order to manipulate his audience to side with the president against CNN. Watson was also active on social media, seeding a further doctored version of footage on Twitter — which includes a repeat close crop that zooms in on the CNN reporters hand against the interns arm, making it look as if Acosta is giving her a karate chop. Yes the incident clearly did happen. Acosta placed his hands on a woman. Do you think we're all stupid? This is very clearly not what the unedited video shows. In the unedited footage Acosta can be seen essentially brushing off the interns attempt to grab the mic — and addressing her politely at the crucial moment, when the side of his hand is resting on her arm. She responds to his polite pardon me maam by stepped back and stopping trying to take the mic away. Acosta then asks Trump more questions which Trump does not answer. Now Infowars conspiracy theorists creating doctored videos to try to spin hyperpartisan junk news is not new or news. Their business model is based on manipulating viewers emotions to flog them, er, junk supplements. But what is new is that three hours after Sanders issued her series of tweets accusing Acosta of inappropriately placing his hands on a young woman, the White House press secretary tweeted again — this time appearing to share the exact same doctored video that had been shared earlier by Watson, as he worked to put the Infowars divisive alternative spin on reality. Sanders referred directly to the video in her tweet, claiming that inappropriate behaviour had been clearly documented in this video: We stand by our decision to revoke this individuals hard pass. We will not tolerate the inappropriate behavior clearly documented in this video. So the White House is using video footage thats been manipulated through a conspiracy theorist lens to justify a free speech-chilling ban on an actual journalist. Ill say that again: The White House is using a manipulated video shared by conspiracy theorists to justify suspending the press credentials of CNNs chief white house correspondent. And once more: The White House is using lies to justify pulling the press credentials of a genuine journalist. turns out, as we probably all knew it would, that we didn't need deepfakes for nation states to start pushing lies using video Trump has made no secret of his hatred for CNN — repeatedly badging the cable news network fake news in myriad vitriolic tweets since taking office. Now his administration has gone a step further in seeking to stamp out reality by using manipulated video to bar a genuine news outlet from presidential press briefings. A news outlet that the president especially hates. Let that sink in. Its not just conspiracy theorists who use this kind of information manipulation playbook of course. Authoritarian regimes, terrorists, criminals, racists… the list goes on. Now you can add the White House press secretary to that ignominious list. Weve reached out to the White House to ask why Sanders chose to share the Infowars video — rather than sharing unedited footage of the incident. Well update this post with any response. Meanwhile, on the list of people being allowed into White House press briefings these days…The QAnon-loving livestream lady from yesterday is back for the news conference, @willsommer @jaredlholt @oneunderscore__
Yesterday, in Donald Trumps first press conference following the midterm elections that swept a number of Democrats into Congress Tuesday night, CNN correspondent Jim Acosta had a contentious interaction with the president. Those few seconds have, in the intervening 24 hours, launched a nationwide conversation about doctored video. Theyre hundreds and hundreds of miles away. Thats not an invasion, Acosta said, referring to the caravan of migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. that Trump had demonized in the run-up to the elections. I think you should let me run the country, you run CNN. If you did it well, your ratings would be much better, Trump replied. As Acosta tried to ask another question, a White House intern went to grab the mic from him — pardon me, maam, he said — and the next two seconds launched an entire news cycle. Acosta blocked the aide from grabbing the mic. Trump called Acosta rude and a terrible person, apparently in response, and later that day revoked his press badge. That four-second exchange — in which Acosta moves his hand to push away the interns arm —was captured by C-SPAN and other news outlets, but two additional versions were shared: one from Infowars and one from Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. BREAKING: President Trump, CNN Correspondent Jim Acosta and @NBCNews Correspondent @PeterAlexander engage in tense exchanges in post-election news conference. We stand by our decision to revoke this individuals hard pass. We will not tolerate the inappropriate behavior clearly documented in this video. Many outlets reported that the videos had been doctored, and how, including The Washington Post and Fast Company. Something was certainly different, but with all the speculation it was difficult to understand exactly what made them different. So I got in touch with a friend of mine, video producer Jamison Hermann, to get a better grip on it. At first glance, he says that they sped up the clip to emphasize the motion — the video speeds up when Acostas hand makes contact with the interns arm. You can see the hand raised in the background moves more quickly, an and her face turns more quickly, and the guy on the left drops his mic down to waist level more quickly, he explains. Overlaying the two videos in the same frame, he says, is the best way to demonstrate exactly how it differs: the Press Secretarys video clearly speeds up at the moment Acostas hand touches the interns arm. This is not just frame blending, which would happen if you transcoded from different frame rates, Hermann said. its a sloppily-done speed change on the footage itself. The Verges design director William Joel agrees. I cant say for a certainty that Infowars sped up or slowed down their footage, but it is suspect that when the two clips are overlaid the only time we see a discrepancy is during the moment in question, he says. If this was truly a result of ghosting or some frame-rate difference from varying source materials, you would expect to see the same ghosting over the entire clip, not just during one specific moment. While the video the government shared does indeed appear to be doctored, given this administrations track record with lying without the use of visual aids, it didnt really need to be. The real problem here is how Sanders and the president boldly lied to the public — and everyone in the room last night — to bar a reporter they didnt like from questioning them directly. It was raw power exercised in the service of expanding their control. The video Sanders shared was a lie, and had Infowars and Sanders made the same allegations against Acosta using the exact same clip C-SPAN and NBC did, their supporters would likely still have believed the governments claims. President Trump has proven virtually unable to give a speech without getting in at least a few falsehoods about his enemies or about his achievements, but whats stunning in this incident is how far Sanders is willing to stretch a lie on the presidents behalf. The technical details of the video, whether it was doctored or not, were a pretext for Trumps continued attacks on the press. Theres a conversation to be had about this in the era of deepfakes, when cheap and easy image manipulation means that seeing is believing is no longer gospel. Half a century ago, images from the Civil Rights movement — of protesters being attacked by dogs and sprayed by firehoses — could convince President Lyndon Johnson and the American public that granting the full franchise to black Americans was the right thing to do. Donald Trump, on the other hand, appears bent on eroding the publics trust in what they see in order to consolidate his power as president and cow citizens into accepting his increasingly brutal policies. Whats often misunderstood about propaganda is its intent: the point isnt to misinform — its to get people to question whats real, whats provable. It is meant to divide.