Yesterday, CNN's Jim Acosta had his White House press credentials suspended after he repeatedly questioned president Trump over his use of the migrant caravan to stoke the fears of American xenophobes. While he and Trump were having at it, a young, female, White House intern came to take away Acosta's microphone and he didn't give it up. She reached over to grab it and he brought his arm down to block her path. This MSNBC video of the incident shows that it was a simple defensive move, made not out of violence but out of self-protection:
However, this is not the version of events the White House wants its base to believe. Later last evening, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders posted a different video of the incident, one that makes Acosta out to look more aggressive. Watch this one alongside the one posted above, and see if you can spot the difference:
There are some obvious differences: this video is of poorer quality, has no sound, and shows the incident six times, each time in increasing slow-motion. But there's another big issue that eagle-eyed viewers can spot: the video has been doctored to freeze for three frames right before Acosta's arm comes down, and then appears to have been sped up so that it looks like he's karate-chopping her away from him.
The video below is a better-quality version of the clip the White House shared, which uses a red outline around Acosta and the intern to show exactly how the footage was doctored to make Acosta look bad:
Making matters even more nefarious, it appears the source of the White House's video is InfoWars editor Paul Joseph Watson, a British "journalist" who has advocated for 9/11 and chemtrails conspiracy theories, as well as arguing for white nationalism. Watson first tweeted it out after the news of Acosta's press credentials broke and has spent this morning fervently denying that he did any doctoring to the footage. However, his explanations do not hold water when it comes to what actually happened. In order to best understand how Watson manipulated this footage, I spoke with several film editors to figure it out.
First, Watson tried to prove that he did no doctoring to the footage whatsoever by using this screenshot from the editing software Sony Vegas Pro:
Watson uses this to prove that there were no speed effects added, and that could be true. A source insists that "One shouldn't perceive [the arm motion] as faster," arguing that viewers perceive it as such because of the two-to-three frame hold (which would make the clip slow down before jumping to regular speed again, making the difference seem greater than it is). The manipulating of these frames can be seen in the circled inset below, represented by the black lines going down the timeline, which indicate cuts:
However, Watson tries to explain this discrepancy in speeds by insisting his original source for the edits was not a C-SPAN clip, but a GIF that he then converted to an M2T file extension and then to an MP4, holds much less water. Although one source believes this to be the case, my other sources insist that if he actually did this, then he has no idea what he's doing since editing from a GIF is not a recommended practice.
"Think of a video with your flip phone of yesterday," one of them said. "The quality is so bad that skipping a few seconds will not make a huge difference to the naked eye." Another good example is a cartoon flipbook, where "you had to flick the pages to make it move. If you take out a few pages it will skip." In their words, editing a GIF would be "an editor's nightmare" because there's no raw footage to work with. Also, the name of the clip in the screenshot, "DrasJZTWwAAU5hs" shows that it would have to have been encoded into the editing bay from an h264 stream, which lays additional waste to Watson's lie that he did no manipulation to the raw footage.
Some of this is indeed very complicated, but there's a more simple explanation proving that Watson manipulated the footage to defame Acosta: the lack of sound in his clip. If Watson had included the sound, we would have an aural indicator for how the speeds have been messed with since none of it would match, but taking it out is another way of covering his tracks. All of his explanations raise more questions than answers and must be investigated.
The saddest part is that all this technical speak will not make a difference to the president's supporters or the White House, who are playing with fire by legitimizing a news organization that has been banned from social media for its rampant lies. Their confirmation bias is so strong that they would rather exalt fake news that agrees with them than real news that does what it's supposed to. And if they can do this to Jim Acosta and CNN, just imagine what else they will try to get away with if the press allows lies like these to go unchecked.
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