Real journalism is like science: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.” — Richard Feynman
November 7, 2018: White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted a video of CNN’s Jim Acosta to justify this:
“We stand by our decision to revoke this individual’s hard pass. We will not tolerate the inappropriate behavior clearly documented in this video.”
But something wasn’t quite right about the video. This version she shared didn’t come directly from C-SPAN. It seemed to come from an InfoWars editor named Paul Joseph Watson. InfoWars is a right-wing media organization known for a range of conspiracy theories, everything from chemtrails and 911 insiders to gay frogs and grief actors. Its creator Alex Jones is being sued for his claims that the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting was “A giant hoax” and “completely fake.” After Alex Jones tweeted a video of himself and his camera crew harassing CNN reporter Oliver Darcy, he was banned from using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Periscope, Spotify, PayPal and the Apple Store. This impacted his once highly profitable alternative reality show.
Even if this video wasn’t doctored, wouldn’t the White House have access to a more credible and unbiased source of a White House press corps video?
The technical details of this alleged video fakery made even less sense than its disreputable source. If President Trump wanted a fake video to justify his actions, he would have had the resources to make a deep fake video that would be nearly impossible for an expert to detect.
Instead, the video seems to have been crudely edited by taking one frame (lower right of the top photo) and duplicating it several times so that the eventual jump to the next frame seems faster and more violent. The editing is crude. Nearly anyone can detect the repeated frames by using an online video downloader and iMovie or Microsoft Movie Maker. Simple programs such as these would have been more than adequate to make this edit.
The above photo shows two of the questionable frames and the differences between preceding and following frames. I’ve adjusted the color curves and inverted the colors in one frame to highlight the difference. But it’s clear that we’re not talking about a huge number of changed pixels. For comparison, here is an image of the difference between two of the duplicated frames. I originally thought it would be entirely blank but bumping up the contrast shows a few squares which are artifacts of video compression:
The fact that this is not entirely blank indicates that video compression occurred after frame duplication which we should expect because nearly all video uploaded to the web is compressed.
So why change a couple of video frames? The effect is subtle. It doesn’t fit the pattern of crude and unsubtle attacks Donald Trump has made against our free press. The president already has all the credibility he needs from his loyal followers. The rest of us would be more focused on the previous 60 seconds and President Trump’s reaction to Jim Acosta’s questions:
“As you know, Mr. President, the caravan is not an invasion. It’s a group of migrants moving up from Central America towards the border with the US — Why did you characterize it as such?”
“If I can ask, on the Russia investigation. Are you concerned that you may have indictments coming down — “
Like Donald Trump’s outbursts and tweets, sharing video from a discredited source would seem to serve no purpose whether or not the duplicated frames were intentional or a conveniently timed transcoding glitch. But yesterday’s New York Times Daily podcast revealed the real purpose.
None of this makes any sense until you think about what has just happened. One day after the 2018 mid-term elections, Donald Trump forced U.S. Attorney General Jefferey Sessions to resign. The Attorney General’s role is to head the U.S. Department of Justice and legally represent the United States of America. But now we have Matthew G Whitaker, a man who is hostile to the Mueller investigation and ready to serve as Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer.
This Nixonian historical echo does not appear to be playing out as Senator Lindsey Graham predicted, “The beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.” Instead we spent the day talking about a few blurry video frames.
Crazy like a fox?
“Strange game, the only way to win is not to play.”
— War Games