White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders is facing criticism from media members that she shared a doctored video of CNN reporter, Jim Acosta, refusing to hand over a microphone to a White House intern during a press conference.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has been accused of sharing a "doctored" video of CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s interaction with a White House intern that resulted in the reporter’s press pass being revoked.
Acosta's press pass to access the White House was suspended "until further notice" Wednesday, hours after he engaged in a contentious back-and-forth with President Trump. A White House intern attempted to retrieve the microphone from Acosta, but the CNN reporter resisted and asked an additional question – and that’s where things get cloudy.
Fact-checking distorted video Sarah Sanders used to bar a CNN White House reporter
Sanders said the suspension of his press credentials stemmed from his "placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern." She called the behavior "absolutely unacceptable."
But many high-profile media members, including The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman and CNN executive Matt Dornic, have accused Sanders of using a doctored video speeding up Acosta’s arm motion, as evidence.
“We stand by our decision to revoke this individual’s hard pass. We will not tolerate the inappropriate behavior clearly documented in this video,” Sanders tweeted to accompany the allegedly doctored video.
“Yes, the White House press office is sharing a manipulated video that makes it appear that Acosta was menacing the intern when he was not and did not. The intern reached over Acosta to grab the microphone while he was trying to ask another q and Acosta tried to pull away,” Haberman wrote.
"The question is: did the reporter make contact or not? The video is clear, he did. We stand by our statement,” Sanders told Fox News when reached for comment.
Several media members have accused Sanders of using an edited video circulated by Infowars editor Paul Joseph Watson. Infowars is known for spreading conspiracy theories and is banned from most social media platforms, but Watson has managed to keep his Twitter account.
The video allegedly speeds up Acosta’s arm motion to make it appear that he essentially karate chopped the female intern – but Watson has taken to Twitter to defend himself.
Fox News has not yet confirmed whether or not the video is actually doctored, or simply zooms in on the incident. NBC News tweeted its own video of the encounter.
“The edited video looks authentic: Acosta appeared to swiftly chop down on the arm of an aide as he held onto a microphone while questioning President Trump. But in the original video, Acosta’s arm appears to move only as a response to a tussle for the microphone. His statement, ‘Pardon me, ma’am,’ is not included in the video Sanders shared,” Washington Post technology reporter Drew Harwell wrote.
"I've just been denied entrance to the WH," Acosta tweeted Wednesday night. "Secret Service just informed me I cannot enter the WH grounds for my 8pm hit."
Sanders confirmed Acosta’s claim and the White House Correspondents’ Association – of which Fox News is a member — quickly released its own statement condemning the decision to revoke Acosta’s credential.
“We urge the White House to immediately reverse this week and misguided action,” the WHCA wrote. We encourage anyone with doubts that this reaction was disproportionate to the perceived offense to view the video of events.”
It all started when CNN’s Acosta got into a heated debate with Trump after he asked the president about the migrant caravan.
“Honestly, I think you should let me run the country and you run CNN,” the president said, resulting in the intern attempting to retrieve the microphone.
CNN said Wednesday night that Acosta's suspension "was done in retaliation for his challenging questions at today's press conference" and claimed Sanders "lied" in her explanation of what unraveled.
"This unprecedented decision is a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better. Jim Acosta has our full support," CNN said.
Hours after his post-election press conference, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted out a video in which she claims CNN White House reporter Jim Acosta "put his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job."
We stand by our decision to revoke this individuals hard pass. We will not tolerate the inappropriate behavior clearly documented in this video. pic.twitter.com/T8X1Ng912y
What happened: Acosta refused to let go of his microphone when asking questions at a press conference. A White House intern tried to take the microphone away from him. Video shows they may have touched. The Trump administration ended up taking away Acosta’s access to the White House.
But even video is subject to dispute: Users on Twitter began to say that the video Sanders shared was doctored and misleading.
We can’t tell if the video was purposefully doctored. But it seems likely that the video was distorted as it made its way to the Internet in the form of a GIF and then back to video. And, it appears the White House got the video from the conspiracy website Infowars.
The video replays the same sequence six times, with no sound. A White House intern reaches across Acosta’s body and grabs the microphone he is holding. He holds onto it and with his other hand, seems to karate chop the woman’s arm. She retreats.
Multiple users suggested the video was doctored to speed up Acosta’s arm motion, and thus intensify the aggression.
A full length clip of the exchange shows that Acosta first asked Trump a question about the migrant caravan. The two went back and forth. Acosta tried to follow up with another question, but Trump stopped him, "That’s enough."
At that point, a White House intern shuffled over to Acosta and tried to take the microphone from him, three times. He held onto it as he insisted on asking another question. What Acosta did with his arm — before he said, "Pardon me, ma’am," to the intern — had Twitter users up in arms. The audio, however, was cut from the video.
Some say he was simply gesturing and landed on an unfortunately positioned arm. Others took Sanders’ view.
No expert we spoke to found evidence the video was intentionally sped up or slowed down. Instead, they found the quality and clarity of the original video was watered down, ultimately obfuscating what actually happened.
Paul Joseph Watson, an editor at Infowars, had tweeted out the original video. Experts matched up the footage he shared with Sanders’ video and found them identical.
Watson told Buzzfeed News he took the original footage directly from a GIF posted to the The Daily Wire’s Twitter account. He denied efforts to speed up or distort the video.
A GIF is basically a video with fewer frames — televised video has 29.97 frames per second, while a GIF made online might be reduced to between 10 and 15 frames.
Rafael Shimunov, an activist and longtime video editor, whose tweet on the exchange went viral, overlayed the original C-SPAN video with Watson’s and found there were discrepancies, unlike with the GIF.
That, he posits, shows the video to GIF to video conversion does not make a difference. He said, "it's unlikely any process would accidentally speed up the video at the exact spot where a speed up would be most opportune to vilify the reporter."
Others agree. Shane Raymond, a journalist at Storyful, a social-media intelligence firm, told the Washington Post the edited video repeats frames that were not in the original video that exaggerate Acosta’s arm movement. Abba Shapiro, an independent video producer, told the Associated Press the frames appear altered to speed up Acosta’s arm movement
Dan Voshart, a cinematographer based in Toronto, said it boils down to bad sourcing. When Watson took the GIF, which had half the frames as a video, and then turned it into a video, the software likely blended the missing frames. The choppy images might make it look quicker.
"They took the C-SPAN video, threw away half the frames and reblended them back together to make it seem full. It’s like buying a 24 karat ring to find it was 12 karats," Voshart said. "Upload that to a video editing software, then to Twitter, and lose even more quality, and what you end up with is a conspiracy."
In other words, Sanders took a video with half the frames from the original footage to use as evidence. It’s unclear whether that’s a result of malicious inserting or removing frames, but the result is far less telling than the original clip.
Update Nov. 9, 2018: This post has been updated with additional comments from Shimunov as well as information from the Washington Post.