The Curious Case of the Accosted Acosta

I’m not really shocked by what I see in the news anymore. I watched part of President Trump’s post-midterm election press conference, and turned it off in disgust after he berated CNN reporter Jim Acosta. A White House intern trying to take the microphone from Acosta while he was asking a question should be shocking, but it just isn’t.

Nor was I surprised when I learned that Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House Press Secretary, tweeted a video clip of the intern grabbing Acosta’s mic that had apparently been manipulated.

To be honest, I wouldn’t have noticed anything unusual about the video without watching the original side-by-side. But the one Sanders publicized does make it look like Acosta’s arm hits the intern’s arm with more force than it actually did.

Now, I don’t particularly care if Acosta ever stepped out of bounds, or had full control of the ball when his knee hit the ground. I saw the original press conference video first– the second version wasn’t going to change my opinion about anything. I care much more if the White House is publicizing things that didn’t actually happen.

Normally, in cases like this, I would assume incompetence before malice: There’s no evidence that Ms. Sanders or the Press Office created the video. Perhaps she wanted to share just a short clip of what happened, and found one at a trusted news source… InfoWars (note: yikes!)

Buzzfeed suggests that any discrepancy in the frame rates of the two videos could be caused by someone converting the original into a GIF. I’m not sure I buy that– another analysis, going frame-by-frame, shows that one frame of the Press Office video is frozen for three frames’ worth of time. (Ignore that bit about the eye seeing at 25 frames per second- it doesn’t.)

Because of the pause, when Acosta’s arm starts moving again, it could be perceived as moving faster than it really was.

This looks to me like some kind of deliberate manipulation. The freeze frame happens right before Acosta’s arm moves, and there are no similar artifacts of a format conversion process.

Part of me wonders what the value of doing this is– like I said, my mind wasn’t changed by the Press Office video, and I wouldn’t have noticed anything amiss unless I was looking for it. People who believe that Acosta’s behavior was out of line would see what they want to no matter what version they’re looking at.

Yet someone thought it was important to edit the video to show things this way. Perhaps not the White House Press Office, but someone did.

Whoever edited the video was making it for people who already believe Acosta committed a technical foul and should have been ejected. And the initial tweets I saw accusing Sarah Huckabee Sanders of editing the video played better with people who already expected she would do something like that.

The technology to fake things that happen in the news is only going to get better as time goes on. Everyone needs to be careful about what they share on social media, especially if it’s something that confirms what they already believe.