Buzzfeed: It's not clear that the video shared by the White House was doctored

Ed added this as an update to his post but I wanted to focus on it. Since early this morning there have been claims circulating that the video shared last night by the White House was “doctored” or manipulated to make it appear worse than it was. For instance:

The Washington Post had a whole story about it under the headline “White House shares doctored video to support punishment of journalist Jim Acosta.” Here’s a sample:

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.

Critics said that video — which sped up the movement of Acosta’s arms in a way that dramatically changed the journalist’s response — was deceptively edited to score political points. That edited video was first shared by Paul Joseph Watson, known for his conspiracy-theory videos on the far-right website Infowars…

Side-by-side comparisons support claims from fact-checkers and experts such as Jonathan Albright, research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, who argued that crucial parts of the video appear to have been altered so as to distort the action.

There’s a side by side video at the Post that makes clear there is a very slight difference between the two clips. However, Buzzfeed points out that it’s not clear that any doctoring took place. In fact, it’s possible the changes were the result of frame rate adjustment that happens whenever a video is converted from one format to another:

There’s no evidence that the video was deliberately sped up — but the change in format, from a high-quality video to a low-quality GIF, turns the question of whether it was “doctored” into a semantic debate…

“Fact is, Daily Wire put up a gif, I download a gif, zoomed in saved it again as an mt2 file – then converted it to an mp4,” Watson said over direct message. “Digitally it’s gonna look a tiny bit different after processing and zooming in, but I did not in any way deliberately ‘speed up’ or ‘distort’ the video. That’s just horse shit.”…

Watson’s defense is an issue of semantics — that he altered the video but did not “doctor” it to show something that wasn’t there. Unfortunately, establishing just how the video was changed is complicated. The original video file was created by Watson from a GIF file that the Daily Wire tweeted. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the image was distorted by that process. More importantly, as previously noted, the process of converting videos to GIFs often results in frame loss from the original video file. (In the case of the Daily Wire GIF, that means there are likely frames missing from the original CSPAN video it was made from.)

As always, I have no interest in defending Infowars. But the rush to pronounce this a “doctored” video is a bit much. In fact, the Post has rewritten its story to note Buzzfeed’s report, but hasn’t corrected the headline. In any case, as you can see below, there’s almost no visible difference in the clips anyway.

My own take is that Acosta was out of line even apart from the question of whether he touched this White House intern. His job is not to tell the president that his answers are wrong and then refuse to let the president move on to other questions, which is what he did yesterday. But Acosta’s grandstanding is a separate issue.

On the intern question, yes he definitely did touch her with his left hand as he tried to hold onto the mic. I’m not suggesting it was a karate chop or an assault. It looks to me like he was trying to fend her off and got a little carried away trying to block her arm in the heat of an already heated moment.

Should it result in his ouster from the White House? I think that’s a fair debate to have and Acosta and CNN would be on firmer ground if they would have that debate. What bothers me is his insistence on Anderson Cooper’s show last night that he didn’t touch her at all. Of course, they didn’t show the video clip in question when he said this. Watching this clip, even Acosta seemed a little surprised it wasn’t running. Why can’t CNN just show the clip and let Acosta explain or apologize for inadvertent contact if that’s what happened here?