White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Wednesday night shared a video of CNN reporter Jim Acosta that appeared to have been altered to make his actions at a news conference look more aggressive toward a White House intern.
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 Donald 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 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.
Watson said he did not change the speed of the video and that claims he had altered it were a “brazen lie.” But 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 sped up or altered so as to distort the action.
On Wednesday night, Sanders accused Acosta of “placing his hands on a young woman” and said his press credentials would be suspended “until further notice.”
The video has quickly become a flash point in the battle over viral misinformation, turning a live interaction watched by thousands in real-time into just another ideological tug-of-war. But it has also highlighted how video content has become as vulnerable to political distortion as anything else.
Albright said videos like this pose an even greater risk of perpetuating misinformation than completely faked news videos, because they contain a grain of truth and will likely be given the assumption of accuracy.
“The most dangerous type of fake news and reporting and evidence is when you get into the fine details, the nuanced things that are shaped to present a certain viewpoint or decision or news a certain way,” he said. “It’s something that’s real but has been literally stretched … and molded into weaponized evidence.”
Sanders’ tweet of the video has more than 7 million views.