Read this slowly: The White House’s press secretary has tweeted a manipulated video shared by the editor-at-large of conspiracy theorist outlet Infowars to attempt to justify its decision to suspend the press credentials of CNN’s chief white house correspondent.
CNN’s Jim Acosta had his press pass pulled by the White House earlier today after press secretary Sarah Sanders claimed he had “plac[ed] his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job”.
Acosta disputes this.
The journalist had being trying to continue asking president Trump questions during a contentious exchange at a White House press briefing.
During this exchange Trump cut over him verbally — saying “that’s enough” — at which point a female White House intern moved towards Acosta and attempted to take the microphone out of his hands.
The journalist dodged and then blocked several attempts to take the microphone by using his arm and the side of his hand against the intern’s arm, addressing her with “pardon me ma’am” as he did so, and indicating that he was trying to ask Trump another question.
You can see what happened in a video shared by NBC News which captured footage of the incident (below). In the footage the intern can be seen stopping trying to remove the mic after Acosta speaks to her. He goes on to ask Trump if he is “worried about indictments coming down in [the Russia] investigation”.
Trump does not answer, repeating “that’s enough” and “put down the mic”.
Getting no answers, Acosta does then relinquish the mic.
Far right conspiracy theorist outlet Infowars quickly spun into action after this episode — publishing a couple of posts on its website couching Acosta’s actions as a “physical confrontation with female White House staffer”, and asking in a lengthy video post whether Acosta “assault[ed] a woman?”.
In the video Infowars editor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson can be seen following the modern political disinformation playbook — avoiding personally claiming the incident constituted an assault while repeatedly showing manipulated, slowed down footage, stripped of its audio, to make it look like an assault — all the while suggestively reframing what happened to whip up hyperpartisan sentiment (‘what if this had been a conservative reporter ranting at Obama’ etc) in order to manipulate his audience to side with the president against CNN.
Watson was also active on social media, seeding a further doctored version of footage on Twitter — which includes a repeat close crop that zooms in on the CNN reporter’s hand against the intern’s arm, making it look as if Acosta is giving her a karate chop.
This is very clearly not what the unedited video shows.
In the unedited footage Acosta can be seen essentially brushing off the intern’s attempt to grab the mic — and addressing her politely at the crucial moment, when the side of his hand is resting on her arm. She responds to his polite “pardon me ma’am” by stepped back and stopping trying to take the mic away.
Acosta then asks Trump more questions which Trump does not answer.
Now Infowars conspiracy theorists creating doctored videos to try to spin hyperpartisan junk news is not new or news. Their business model is based on manipulating viewers’ emotions to flog them, er, junk supplements.
But what is new is that three hours after Sanders issued her series of tweets accusing Acosta of inappropriately placing his hands on a young woman, the White House press secretary tweeted again — this time appearing to share the exact same doctored video that had been shared earlier by Watson, as he worked to put the Infowars’ divisive alternative spin on reality.
Sanders referred directly to the video in her tweet, claiming that “inappropriate behaviour” had been “clearly documented in this video”:
So the White House is using video footage that’s been manipulated through a conspiracy theorist lens to justify a free speech-chilling ban on an actual journalist.
I’ll say that again: The White House is using a manipulated video shared by conspiracy theorists to justify suspending the press credentials of CNN’s chief white house correspondent.
And once more: The White House is using lies to justify pulling the press credentials of a genuine journalist.
Trump has made no secret of his hatred for CNN — repeatedly badging the cable news network ‘fake news’ in myriad vitriolic tweets since taking office.
Now his administration has gone a step further in seeking to stamp out reality by using manipulated video to bar a genuine news outlet from presidential press briefings. A news outlet that the president especially hates.
Let that sink in.
It’s not just conspiracy theorists who use this kind of information manipulation playbook of course. Authoritarian regimes, terrorists, criminals, racists… the list goes on.
Now you can add the White House press secretary to that ignominious list.
We’ve reached out to the White House to ask why Sanders chose to share the Infowars video — rather than sharing unedited footage of the incident. We’ll update this post with any response.
Meanwhile, on the list of people being allowed into White House press briefings these days…