WH Uses Doctored Video & False Assault Allegations to Ban Acosta

The White House used a doctored video and false allegations of assault to strip press credentialed “hard pass” access from CNN reporter Jim Acosta.

What Happened at the Press Conference

During yesterday’s contentious Trump press conference, CNN chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta confronted Donald Trump with several difficult questions. During that interaction, a White House intern physically put her hands on Acosta attempting to take away the microphone he was using.

Later yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted a doctored version of the video allegedly showing the moment he ‘assaulted’ the intern. She additionally released a statement announcing the White House stripped him of his access to White House grounds.

Here’s some analysis on the doctored video from Slate‘s Aymann Ismail:

Further analysis: video is absolutely doctored. You can see the edit when the clips are side by side and slowed down to quarter speed. See for yourself: pic.twitter.com/4ZZrzhislg
— Aymann Ismail (@aymanndotcom) November 8, 2018

The Washington Post‘s Drew Harwell agreed:

This subtle edit of the Acosta video — his arm sped up ever so slightly, to amp up the conflict — now has thousands of retweets and hundreds of thousands of views. Video, once the end-all central validator, is becoming as vulnerable to politicized distortion as everything else https://t.co/rsYkn6u8pz
— Drew Harwell (@drewharwell) November 8, 2018

He went on to write an article about it in which he stated:

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.

He added:

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.
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 not AI-generated or completely false. It’s something that’s real but has been literally stretched … and molded into weaponized evidence.”
Sanders’s tweet of the edited video, in which she said the White House would “not tolerate the inappropriate behavior clearly documented in this video,” has at least 20,000 retweets and more than 2 million views. Watson’s video, posted two hours before, has been seen at least 740,000 times.

Pertinent to showing the doctored video is clearly an attempt to frame Acosta for a crime he did not commit, Harwell noted at the end of his article:

In another video of the encounter tweeted by Sarah Burris, an editor at the left-leaning political blog Raw Story, the footage has been slowed down and annotated to show the four times the White House intern touches Acosta while trying to take the microphone. It has been viewed more than 1 million times.

The doctored video was originally posted (two hours before Sanders) by Infowars editor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson. If the name sounds familiar, it should: Infowars is the Alex Jones conspiracy theory outlet that typically labels all mass shooting incidents (including Sandy Hook) ‘false flags’ while promoting unsubstantiated conspiracies (like Pizzagate) that literally put people’s lives at risk. Their manipulation of facts and propagation of falsehoods is the reason Alex Jones was banned from most social media platforms.

Rather than obtain a copy of the actual video from credentialed, reliable press, Sanders chose instead to tweet the doctored video Watson posted without conducting an iota of due diligence.

CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter asked Sanders if she’d bothered to fact check Watson before posting his video asking, “Surely you don’t trust InfoWars…?” Here’s the tweet:

Question for @PressSec: Where’d you obtain the distorted @Acosta video you posted? InfoWars personality @PrisonPlanet posted the same video two hours before you did. Surely you don’t trust InfoWars…?
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) November 8, 2018

Alas, she did, and used that doctored video to build a case around accusations that Acosta assaulted the intern.

The Accusations

In a series of tweets posted to her Press Secretary account, Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused CNN‘s Jim Acosta of assaulting a White House intern. She stated:

President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his Administration. We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern…
This conduct is absolutely unacceptable. It is also completely disrespectful to the reporter’s colleagues not to allow them an opportunity to ask a question. President Trump has given the press more access than any President in history.
Contrary to CNN’s assertions there is no greater demonstration of the President’s support for a free press than the event he held today. Only they would attack the President for not supporting a free press in the midst of him taking 68 questions from 35 different reporters…
…over the course of 1.5 hours including several from the reporter in question. The fact that CNN is proud of the way their employee behaved is not only disgusting, it‘s an example of their outrageous disregard for everyone, including young women, who work in this Administration
As a result of today’s incident, the White House is suspending the hard pass of the reporter involved until further notice.

By saying “the White House is suspending the hard pass,” Sanders means the removal of Acosta’s press credentials that allow him unescorted access to White House grounds as a way to ‘speed up’ entry to report on the White House.

Acosta immediately called Sanders’ accusations a lie. Subsequently, he spoke at length about the accusations with Anderson Cooper.

Saying he did not “put my hands on her or touch her as they’re alleging,” Acosta argued, “It’s unfortunate the White House is saying this,” adding, “I think I handled myself professionally.”

Speaking more broadly on the incident in the context of the contentious exchange that preceded it, Acosta said, “This is a test for all of us.” He added, “I do think they are trying to shut us down, to some extent, inside the White House press corps.”

Acosta also argued the stunt was a clear attempt to “send a message to our colleagues.”

The White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) also condemned Sanders’ false allegations calling on the White House to “immediately reverse this weak and misguided action.” WHCA President Olivier Knox said in part:

“Journalists may use a range of approaches to carry out their jobs and the WHCA does not police the tone or frequency of the questions its members ask of powerful senior government officials, including the President,” he wrote. “Such interactions, however uncomfortable they may appear to be, help define the strength of our national institutions. We urge the White House to immediately reverse this weak and misguided action.”

Reuters correspondent Jeff Mason also chimed in to defend Acosta noting he witnessed the entire encounter firsthand.

“I was seated next to ⁦Acosta⁩ at today’s press conference and did not witness him ‘placing his hands’ on the young intern, as the White House alleges,” he said on Twitter. “He held on to the microphone as she reached for it.”

Despite outcry, neither Sanders nor other member of the White House have budged on revoking Acosta’s access despite video and witnesses disproving their allegations. But that seems to be the point, though.

Free Press Under Assault

Since nearly day one of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump made it a point not only to demonize, but to delegitimize free press. He’s called them the “enemy of the people” repeatedly. He’s called for violence against the very outlet Acosta works for. That threat extends to the press in general, too though. He’s sided with dictators abroad in speaking out against the press.

He barely reacted when a right-wing domestic terrorist took his words to heart and sent bombs to CNN.

In short, this is par for the course when examining the situation longitudinally while accepting the fact that Donald Trump behaves as an authoritarian would.

Baltimore Sun reporter David Zurawik characterized Trump’s entire press conference yesterday similarly noting:

The press conference lasted about 90 minutes, and I have never seen anything like it in terms of a presidential vitriol and personal attacks on multiple reporters.
Some critics characterize Trump’s behavior as childish. His demeanor during this session was not childish at all. It was dictatorial, autocratic, angry and condescending. He repeatedly said, “That’s enough,” or “Sit down,” as if commanding underlings.
“There has been nothing close since Dan Rather and Richard Nixon,” said Mark Feldstein, University of Maryland at College Park broadcast journalism professor and author of “Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington’s Scandal Culture.”
That confrontation took place in 1974 in Houston when the CBS newsman rose to ask a question of President Nixon.

He added:

What happened Wednesday was clearly an escalation of the battle between Trump and the press that officially got under way with that first press briefing when the White House claimed Trump’s inauguration crowd was the largest in history.
It cannot be allowed to stand without being fiercely challenged, as the Maryland Delaware District of Columbia Press Association did Wednesday night.
“The Maryland Delaware District of Columbia Press Association condemns in the strongest words possible the actions of President Donald Trump’s White House for suspending the privileges of CNN reporter Jim Acosta after today’s televised Presidential news conference,” a statement from the organization said.
“The actions today against Mr. Acosta are a threat to Free Speech, reporters and violates the spirit and sanctity of a free press,” the statement continued.
“Further, several reporters of member organizations present during the press conference do not concur with the White House’s accusations against Mr. Acosta and videotape shows he never laid hands on anyone. He was a reporter asking a question and trying to do his job. Therefore, we can only surmise the real intention of the White House is to bully, intimidate and divide the press. We stand by Mr. Acosta and we stand with all journalists who stand up to this type of abuse from the government.”
Feldstein said “the gloves are off.”
“There’s not really any pretense on either side any more about it.”

Melissa Chan — who handles Special Projects at the New York Times — spoke about this on Twitter today pointing out the frightening similarities between the Acosta incident and what hard-line authoritarian regimes do. Here’s the thread:

As someone who has had my press credentials denied by authoritarian China, I never thought I’d see this crap happen in the US. And this “most reporters are okay but @Acosta is aggressive” thing is the EXACT line Chinese propaganda printed about me. It’s a tactic, people.
— Melissa Chan (@melissakchan) November 8, 2018
Right now, they’re singling out @Acosta. But tomorrow it’ll be Journalist X. And later Journalist Y and Z. It can happen very quickly. And of course, there’s always something wrong with the reporter. They’ll go back ten years to find something you misreported if they have to.
— Melissa Chan (@melissakchan) November 8, 2018
They’ll start casting suspicion about not just your work, but your very character. All they need is a whiff of anything unsavory. And it’ll be a talking point different people in the government will say, in public and private.
— Melissa Chan (@melissakchan) November 8, 2018
And you know what? This too will just be today’s news, a blip. Because we’re in the era of the exhausted majority. This too, I saw in China. Ordinary, decent people with busy lives who have no energy to be exhausted or outraged by politics.
— Melissa Chan (@melissakchan) November 8, 2018
And that, folks, is how a billion+ people in China live in an authoritarian state. Guess what? You don’t feel daily oppression in an authoritarian country. You have Starbucks and the usual normal people stuff. But —
— Melissa Chan (@melissakchan) November 8, 2018
While you don’t feel daily oppression in an authoritarian country, part of my job was to see what happened when the state DID cross paths with ordinary people. And when it does, law and justice are not there for you, and trust me, it’s BAD.
— Melissa Chan (@melissakchan) November 8, 2018
BY THE WAY WHITE HOUSE REPORTERS: Something foreign correspondents in places like Beijing and Moscow have learned: Hang together, or else you’ll hang separately. My peers supported me when I got expelled from China. That stuff matters.
— Melissa Chan (@melissakchan) November 8, 2018

Attorney Amee Vanderpool perhaps said it best in her tweet recounting the incident and the blind subservience to Trump required to accuse an innocent man of assault in what was clearly an incident instigated by the white House:

I’m posting this close up not to bolster my argument that Jim Acosta did nothing wrong, because I think that’s pretty clear. Instead, look at the way this staffer keeps looking to Trump for confirmation on each attempt. It’s so creepy. This blind obedience is cult like. pic.twitter.com/PRLBxkoCHI
— Amee Vanderpool (@girlsreallyrule) November 8, 2018

For their part, CNN doesn’t appear to be backing down in defending Acosta:

Here is a video of the interaction for the world to see: pic.twitter.com/us8u5TWzDz
— CNN Communications (@CNNPR) November 8, 2018

Whether other news organizations stand by CNN in solidarity is yet to be determined.