During a press conference at the White House Wednesday afternoon, CNN’s Jim Acosta got into a heated exchange with President Donald Trump. Acosta, a reporter already seen by Trump—and Trump’s supporters—as either merely an aggressive agent or as a literal secret agent, pressed Trump on how he characterized the so-called migrant caravan making its way through Central America as an “invasion.”
“They’re hundreds of miles away, that’s not an invasion,” Acosta said.
“Honestly, I think you should let me run the country. You can run CNN, and if you did it well, your ratings would be much higher” Trump replied.
As Acosta began another question, Trump looked around the room to call on another journalist. “That’s enough,” he told Acosta, as a White House staffer approached to remove the microphone from Acosta’s hand. The staffer grabbed the mic, but Acosta refused to let go.
What happened next is the cause of considerable debate. The controversy foreshadows a larger, looming debate—one not merely about the validity of video evidence, but about reality itself.
A few hours after the terse exchange, Acosta tweeted that his White House media pass had been revoked. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a statement soon after, along with video of the exchange, claiming that Acosta had assaulted the staffer who had attempted to take the mic from his hand. “President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his administration,” she wrote. “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.”
Sanders later posted a video that zoomed in on the moment where Acosta refused to release his grip on the microphone. It showed the moment when his arm made contact with the staffer’s. “We will not tolerate the inappropriate behavior clearly documented in this video,” Sanders wrote in the attached tweet.
Debates like this one, over the legitimacy of video evidence, are just beginning.
That allegation was roundly denounced by other reporters in the room. By Thursday morning, it wasn’t just the interpretation of Acosta’s downward arm motion or contact with the intern that was the subject of frenzied online debate. It was, instead, whether the video Sanders posted had been doctored—sped up to appear as though Acosta had been more forceful.
In a tweet that, at this writing, has been shared nearly 30,000 times and liked over 19,000 times, Rafael Shimunov claimed to show evidence that the video had been doctored. This claim that was quickly picked up by a variety of mainstream news outlets and echoed by others performing their own video analysis.
“I’ve edited video for 15+ years,” Shimunov wrote in the tweet. “The White House doctored it.” Shimunov, who has professional experience in technology and media development, later clarified that the White House may not have actually altered the video. Instead, Sanders may have been sharing a clip that was manipulated elsewhere.
He pointed a finger at Paul Joseph Watson, a vocal right-wing conspiracy theorist often described as “alt-right” (though he disputes that label). Watson refuted the charge.
“The claim being made my [sic] some media outlets that I ‘sped up’ the Acosta video is a brazen lie,” he tweeted, attaching what he claimed is the “original editing,” wherein, he said, “no tracks are ‘sped up’… I just zoomed in.”