The Trump administration is clearly annoyed with the behavior of a particular CNN reporter. But how prepared is it to state that the reporter was abusive during a press conference with President Trump?
A response appeared on Wednesday night when White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted a video of the episode with Jim Acosta, head of CNN's White House. Experts said that the video, in which Acosta repels a press officer's attempt to take a microphone out of their hands, was changed to exaggerate the aggressiveness of Acosta's actions.
If this is the case, the video may belong in a category Rarely employed in democratic governments: Visual propaganda.
The White House video, apparently made from a post on the conspiracy site Infowars, speeds Acosta's arms' movement while the unknown helper clings to the microphone during a heated conversation with the reporter and Trump. The video tweeted by Sanders also eliminated Acosta's comment on the young woman ̵
Sanders did not apologize on Thursday. "The question is, did the reporter contact him or not?" She asked the White House one day after the revocation of Acosta's press information about his alleged transgression. "The video is clear, he has done. We stand by our statement.
The White House's actions and report have been widely condemned, especially by journalists and news organizations. The White House News Photographers Association said, among other things, that Sanders & # 39; video was horrified.
"As visual journalists, we know that manipulating images manipulates the truth," said group president Whitney Shefte, a Washington Post videographer. "It's fraudulent, dangerous and unethical. The knowingly shared exchange of manipulated images is equally problematic, especially if the person who shares it is a representative of the highest office in our country, which has a major impact on public opinion.
Totalitarian governments have long recognized the value of changing photos and videos to manipulate public opinion and the public perception. Officials in the Soviet Union regularly airbrushed state photographs, while dictators like Joseph Stalin cleaned up his internal enemies. The wartime governments regularly censor images or selectively release them to uphold public order and morality.
Modern regimes are vigorously using digital techniques to deceive viewers; The North Korean Propaganda Ministry routinely changes images from the isolated nation, from photos of Kim Jong Un's ears to state-issued images of his military capabilities.
Such tactics have also been used irregularly in democracies like the United States. Political campaigns are full of fake pictures. During his anti-propaganda campaign in the early 1950s, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.) Distributed doctoral pictures of his opponents to suggest Communist sympathies, according to journalist Boston University journalism professor Christopher Daly. A "composite" photograph seemed to show Sen. Millard Tyding's (D-Md.) Deep talk with the head of the Communist Party of America.
One of the White House's most notorious cases of deliberate image manipulation, said Daly. The photos, which appeared to be a minor war battle, helped Congress pass a resolution granting President Lyndon B. Johnson the authority to negotiate the southern one Government more militarily support Vietnam.
News organizations refuse to change photos and videos on the understanding that they mislead readers and viewers. Message photos are tailored to better frame the action, and videos are edited to improve clarity and storytelling – all as legitimate practices. Some images, however, are changed immoral. The jurors of the annual World Press Photo contest regularly disqualified submissions for "excessive" post-processing, such as toning, which removed or hidden objects in a photo.
Among the most notorious examples of manipulation of news and photos were National Geographic's photographs of the Egyptian pyramids "squeezed" to fit the title page of the magazine in 1982, and OJ Simpson's cover photo of Time Magazine in 1994. With the At times, the picture of Simpson darkened, making it look eerier and more threatening.
While the Acosta Tweet by Sanders does not rise to the Gulf of Tonkin, he raises some disturbing issues, said Emmett Sullivan, who lectures on modern history and image-making at the University of London. The video she distributed was identical to that of Paul Joseph Watson, a conspiracy theorist associated with the Alex Jones & # 39; Infowars website.
"The problem is not the manipulation, but the assessment of the information" Sullivan "Why not use the C-SPAN feed directly? America can expect the President's press secretary to cite the best sources, and Sarah Sanders has failed the American people here. "
In a tweet on Thursday Watson denied that his video had been changed:" The media with zero In the verification of the facts, a conspiracy was started in which was claimed that I had the Jim Acosta video " accelerated "or" treated "so they could distract from Acosta's behavior. That's wrong. I have nothing "doctor" or "accelerate". It was all wrong news. "
Acosta, who has often been involved with the White House and Trump, tweeted that Sanders' claim that he had taken the Press Aid was" a lie. "
Sullivan says governments are less likely than ever to knowingly hand over a counterfeit. The reason: "It's just too easy to spot the manipulation now. In the media and in the social media too much publicity is thereby generated, just because videos are a common medium of communication. "
On the other hand, the technology has created a kind of" arms race "between tools that allow video and photo manipulation Hany Farid, a professor of computer science at Dartmouth University.
"Obviously, the release of misleading or misused information is problematic, especially if it is done by our officials," he said. But with the advancement of technology, he said, the question of what is real and what is not could be debated. "As the technology used to process images becomes more sophisticated and user-friendly, assertion that a video is fake becomes more credible," he said.
Farid refers to another infamous video to illustrate his point. Trump's "Hollywood Access" tape boasted about forcibly kissing and tapping women. When this recording was unveiled in 2016, he said, "No one said it was a fake." Since then, Trump has doubted his authenticity.
"If this recording had broken today, it would almost certainly have been fake," he said, and given the spread of digitally-altering technology, he would have had "plausible deniability."