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White House press secretary uses fake Infowars video to justify banning CNN reporter

Scenes from a dystopia.

Reporter Jim Acosta and a White House intern at the Wednesday press conference.
CSPAN screengrab

Press secretary Sarah Sanders shared an altered video on Wednesday evening that appears to have originated with far-right conspiracy site Infowars to justify banning CNN reporter Jim Acosta from the White House after a tense exchange with President Donald Trump.

This followed a tense post-midterm election news conference at the White House earlier in the day, when Acosta challenged Trump’s use of the migrant caravan to stoke immigration fears among his base before the election, in what many reported was an effort to stop losing Republican control of the House. Ultimately, Republicans lost enough seats to hand control to Democrats.

However, Trump spent much of his first public statement mocking Republicans who lost, personally attacking reporters (including Acosta), and bragging about Republican gains in the Senate. It was quite a reversal of President Barack Obama’s first post-midterms news conference in 2010, in which he described the election as a “shellacking.”

But Trump’s attacks on Acosta during the news conference weren’t enough for the White House. Later in the day, Sanders posted a string of tweets in which she accused Acosta of “placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern.”

When Trump insulted Acosta at the press conference, a White House intern approached him and tried to physically remove a microphone from his hands. Their arms touched as the woman reached across Acosta’s body to grab the microphone he was holding in his hand.

Looking back at the video, it does not in fact show Acosta “placing his hands” on the woman. But about 90 minutes after she posted her string of tweets, Infowars editor Paul Joseph Watson tweeted out a video of the incident that was doctored to make it look like Acosta chopped the woman’s arm with his hand.

Less than an hour later, Sanders tweeted out the doctored video, writing, “We will not tolerate the inappropriate behavior clearly documented in this video.”

Comparing the actual footage of the news conference with the Watson/Sanders videos clearly shows that the latter has been manipulated.

Infowars has been banned from Twitter, YouTube, Apple, and Facebook for spreading false information. And while all of those platforms have struggled to stop the spread of fake text news, new technology released within the last year makes it much easier to create fake videos as well.

Ironically, shortly after the intern tried to pry the mic away from Acosta during the news conference, Trump admonished him that “when you report fake news, which CNN does a lot, you are the enemy of the people.”

The baseless narrative that Acosta somehow attacked the intern was also pushed by Fox Business Network, where anchor Trish Regan described Acosta as “wrestling that young White House intern.”

As Sanders’ decision to share the doctored video was widely criticized on Thursday, she released a new statement saying, “The question is: did the reporter make contact or not? The video is clear, he did. We stand by our statement.”

But making “contact” is not what Sanders accused Acosta of doing when she initially announced his banishment from the White House on Wednesday evening, tweeting falsely that he “plac[ed] his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job.”