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Explainer: The US president, the CNN journalist and the case of a doctored video

Footage shared by Sarah Huckabee Sanders was used to justify the suspension of Jim Acosta’s press pass yesterday.

CNN correspondent Jim Acosta addresses Donald Trump in the White House
CNN correspondent Jim Acosta addresses Donald Trump in the White House
Image: Twitter/@NBCNews

THE WHITE HOUSE has been criticised after its press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders posted footage which purported to show CNN journalist Jim Acosta “placing his hands” on an intern.

The footage was used to justify the suspension of Acosta’s press credentials, which followed a heated confrontation with US President Donald Trump yesterday.

Announcing the suspension, Sanders accused Acosta of “placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern”, and called his behaviour “absolutely unacceptable”.

She subsequently shared a video of the incident on Twitter to justify the decision, although some have said the clip was doctored to make Acosta’s actions look more severe.

CNN said that the White House revoked Acosta’s press pass out of “retaliation for his challenging questions”, and accused Sanders of lying about Acosta’s actions.

So what actually happened?

How did the controversy arise?

The issue arose at a post-midterms press conference yesterday, when there were angry exchanges between Acosta and Trump when the president was asked about a caravan of migrants.

The CNN correspondent asked Trump why the caravan – consisting of thousands of migrants moving slowly towards the US – was an issue in the midterm elections.

“Your campaign had an ad showing migrants climbing over walls and so on … they’re not going to be doing that,” Acosta said, referring to a controversial ad that aired last week.

“Do you think they were actors?” Trump replied. “They weren’t actors, they didn’t come from Hollywood. These were people, this was an actual…you know it happened a few days ago.”

Source: FOX 10 Phoenix/YouTube

Acosta then attempted to ask Trump about the investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 US election, but was ignored as he continued probing.

But the president attempted to shut down Acosta’s line of questioning, calling him “a rude, terrible person” and repeatedly telling him to sit down.

When Acosta tried to ask Trump another follow-up question, the US president said “that’s enough” seven times.

A White House aide unsuccessfully tried to take a microphone from the CNN correspondent a number of times before managing to do so.

The White House later announced that Acosta’s press credentials had been suspended over the incident.

Why was Acosta suspended?

Journalists assigned to cover the White House apply for passes that allow them daily access to press areas in the West Wing.

White House staffers decide whether journalists are eligible, but the Secret Service ultimately determines whether their applications are approved.

Following the press conference, Sanders tweeted a thread in which she said the White House would “never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman”, without specifically naming Acosta.

“The White House is suspending the hard pass of the reporter involved until further notice” Sanders said.

She also hit out at CNN for standing behind Acosta, calling the company’s behaviour “disgusting” and an example of “outrageous disregard for everyone, including young women” who worked in the Trump administration.

Where is talk about ‘doctored’ footage coming from?

Sanders later shared a video of the incident on Twitter to justify Acosta’s suspension, adding that the White House would not tolerate Acosta’s “inappropriate behaviour”.

However, a number of people subsequently criticised her for posting the video, with a number claiming it had been sped up to make Acosta’s actions look worse than they were.

The video also came in for criticism because it was shared two hours previously by Paul Joseph Watson, editor of the far-right news website Infowars.com.

“(Sanders) provided fraudulent accusations and cited an incident that never happened,” CNN said in a subsequent statement.

“This unprecedented decision is a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better.”

What actually happened?

Firstly, here is the footage as it was broadcast on NBC:

At the 14-second mark, the video shows the female intern using her right hand to reach for the microphone above Acosta’s left arm and across his chest, before he pulls away.

There appears to be minimal contact between the two.

Acosta 14 seconds The first attempt to take the microphone at the 14-second mark Source: Twitter/@NBCNews

At the 15-second to 16-second mark in the clip, the intern reaches for the microphone with her right hand a second time before Acosta pulls away again.

Once more, there appears to be minimal contact between the two.

Acosta 16 seconds The second attempt to take the microphone at the 16-second mark Source: Twitter/@NBCNews

At the 17-second mark, the intern uses her left hand to reach around Acosta’s now-raised left hand in an attempt to snatch the microphone from him a third time.

There is contact as Acosta lowers his arm.

Acosta 17 seconds The third attempt to take the microphone at the 17-second mark Source: Twitter/@NBCNews

At the 18-second mark, the intern grabs the microphone as Acosta continues to lower his arm, which jerks as the intern pulls the microphone away from him.

The base of Acosta’s hand makes contact with the top of the intern’s forearm.

Acosta 18 seconds The 18-second mark Source: Twitter/@NBCNews

The intern subsequently moves her right hand backwards as she continues to pull on the microphone, which is still being held by Acosta, now with both hands.

He excuses himself, telling the intern that he is still asking the president questions. She subsequently turns and sits down.

Acosta 18 seconds 2 The 18-second mark after the intern moves her right arm away from Acosta Source: Twitter/@NBCNews

At the 36-second mark, the intern stands again and successfully takes the microphone from Acosta. No visible contact is made between the two as this happens.

Acosta 36 seconds At the 26-second mark, the intern successfully takes the microphone from Acosta at the fourth attempt. Source: Twitter/@NBCNews

The video shared by Sanders showed the incident happening from a similar – but different – angle, taken from American news network CSPAN.

However, the footage only includes the intern’s fourth attempt to take the microphone from Acosta.

The moment of contact shown at the 18-second mark in the NBC video is also repeated four times at the end of the video.

Infowars contact A repeated still showing the moment of contact between Acosta and the White House intern. Source: Twitter/@PressSec

Was the video doctored?

A number of analyses have compared the video shared by Sanders and other footage of the incident.

One purports to show the video slowed down before the intern reaches for the microphone, then sped up faster than the original footage as Acosta’s arm moves towards the her.

Another, which takes the original footage from CSPAN overlayed with the video Sanders shared, appears to show the same editing process:

An analysis of the video by TheJournal.ie also appears to show the video shared by Sanders freeze for three frames in the moment before Acosta’s hand pushes down on the intern’s arm.

Whatever you make of these comparisons, it’s clear that Acosta did not place both his hands on the intern, and it’s certainly possible that his actions were an instinctive reaction to having a microphone forcibly removed from his hand.

He later told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he did not put his “hands on … or touch” the intern as the White House alleged.

“It’s unfortunate the White House is saying this,” he said. “I think I handled myself professionally.”

However, the White House may not be backing down any time soon.

When she shared the apparently doctored video, Sanders said the White House stood by its decision to revoke Acosta’s press pass, saying the video “clearly documented” what had happened.

For now, it remains to see how the controversy will be resolved.

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