The media was all abuzz about a video Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted out in regards to Jim Acosta's disbarring:


Many outlets claimed that this video originated with Paul Joseph Watson/Infowars and it was altered.

Are both these claims correct?

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    Determining intent is off-topic here, so I removed those parts from the question. Determining if that video was actually altered is on-topic.
    – Mad Scientist
    Nov 12, 2018 at 8:48
  • Removed answers and political opinions from comments.
    – Oddthinking
    Nov 12, 2018 at 9:42
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    @MadScientist Could intent be potentially be on topic, if the experts that analyze it such as this one determine that the video was most likely manipulated to make more aggressive movements, and not due to compression and other technical issues? Nov 12, 2018 at 18:58
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    @polo Magic fairy dust is always screwing up my edits ;)
    – user11643
    Nov 14, 2018 at 22:29
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    I want to add some perspective to the question. It seems that Acosta upset the president at a press conference and went to move on to another reporter. Acosta wouldn't turn over the mic and kept talking. See original c-span footage. An intern attempted to take the mic from Acosta, but he pulled away and their arms touched. Despite claims of any assault anywhere, it seems obvious to me that Trump was particularly annoyed with Acosta, while there's a good case to make that Acosta was being unprofessional.
    – user11643
    Nov 16, 2018 at 23:02

2 Answers 2



Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) has been quite open about producing the video:

The video was not "doctored" by me - all I did was zoom in on the original from the Daily Wire. I did not 'speed up' anything.

He even published a screenshot of his video editing session, which shows edits made in order to repeat the action in close-up, and the filename of the source video clip, DrasJZTWwAAU5hs.mp4.

I have not yet seen an authoritative analysis of the timeline (and I would not consider the question of alteration to be “answered” without one), but the filename indicates that the original video clip, on which Watson based his edited version, is this: https://video.twimg.com/tweet_video/DrasJZTWwAAU5hs.mp4

This is consistent with Watson’s claim that his source material was from this tweet from The Daily Wire, dated “9:46 AM - 7 Nov 2018”, which links to the same video URL. The origin of that video clip appears to be this tweet by @ForAmerica, dated “9:34 AM - 7 Nov 2018” which also has the same video URL. The origin and history of the video is also described by Paris Martineau writing in Wired.

The first appearance of Watson’s edited version seems to be his tweet dated “5:33 pm - 7 Nov 2018”. This version runs for 15 seconds but contains only material from the original 3-second clip, with progressively zoomed and cropped replays of the “crucial moment”, which plays six times in total. This version has poorer image quality, and alternate frames are blended together.


Apart from the obvious crop-zoom-loop, there is a duplicated frame just as Acosta and the woman make contact (frames 2 and 3 below). This was noted by digital forensic and image analysis expert Hany Farid in reports from Wired and The New Yorker. Farid further noted:

This could have been done intentionally, but could also be the result of transcoding that changes the frame rate


I don’t see unambiguous evidence that it has been doctored.

This repeated frame occurs in both the zoomed and unzoomed cuts in Watson’s video:

frames from edited video

There is another duplicated frame a little later (frames 2 and 3; look carefully at the woman’s hair).

additional frames from edited video

These duplicate frames appear both in the edited video tweeted by Watson and in the video issued by Sanders, but not in the DrasJZTWwAAU5hs.mp4 source video, frames of which are shown below:

frames from original video

That is, it does not appear that the video was altered by the White House.

So, the doubled frames could be deliberate attempts to exaggerate the action, but they could also be accidental technical glitches. Watson himself has repeatedly stated that the video was not doctored, but the fact remains that the exact sequence of frames used and repeated in his video is different from the video he based his edit upon.

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    Welcome to Skeptics! Most of this seems to be original research, and should be deleted. Please find references to experts doing the analysis rather than doing it yourself. (Frankly, I can't even follow it. Are the allegedly repeated frames part of Watson's publicised edit history? How do we know if they were in the original footage from the camera? Is it just from frame-rate conversions?
    – Oddthinking
    Nov 12, 2018 at 14:21
  • Thank you for the comments. I wondered what level of detail was appropriate, and can see that the lack of references to expert analysis is a weakness. Would it be appropriate to supply scripts or a procedure for repeating the analysis, in addition to quoting and linking to existing expert commentary?
    – screwtop
    Nov 12, 2018 at 15:00
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    @Oddthinking: The repeated frames are present in the video posted by Watson, but not in the video posted by The Daily Wire that Watson gives as the source. I deliberated over whether to discuss the likelihood of frame-rate conversion as a source of "technical glitches"; I think it should be addressed (brevity be damned!), but obviously by an authority.
    – screwtop
    Nov 12, 2018 at 15:15
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    Duplicate frames are A) common in edit and conversion and B) hardly noticeable. You mention these duplicate frames like it means something but give no explanation how or why they do.
    – user11643
    Nov 12, 2018 at 15:31
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    @fredsbend - I get that part, that it's a bit of a semantic discussion with all sides defining "doctored" to their convenience. Nov 14, 2018 at 15:39

According to the Washington Post, experts agree that the video is altered:

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.

A frame-by-frame breakdown by Storyful, a social-media intelligence firm that verifies media content, found that the edited video included repeated frames that did not appear in the original footage. The repeated frames were shown only at the moment of contact and made Acosta’s arm movement look more exaggerated, said Shane Raymond, a journalist at Storyful.

Arstechnica reports that two experts agree that the video was altered:

The video is altered, Shapiro told the AP, to make Acosta's actions as he held on to the microphone look faster and more aggressive. [...] Video producer Jamison Hermann separately told The Verge that he suspected the clip was doctored after analyzing the press version of the video and the While House's version of the video frame by frame.

Vice quotes a professor who agrees that the video is changed and gives an incorrect impression, but who thinks that there is not enough evidence that the video was "doctored":

“From my review of the various videos of the press conference, I believe that the video tweeted by the Press Secretary is misleading but I don’t see unambiguous evidence that it has been doctored,” Farid told Motherboard via email. “A combination of a reduction in the quality of the video, a slowing-down of the video, and the particular vantage point of the CSPAN video gives the appearance that there was more contact between the reporter and the intern than there probably was. In particular, if you look at original, higher-quality videos from other vantage points you can more clearly see that while there was some contact between the reporter and intern, he did not strike her as his hand comes down.”

They quote a second expert who agrees:

"There are duplicate frames at the moment of contact; 2 additional frames for no apparent reason but one could surmise that it could give the false impression of a split second more contact then there actually was," Smith wrote.

Kellyanne Conway also agrees that the video was changed ("sped up") (though she disagrees that this means that the video was "altered").

Conclusion: Experts agree that the video shared by Sanders is not identical to the original video, that it comes from a dubious source - an editor of the far-right, fake news website InfoWars, and that it may give a wrong impression.

Where there is disagreement is if the words "doctored", "altered", or "sped up" should be used to describe the change, and whether or not this change was deliberate (both of which are opinion-based and go to the motivation of people, and are thus not on-topic here).

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    It's a bit odd to note that duplicate frames were not in the original footage, when duplicate frames is an edit and conversion phenomenon, especially when lowering framerate. And at 15fps, a single frame is 0.066 seconds. Not much. It's argued that's enough to notice audio async, but as a professional video editor myself, I'd say changes in motion are negligible.
    – user11643
    Nov 13, 2018 at 15:25
  • Yet, if a single frame is 0.066 seconds, a doubled frame is visible for 0.132 seconds. I would imagine that this is long enough to notice a static picture,. But then, I'm not a professional video editor, and also not a perceptual psychologist.
    – Schmuddi
    Nov 13, 2018 at 20:22
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    @schmuddi Two identical images means no movement between them. If your goal is to intentionally make motion look faster, duplicating frames would only theoretically work if you also delete some previous frames. So, assuming the change is noticeable, you'd see a "fast" movement (more like choppy) followed by a pause. In other words, it would look horrible if the goal was to speed it up.
    – user11643
    Nov 14, 2018 at 15:22
  • I thought I read somewhere Watson's output was 15 fps; don't know where I got that. Seems it was 29.97, nearly double, so duplicates are even less noticeable.
    – user11643
    Nov 14, 2018 at 15:23
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    An acceptable way to increase video speed is to increase framerate but not add any frames. The video will have a shorter run time, but will be sped up.
    – user11643
    Nov 14, 2018 at 15:26

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