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The Blaze reports

Joe Rogan charged CNN of "yellow journalism" on Friday, accusing the network of literally altering the Instagram video he posted last fall in which he announced he had become infected with COVID-19

The pictures in question seem to be this one.

APnews makes counter claim.

False. An analysis of the video used by CNN in a report about talk show host Joe Rogan contracting COVID-19 found no sign that the color had been altered. CNN confirmed no changes were made to the color of the video.

As pointed out in prior question in Skeptics digital photography is not as straight forward as it might seem.

Did CNN alter Joe Rogan's appearance in their coverage regarding his Covid-19 infection in late 2021?

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    I'm not sure you will get better sources than the AP (a reputable news agency) quoting a professor whose area of expertise is digital forensics and image analysis. What level of evidence are you looking for in an answer?
    – tim
    Jan 13 at 11:26
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    @tim Either similar occurrences or process, which might explain in more detail description "it appears that the color is shifted towards red and away from the yellow/green appearance in the original Instagram video.” Possibly an artefact due to bad video capture?
    – pinegulf
    Jan 13 at 11:44
  • Is the word "appearance" in the title and body intended? The quoted claim didn't focus only on his appearance, but the whole video, considering that other than his face, the tree bark also looks more (de)saturated.
    – Andrew T.
    Jan 14 at 16:16
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    Deleted comments that attempted to answer the question or share their political opinions.
    – Oddthinking
    Jan 15 at 10:34
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    An unreferenced answer was deleted in accordance to policy when the author refused to reference it. Go chat about it here
    – Oddthinking
    Jan 15 at 10:35

2 Answers 2

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As stated in the question, this is the link showing purported digital alteration by CNN in Mr. Rogan's original Instagram video. The video states that the top video was from CNN and the bottom video was from Mr. Rogan's Instagram.

From CNN's Youtube Channel, this is the video shared in Anderson Cooper's report on Mr. Rogan getting COVID-19.

This is the original video from Mr. Rogan's Instagram page stating that he had COVID (fast forward to 0:28 to get to the point where the CNN video seems to start).


As the Associated Press stated, it appears that the only real difference between the CNN video and the original Instagram post seems to be some video compression issues due to the video being a copy of the original. For example, compare the quality of the first two screenshots below by looking at the tree branches above Mr. Rogan's head.

By contrast, the comparison video seems to have applied a filter of some kind to the original video. From AP:

“In this purported original, the Facebook post appears different from the original Instagram video,” Farid said. “It appears that the color is shifted towards red and away from the yellow/green appearance in the original Instagram video.”


I have tried to take screenshots from the same frame in each video to illustrate the comparison between the original Instagram video, the CNN video, and the comparison Instagram video. For the record, all of these screenshots were taken using a Firefox browser, however I got similar results trying the video in Chrome/Edge/Brave.

Screenshot from original Instagram post

Original Instagram post

Screenshot from CNN

CNN video

Screenshot from comparison video

enter image description here

The CNN video seems to match the original Instagram video fairly well, and substantially better than the video posted in the comparison video.

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    Is it too obvious to point out that the "original" video is framed tighter than the CNN version? Look at the position of Rogan's chin and cheek in the "original" video. Was CNN supposed to have digitally widened the frame, in addition to altering the color?
    – Juhasz
    Jan 13 at 17:41
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    I'm a little confused why you say the CNN screenshot matches the instagram screenshot. It's a lot closer match than the comparison video, but your screenshots are still substantially different hues.
    – Brady Gilg
    Jan 13 at 18:40
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    Yeah the hues are obviously different and when you're talking about a person who's ostensibly sick with a deadly illness that detail is relevant. Jan 13 at 18:52
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    @Juhasz Probably just a factor of them not being quite at the same timestamp. The camera and Joe are probably both moving around a bit, so getting an exact match on the frame is likely going to be very difficult. CNN could easily have cropped it tighter, but doing the reverse would be near impossible to do well without way more money that it'd be worth to fake it. (We're talking Hollywood blockbuster level CGI, for a short news clip? Why even bother?) Jan 13 at 19:39
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    @BradyGilg I'm sure half of the content team at CNN have wide gamut monitors that maybe one person in the whole department knows how to calibrate and none of which have proper colour profiles set up, to say nothing of the calibration chain in the software they use. Unless you're paying top dollar for media professionals, getting the hues wrong is almost to be expected. The desaturation on the CNN clip looks pretty much exactly like what you'd expect if they're working in AdobeRGB but interpreting it as sRGB.
    – J...
    Jan 14 at 1:09
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Experimentation

To confirm Dr. Farid's findings I rendered the original instagram video in several video player alongside CNN's cut. I took a single whole screenshot and the only editing I applied to the screenshot was censoring personal information with 4 black boxes.

Too many pictures of joe rogan

Starting from the top left and going right that's Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Brave, Windows "About my PC", CNN's video in Chrome, Movies & TV, VLC Media Player, and a snapshot from VLC's "Take a Snapshot" feature. All of these applications were updated to their latest stable release as of the date and time in the picture.

Unfortunately, Brave and Chrome both lose focus when you take a snapshot, of the whole screen, and apply an invasive washed out filter to their framebuffers. I know what they looked like before they were washed out (they were pinker) but I will ignore them for the remainder of the answer because of this issue.

For the remaining renderings there seem to be two predominant color gradings. One slightly gray-yellow one (I will call this one "gold"), and one slightly more pink (I will call this one "rose"). Firefox and the CNN video clearly exhibit the gold grading, while Movies & TV renders the rose grading. VLC doesn't agree with itself and renders the rose grading in its direct framebuffer output, but uses the gold grading when taking a snapshot.

Of course it's difficult to know which of these gradings is correct since they all involve a third party (Mozilla, CNN, Microsoft, VideoLan) interpreting Instagram's originally served video.

Luckily though, we do have a source of ground truth out there! Instagram produces their own first-party apps for Android and iPhone. They have full control over how they expect videos to render on this application and are infamous for writing their own image editing software. (Interestingly, while their open source library disclosure for their online platform mentions ffmpeg, there is no such mention in their Android disclosure).

I took a screenshot of the same video playing in the Instagram app on a Pixel 3 running the latest version of Android 12 as of 1/16/2022. In this shot I have the video paused on the frame in question while seeking to the same point in time. This screenshot is unedited, except for being scaled down to half the original size. Giant Joe

I think we can all agree that this picture makes the issue clear as mud. Instagram is rendering the framebuffer with the rose grading, but the seeking preview with the gold grading.

Conclusions

This really shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has worked with color formats before, but color grading is hard, and sometimes different applications don't agree on how to interpret an image/video format. Sometimes applications don't even agree with themselves.

Anyone claiming CNN or Joe Rogan intentionally altered the videos' color grading (in either CNN's reporting or Joe Rogan's counterclaim) is doing so without evidence. A much simpler explanation is that the video is just rendering that way for each side's own devices.

As for how CNN could possibly have not been aware that the video might be rendering differently on the Instagram app/webapp, we have CNN's own words:

CNN said in a statement emailed to the AP. “The raw upload was ingested using the direct link to Joe Rogan’s Instagram video, which was then cut for TV.”

They might not have even played the video on any of Instagram's intended delivery mechanism and instead just pulled the video directly from the source that Instagram delivers in the video element:

src="https://scontent-lga3-2.cdninstagram.com/v/t50.16885-16/10000000_180503757486348_5957428224570664494_n.mp4?..."
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  • If anyone can reproduce the Instagram app photo on an iPhone, I'd happily add that to this answer (especially since Instagram was originally iPhone only and that seems to be their first priority)
    – Steve Cox
    Jan 16 at 10:01
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    This answer will likely be deleted by the moderators for the same reasons the previous answer was deleted: Unreferenced original research (even though it seems like the most reasonable answer.
    – pipe
    Jan 16 at 10:24
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    Please do not delete this answer. I am more than willing to add any references and am happy to take any edits to improve the answer
    – Steve Cox
    Jan 16 at 11:00
  • @pipe Yikes. I hope that’s not the official policy because that would imply this site is only useful for people who don’t know how to use google. Original research is kinda what makes stack exchange useful.
    – Navin
    Feb 11 at 0:40

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