I’m not going to miss a chance to talk to @FoxNewsSunday viewers (& I respect Chris Wallace). But I also wasn’t going to miss a chance to call out @FoxBusiness for using Russian propaganda tactics to smear @SpeakerPelosi. https://t.co/eeHdKIGTEr
— Eric Swalwell (@ericswalwell) May 26, 2019
The video referred to by Eric Swalwell is the one President Donald Trump shared last week during his latest war with Nancy Pelosi. I have a high bar for being baffled by what is considered a scandal in the Trump era. This one baffled me.
"PELOSI STAMMERS THROUGH NEWS CONFERENCE" pic.twitter.com/1OyCyqRTuk
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 24, 2019
This is a fairly basic montage of Pelosi tripping over some of her words. However, following Trump's tweet of it, media outlets began hammering it as "edited" or "doctored." Some confused it with a different viral video of Pelosi shared by Rudy Giuliani last week, where her speech was artificially slowed down to make her sound intoxicated (Jimmy Kimmel has used this video-editing method at Trump's expense for years).
Here are some examples of how Trump's sharing of the Fox Business video was covered:
BuzzFeed: "One video, which was selectively edited to highlight stumbles in Pelosi’s speech, was tweeted by United States President Donald Trump along with commentary from the FOX Business Network questioning Pelosi’s health."
Washington Post: "On Thursday night, Trump tweeted a separate video of Pelosi — a selectively edited supercut, taken from Fox News, focused on moments where she briefly paused or stumbled — that he claimed showed her stammering through a news conference."
Joe Lockhart writing at CNN: "With the predicate set, a Fox Business News program aired a doctored clip of Pelosi sounding drunk."
Business Insider: "Trump shares misleading video suggesting Nancy Pelosi is having trouble speaking."
MSNBC's Ali Velshi: "The president retweeted a doctored video that portrayed Pelosi falsely stumbling over her words."
"We'll show you the video and the technology behind it." pic.twitter.com/XpHq5ugzCg
— David Rutz (@DavidRutz) May 24, 2019
MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace: "We believe that transparency is the best disinfectant for dirty politics, so we're going to break down what the president of the United States did to the speaker of the House when he shared a doctored video of her with his millions of Twitter followers."
MSNBC's Brian Williams: "Donald Trump has sent out a doctored video of Nancy Pelosi."
Reuters: "U.S. President Donald Trump, engaged in personal attacks on House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, retweeted a heavily edited video that falsely claimed the Democratic leader had difficulty speaking to reporters."
This was a mess. For one, the term "selectively edited" is redundant—to edit something is to select which portions will stay and which will go. For another, figures like Wallace and Lockhart incorrectly conflated the Fox Business video of Pelosi with the far more trolly one depicting her as drunk.
But the most infuriating part of this is media outlets who know better using the loaded word "doctored" or weaponizing the term "edited."
Every news package in the history of television has been edited. Every montage of Trump saying "WRONG" or having a tough time remembering names was edited. This Vox joint that suggests journalists are all brainwashed by Fox News into hurting Democrats was edited. Save for livestreams, every video you have ever seen online was edited. Every movie and TV show was edited.
And yes, every SuperCut I and others have produced at the Free Beacon was edited. It's true.
Supercuts or montages are effective because they're simple. Done well, they articulate a truth about a person, political party, the media and others through revealing mannerisms, habits, hive-minded behavior, biases, and more. In this case, someone at Fox Business did what I've seen shared on Drudge Report countless times: A mash-up of times Pelosi tripped over her words at her press conference. Truths conveyed: She is not particularly well-spoken and she is old.
Your mileage will obviously vary as to the appropriateness of the President of the United States sharing a juvenile video targeting his opponent, complete with commentary that she might be slipping with advancing age. I am against all armchair medical diagnoses, although I hope the same folks who have used national television platforms to speculate Trump has dementia weren't too up in arms about this one.
Describing a video as "edited" becomes noteworthy when it's used to impeach said video's credibility. We saw this with the Planned Parenthood tapes in 2015, when media outlets began to use the term "heavily edited" so much it was almost beyond parody.
Of course, selective editing can be a scandal when it results in leaving out key information or gives an utterly false impression. Like when Katie Couric's gun documentary edited in nine seconds of silence to make gun owners look dumbstruck at one of her questions. Or a clip of Trump being denied a handshake going viral when the handshake happened seconds later. Or CBS editing out an embarrassing answer from Bill Clinton about his wife's health.
The 700th mashup of Pelosi's verbal slips doesn't meet the outrage test. Unfortunately, the media's coverage of it did.