GOP under fire after peddling doctored, misleading videos online

While deceptively manipulating the words of someone with ALS is awfully low, even for 2020, the Scalise missive was part of an unfortunate recent pattern.
Image: House Minority Whip Steve Scalise speaks with the media in the Capitol on Oct. 29, 2019.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise speaks with the media in the Capitol on Oct. 29, 2019.Patrick Semansky / AP
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By Steve Benen

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and his team apparently thought it'd be a good idea to release an anti-Biden video featuring doctored rhetoric from a progressive activist. As the New York Times noted, this did not turn out well for the far-right congressman.

The activist, Ady Barkan, called out Mr. Scalise, the minority whip of the House of Representatives, on Twitter Sunday afternoon, saying he had “doctored my words for your own political gain” and demanding that he remove the video he had posted in a tweet. “I have lost my ability to speak, but not my agency or my thoughts,” tweeted Mr. Barkan, who has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or A.L.S. and speaks with the help of a computerized voice.

The apparent point of the exercise was the Louisiana Republican trying to tell voters that Joe Biden supports "defunding the police" -- a position Biden has repeatedly rejected. When reality didn't give Scalise and his team what they wanted, the congressman and his aides apparently decided to edit reality in a more politically satisfying way.

Twitter flagged the content as having been manipulated, and Scalise replaced the video in response to the criticism. The GOP congressman conceded on Fox News yesterday that the video "shouldn’t have been edited,” but he nevertheless made the case that his anti-Biden attack has merit.

And while deceptively manipulating the words of someone with ALS is awfully low, even by 2020 standards, the Scalise missive was part of an unfortunate recent pattern.

Just hours later, Dan Scavino, a deputy chief of staff in the Trump White House, posted a faked video that showed Biden appearing to sleep at the start of a television interview. It was, however, a scam: an actual interview with Harry Belafonte was manipulated, with someone editing in the former vice president.

A day later, the Trump campaign promoted "a deceptively edited clip from Biden’s Pittsburgh speech, sparking criticism from a Biden adviser and prompting Twitter to flag the tweet as 'manipulated media.'"

The trifecta helps explain why so much of the Republican base believes things that aren't true: the party's leaders too often deliberately peddle nonsense, cynically counting on rank-and-file voters to believe it.

Worse, there's no reason to assume these deceptive videos will be some kind of aberration. Election Day is nine weeks from today, and the campaign to mislead the public is likely to get worse as the finish line approaches.