On Tuesday night, an estimated 43.3 million Americans hunkered down to watch President Trump make an Oval Office pitch for his border wall. With the federal government shutdown stretching into its third week and Congress deadlocked on the issue, the address represented a pivotal moment in the immigration hawk’s presidency.
But viewers in the Seattle area got a little more than they expected.
The city’s Fox affiliate, Q13, beamed out doctored footage of Trump’s Tuesday address, according to the Seattle Times. The station’s broadcast showed Trump with a larger-than-normal head. His skin had a Cheetos-orange tint. And during his speech, the president’s tongue hung out of his mouth between sentences. It is unclear whether the footage ran live as Trump was giving his speech, or was replayed in later broadcasts.
The distorted clip was first pointed out Wednesday by Seattle conservative talk radio host Todd Herman of KTTH.
“A listener to my program sent me a video that appears to show a deceptively edited video of President Trump’s speech from the Oval Office,” Herman wrote on the station’s website. “We performed a side-by-side comparison of the video from our listener, apparently taken by a smartphone recording of Q13, to the raw video of Trump’s speech from CNN.”
Q13 quickly jumped into action.
On Thursday morning, Q13 news director Erica Hill responded to the Seattle Times with a statement. “This does not meet our editorial standards and we regret if it is seen as portraying the president in a negative light,” she stated.
Later that morning, Hill released a follow-up statement about the action Q13 had taken in response to the video.
“We’ve completed our investigation into this incident and determined that the actions were the result of an individual editor whose employment has been terminated,” Hill said.
Hill did not reveal whether the terminated employee actually created the fake Trump video or was responsible for allowing the footage to hit the air.
As the Times pointed out, the Q13 doctored footage falls into the category of “deepfakes” — footage that’s tweaked with advanced apps and other technology to create clips of actual figures in situations they were never in or saying what they never said.
Famously, filmmaker Jordan Peele tricked the Internet last year with a doctored PSA featuring former president Barack Obama on the dangers of believing fake news. As real as the footage looked, it was actually just digitally tampered with to appear legitimate — hence the very point Peele was hoping to make.
“We’re entering an era in which our enemies can make it look like anyone is saying anything at any point in time — even if they would never say those things,” the fake Obama said in the clip. “For instance, they could have me say things like, I don’t know, Killmonger was right. Or Ben Carson is in the sunken place. Or, how ’bout this: Simply, President Trump is a total and complete [expletive].”
More seriously, people are using such techniques to edit in the faces of women and celebrities into pornographic clips. For example, as The Washington Post reported in December, actress Scarlett Johansson has had her image superimposed into dozens of graphic sex scenes in the last year.
“Nothing can stop someone from cutting and pasting my image or anyone else’s onto a different body and making it look as eerily realistic as desired,” Johansson told The Post. “The fact is that trying to protect yourself from the Internet and its depravity is basically a lost cause . . . The Internet is a vast wormhole of darkness that eats itself.”
The Trump deepfake that was broadcast to Seattle-area viewers does not even come close to the sophistication of the best faked footage.