Come morning, Bloomberg sought his own route to virality by tweeting footage of a debate from a parallel reality, edited to make his five opponents look dumbstruck by his wit.
“I’m the only one here that’s ever started a business. Is that fair?” Bloomberg asks at the beginning of the video.
In reality, Bloomberg paused for about a second to glance at the other candidates, then proceeded to defend his record as a Wall Street businessman (see timestamp 1:13:30 in NBC’s official video).
But in Bloomberg’s edited clip, nearly half-a-minute of pained silence follows his question. Warren raises her hand as if to answer, then puts it back down as crickets chirp offscreen. Pete Buttigieg stares slack-jawed. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) sucks air. Sen Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) teeters back-and-forth above her lectern like a struck Weeble, and Joe Biden appears to sink into meditation on the purpose of his existence.
Bloomberg’s campaign said the video was “tongue in cheek,” but the popular reaction was more angry than amused. Among more than 13,000 replies to Bloomberg’s tweet, many called it misleading or said they reported it to Twitter. Some compared it to President Trump and his administration’s habit of publishing edited or subtly manipulated images and videos, such as one of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) shredding Trump’s State of the Union speech while the president praised veterans and children (though in reality she tore up the speech after he delivered it) and one of a CNN reporter seemingly karate-chopping a White House aide (which appeared to be sped up to make the movement seem more violent). Earlier this year, the National Archives exhibited images of the 2017 Women’s March in which signs critical of Trump were blurred.
Democrats have been especially wary of manipulated images since U.S. intelligence agencies concluded the Russian government used propaganda to benefit Trump in the last presidential election.
Speaking on background, a Twitter official said the video would likely be labeled as manipulated under a new anti-disinformation policy that will go into effect in March, but for now it remains online with no disclaimer. A Facebook spokesman, meanwhile, said the video didn’t violate its policy.
Bloomberg’s campaign has surged in polls in recent days, helped by the candidate’s enormous bankroll, which has allowed him not only to buy television ads but also to pay Instagram influencers to post memes poking fun at his wealth — a sign of the candidate’s thirst for viral popularity.
Asked to comment on criticism of Thursday’s video, campaign spokeswoman Galia Slayen maintained that it was meant to be humorous. “There were obviously no crickets on the debate stage,” she wrote in an email.