It lasts barely a couple of seconds, but the video of a White House staff member trying to take a microphone from the CNN reporter Jim Acosta during a chaotic press conference has become the focus of the latest online battle between Donald Trump supporters and opponents.
Jim Acosta’s “hard pass”, which gives continuous access to the White House for press events, was revoked after he challenged Trump’s description of a “caravan” of migrants moving towards the southern border of the USA, which had been a significant feature of the president’s mid-term election campaign speeches. Acosta has been CNN’s chief White House correspondent since January of this year.
After Acosta was stripped of his accreditation, the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, accused him of touching a member of staff, saying: “We will … never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern.”
For its part, CNN was unequivocal about what happened, stating: “Press Secretary Sarah Sanders lied. She provided fraudulent accusations and cited an incident that never happened.”
Social media users have spent hours analysing footage of the encounter in excruciating detail in an attempt to establish the exact sequence of events.
A widely shared, slowed-down version of the incident made by Sarah Burris, the digital editor of the left-leaning political blog Raw Story, is annotated with red circles to show the points of contact, which she said showed the female staff member touching Acosta four times in the process of trying to retrieve the microphone.
But for Trump supporters, something very different took place. The US conspiracy theorist website Infowars claimed “Acosta clearly uses his left arm to physically resist/restrain the woman”, while its contributor Paul Joseph Watson, recently adopted by Ukip, alleged that Acosta “overpowered her”.
Sanders later tweeted from the @PressSec account a video edit of the incident, which zoomed in and magnified the movements of Acosta’s left arm.
The source of the video used by Sanders appeared to be Infowars, and there were claims online that the clip had been manipulated in order to make his actions seem more dramatic.
Aymann Ismail, a Twitter user, published a side-by-side comparison of clips from different sources, which suggested varying the speed of the video had created the illusion that Acosta moved his arm more rapidly and aggressively against the intern than when played in real time.
A Trump press conference being analysed as heavily as the Zapruder footage seems to be a natural conclusion of the escalating attempts to “win” online battles in the fight that the US president has picked with the press.
Speculation also surrounded the identity of the young woman who attempted to take the microphone from Acosta. Described as an “intern” by Sarah Sanders, social media users have suggested that the woman was White House Deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters
Meanwhile, Acosta’s own recording of him being refused access to the White House has been viewed more than 1m times.