Sorry, everyone: That video of Trump on the White House lawn is probably real.
So Trump got COVID-19, but he really wants you to forget about all that and see him as strong, not to mention talking and breathing. Since being discharged from Walter Reed, Trump’s team has periodically posted videos to reassure his base that he’s just too powerful for the coronavirus. Some of these videos have been heavily produced and scripted, like his theatrically corny return to the White House. But for the most part, the videos are simple. He’s speaking directly to camera for several minutes at a time. No cuts.
For some online, though, there’s a conspiracy afoot. George Takei, an actor who knows a thing or two about green screens, was among many who thought that Trump’s latest video was faked. “This is in front of a green screen,” he tweeted. A TV producer quipped that the presumed cover-up was sloppy, saying if his team was behind it they’d “resign in disgrace.” Close-ups of the trees in the background appearing to glitch were shared widely.
I thought it was faked too! For most of my life, I’ve worked as a video editor and have done enough chroma-keying to recognize the telltale signs of digital trickery, like the unusually gray and sharp border around Trump. But the closer I looked, the less fake it seemed.
The glitching trees could be a compression issue. (Twitter is after all known for crushing a video’s bitrate to hell.) And a quick scrub through the entire video proved to me that there was no loop. The sharp border, which makes it look like Trump is hovering in front of a backdrop, is likely the result of shooting with a high-aperture lens, which tends to produce flattened portraits like this. And because it’s extremely expensive and difficult to mimic sunlight in a studio, especially sharp enough to cast sharp shadows like the ones on Trump’s jacket, it’s hard to justify believing that they wouldn’t just step outside and shoot the damn thing (even if it is fun imagining a White House staffer fanning Trump’s hair to fake a breeze).
Resistance Twitter jumped the gun this time, but at this point in Trump’s presidency, I can’t blame anyone for being skeptical. In 2018, I wrote about a clip tweeted by Sarah Huckabee Sanders that was subtly but substantially edited.* Trump and his team have thoroughly eroded the people’s confidence, and they frankly don’t deserve our trust. And there are plenty of deceptions in Trump’s words, from saying that the coronarvirus was “sent over from China” to insinuating that there’s a “cure” for COVID. It’s just that he’s saying them in the place where it seems he’s saying them.
Correction, Oct. 9, 2020: This piece originally misstated that the clip was tweeted by Kayleigh McEnany. It was tweeted by the @PressSec account when Sarah Huckabee Sanders was White House press secretary.
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