Friday, September 13, 2019


Here's Greg Sargent in full Eeyore mode:
The question isn’t merely whether Biden has the stamina for a grueling campaign, or whether Biden will be able to handle debates with Trump.

It’s also whether Biden or indeed other Democrats are prepared for the massive onslaught of absolutely brutal and distortive attacks that Trump and his propaganda apparatus will wage on this particular front — attacks that you can be certain will include all sorts of shamelessly propagandistic media manipulation and outright disinformation tactics....

For a taste of what this will look like, watch the disgusting video that the Trump campaign released after Hillary Clinton fell ill in 2016. It juxtaposes terrorist imagery with footage of Clinton coughing, stumbling outside her campaign van, and even a shot of a frail Clinton struggling to climb stairs. This whole line, as Media Matters documented, was heavily amplified by right-wing media.

That will look like video of a knitting session compared with this time, which will likely include full-saturation levels of deliberate disinformation. Look at this distorted video of Nancy Pelosi slowed down to look drunk, and imagine distorted videos of Biden’s rambles.

We might even get deepfakes — ultra-sophisticated computer-altered videos — done by somebody, somewhere, making Biden look even more frail, committing verbal stumbles he never actually committed.

Such things will be spread widely across social media, with the help of platforms not self-policing adequately, and shared with tens of millions of people via the Twitter feed of the president of the United States.
Sargent is correct -- but the right will attack whoever is the nominee in a devious and underhanded way, exploiting any potential weakness, and probably using deepfakes to bamboozle the voters.

Will there be deepfakes suggesting that Biden is in frail health? Sure. The deployment of the distorted Nancy Pelosi video makes that clear. But recall that the video was identified as doctored almost immediately after it was released. It was thoroughly discredited. It hasn't done any damage to Pelosi. She's still Speaker.

Sure, Republicans will try to deepfake a Biden health video, if he's the nominee. If it's Elizabeth Warren instead, the deepfake probably won't concern her health -- she's far too vigorous. Instead, it will probably "show" her admitting that she used her descent from a Native American ancestor to advance her career. If the nominee is Bernie Sanders, it will "show" him lavishing praise on Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro (whom he's actually denounced) or expressing some other implausibly excessive opinion more suited to Stalin that to a believer in Denmark-style democratic socialism.

These fakes will be quickly debunked, although some in the GOP base will still believe they're genuine. The originals will be unearthed. Participants will affirm that the audio is fake. There'll be other video of the faked moments that doesn't show the allegedly incriminating details. The fakes won't work.

(My pet theory is that the real risk of deepfakes is not that we'll believe videos that aren't real, but that we'll stop believing in inconvenient videos that are genuine. For instance, pro-cop conservatives will denounce every police brutality clip as a fake -- and many people will believe them.)

The reason for concern, in Biden's case, is not that he'll be subject to dishonest attacks on his health -- it's that he'll seem unhealthy in real time. Republicans won't need to frame it -- we'll see it. Republican attacks won't matter as much as the raw video.

Or maybe a large percentage of our aging population won't care, the way 46% of the public didn't care that Trump admitted to felony sexual assault on a genuine video.

Whatever the risks might be if we choose Biden as a nominee, there'll be risks in choosing any of the alternatives. No matter what, the GOP smear machine won't rest.

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