President Trump at the White House on August 29, 2018
Photo: Getty

President Trump has made new allegations in a series of tweets this morning that are sure to get his supporters riled up. Trump has seemingly accused NBC News of manipulating an interview that Lester Holt conducted on May 11, 2017, shortly after Trump fired James Comey, former director of the FBI. The same interview where President Trump admitted that he fired Comey over the Russia investigation.

The bizarre new claim from the president is sure to spark a heated debate about the world of so-called “deep fakes”—videos that have been altered to make people appear to say things that they haven’t actually said.

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Trump’s early morning tweet accused Lester Holt of “fudging” the interview, something that the president refers to as “my tape.”

It’s not immediately clear why Trump believes that the “tape” has been altered in any way. My own search of conspiracy-minded news sites has produced nothing that would lead me to believe he got it from the internet. But for all we know this could be a completely new conspiracy theory concocted by Trump to distance himself from the investigation into obstruction of justice.

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In the NBC interview, President Trump called Comey a “showboat” and explained that he was going to fire the FBI director no matter what Rod Rosenstein suggested. The initial explanation for the firing by the White House was that Rosenstein had recommended that Comey be fired. But Trump admitted in the interview that it didn’t matter what Rosenstein said, and that Comey was fired because he was investigating collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

“In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,’” Trump admitted to Lester Holt in the interview from Thursday, May 11, 2017.

Comey had been fired just two days earlier on Tuesday, May 9th and President Trump invited top Russian officials into the Oval Office the following day, Wednesday, May 10th. Trump even shared top secret information with the Russian government agents. It all looked very suspicious, and quite frankly still does.

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You can watch the entire NBC interview for yourself on YouTube. It should be noted that Trump made no such claims about alterations to the tape after the interview originally aired.

Saturday Night Live even aired its own parody of the Trump interview that concluded with an exasperated Lester Holt (played by Michael Che) proclaiming that nothing matters.

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“Wait, so did I get him?” SNL comedian Michael Che asks. “Is this all over? No I didn’t? Nothing matters? Absolutely nothing matters anymore.”

And for anyone who remembers that exhausting week, it really felt like nothing did matter.

Deep fakes are a very real concern for the future of news media, as trust in news organizations is already incredibly low. If you combine that distrust in the media with the rapid sophistication of fake-video technology, you get a general public that’s deeply skeptical of anything that doesn’t confirm to their existing worldviews. The mere fact that deep fake tech exists allows people to claim that something they’re seeing might be fake. And now even the president is using that shadow of a doubt to his advantage.

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President Trump continued his anti-media rant with another tweet calling the news media the “enemy of the people.”

It’s going to be another one of those days. Let’s just hope that Trump’s escalation doesn’t lead to more violence against journalists. When you accuse the news media of not only fabricating stories, but altering the words of a sitting president, that’s bound to get true believers of the Trump cause upset.

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Update, 10:30am: In related news, a California man was just charged with making threats against the Boston Globe. Echoing the president’s rhetoric, he called newspaper employees the “enemy of the people.”

The man, 68-year-old Robert D. Chain from Encino, California, has been charged with making threatening communications in interstate commerce.

From the U.S. Department of Justice news release:

On Aug. 10, 2018, the Boston Globe announced that it was requesting that other newspaper publications around the country publish a coordinated editorial response to political attacks on the media. The coordinated editorial response was to be published on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018.

According to court documents, immediately following the announcement, Chain began making threatening calls to the Boston Globe’s newsroom. In the calls, Chain referred to the Globe as “the enemy of the people” and threatened to kill newspaper employees. In total, it is alleged that Chain made approximately 14 threatening phone calls to the Globe between August 10 and 22, 2018.

It is further alleged that on Aug. 16, 2018, the day the coordinated editorial response was published in the Boston Globe, Chain called the Globe newsroom and threatened to shoot Globe employees in the head “later today, at 4 o’clock.” As a result of that call, local law enforcement responded to the Globe’s offices and maintained a presence outside the building to ensure the safety of the employees. 

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Chain will appear in federal court in Los Angeles today and will reportedly be transferred to Boston soon.