Top Republican defends posting 'faked' interview with Joe Biden on police reform

'Look, it shouldn't have been edited,' minority whip Scalise says, without offering apology

Griffin Connolly
Monday 31 August 2020 22:15
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House Minority Whip Steve Scalise has refused to apologise for sharing a video on Sunday to his social media accounts that included a manipulated clip falsely suggesting Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden supports defunding US police departments.

Instead, he has defended the substance of the video as true, even if the clip of Mr Biden's July interview with progressive activist Ady Barkan was partially doctored.

“Look, it shouldn't have been edited,” Mr Scalise said in an interview with Fox & Friends on Monday, after nearly a day of outrage on social media over his media shop's editing of the original video.

“But at the same time, the comments were always about — in fact, twice in that interview [Mr Barkan] asked Joe Biden if he was for redirecting money away from police. And in both times, Joe Biden said yes,” Mr Scalise said.

The video reel accuses Democrats of inciting violence in American cities in the wake of police shootings and includes clips of liberal politicians making statements on policing reform.

One such clip captures Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar at a rally promoting calls to "defund the police."

Another clip from the original video — which Mr Scalise has taken down and re-posted without the manipulated editing — showed Mr Biden being interviewed by Mr Barkan, who speaks with a computerised voice after losing the ability to speak as he fights the degenerative nerve disease ALS.

In the actual interview, Mr Barkan asks Mr Biden if they can "agree that we can redirect some of the funding" for law enforcement to civilian mental health and social services units that partner with police departments to respond to non-violent emergencies, a proposal to which Mr Biden assents with a "yes."

But in the video originally posted by Mr Scalise on Sunday, his team had altered the clip to tack on the words "for police" from earlier in the interview to the end of the question in Mr Barkan's computerised voice.

In a tweet later in the day, Mr Scalise posted the same video, but instead of the doctored clip of Mr Biden's interview with Mr Barkan, it only included a comment from Mr Biden that he wanted to "fundamentally transform the country."

Mr Barkan tweeted to Mr Scalise on Sunday demanding he apologise for manipulating the video of his interview with Mr Biden.

"These are not my words. I have lost my ability to speak, but not my agency or my thoughts. You and your team have doctored my words for your own political gain. Please remove this video immediately. You owe the entire disability community an apology," Mr Barkan wrote.

Mr Biden's platform on policing reform is more nuanced than Mr Scalise's blanket assertion that he supports defunding police departments.

The former vice president has in fact proposed surging federal funding for law enforcement primarily to increase resources for social services.

The criminal justice unity task force Mr Biden created with former Democratic presidential rival Bernie Sanders issued several policy recommendations last month to fundamentally alter police department operations around the country.

The list of Biden-Sanders policy recommendations call for:

  • "federal funding to create a civilian corps of unarmed first responders such as social workers, EMTs, and trained mental health professionals, who can handle nonviolent emergencies including order maintenance violations, mental health emergencies, and low-level conflicts outside the criminal justice system, freeing police officers to concentrate on the most serious crimes," and
  • an effort to "fund initiatives to partner mental health professionals, substance use disorder experts, social workers, and disability advocates with police departments to respond to calls with police officers to better de-escalate interactions with citizens and when appropriate, to divert individuals to the social services they need."

Several government ethics observers pointed out that Mr Scalise's manipulative use of video editing could expose him to an ethics investigation.

A memo to all congressional offices from January warns members and their staff not to post "deep fakes" on their media accounts.

"Members have a duty, and First Amendment right, to contribute to the public discourse, including through parody and satire. However, manipulation of images and videos that are intended to mislead the public can harm that discourse and reflect discreditably on the House," that memo reads.

"Moreover, Members or the staff posting deep fakes could erode public trust, affect public discourse, or sway an election. Accordingly, Members, officers, and employees posting deep fakes or other audio-visual distortions intended to mislead the public may be in violation of the Code of Official Conduct. Prior to disseminating any image, video, or audio file by electronic means, including social media, Members and staff are expected to take reasonable efforts to consider whether such representation are deep fakes or are intentionally distorted to mislead the public,” the memo concludes.

Leaders on the House Ethics Committee have not indicated whether they would pursue an inquiry into Mr Scalise's office.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on him to "apologise immediately" for "lying" about Mr Barkan's interview with Mr Biden.

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