Trump aide mistakenly uses video shot near Ukraine border to attack Ilhan Omar over Gaza stance

‘I’m not a reporter, it’s not my job to tweet hard news,’ president’s senior campaign adviser says

Meg Kelly,Elyse Samuels
Wednesday 22 May 2019 16:43
Comments

“650 Rockets being fired into Israel from Gaza in an attempt to overwhelm Israel’s Iron Dome: 173 intercepts, 4 people killed and 28 wounded. What is @IllhanMN response to this violence? Will she condemn it?”

- Trump campaign senior adviser Katrina Pierson, on Twitter, 5 May 2019

What do a singing competition, Gaza, misleading video and Katrina Pierson have in common? This tweet.

The singing competition indirectly helped spark a deadly round of violence along the border between Israel and Hamas-controlled Gaza between 4 and 5 May.

Katrina Pierson, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, tagged prominent Democrats, including Ilhan Omar, in a Twitter thread.

She questioned whether or not Ms Omar would condemn the violence along the Gaza border.

Ms Pierson included a video showing rockets firing into the sky as part of the thread. And almost immediately Twitter users and Ms Omar responded, noting the video Ms Pierson had shared wasn’t from Gaza at all. So, what’s going on here?

By the time an uneasy cease-fire settled over the border on 6 May, four Israelis and at least 25 Palestinians were dead in what was the worst round of fighting between Israel and militant factions in Gaza since 2014.

Militants in Gaza fired more than 600 rockets into Israel, and Israelis responded with air-strikes on hundreds of targets in Gaza, which brought multi-story buildings tumbling to the ground and included a targeted assassination.

Home to nearly two million people and controlled by a militant group, Hamas, that does not recognise Israel, Gaza is densely populated.

It’s surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea on one side and desert-like landscapes, maintaining a semi-arid climate.

The video that Ms Pierson shared had dark greenery and controlled artillery fire, which seemed out of place when compared with other videos from the region filmed during that weekend.

A quick Google search made it clear the same video has been widely circulated on the Internet, incorrectly representing conflict zones in several different countries, including Iraq, Ukraine and Russia.

Ms Pierson said she had found the video on YouTube but declined to provide a link. (We did not find any version of this video, aside from Ms Pierson’s tweet, that in any way suggested it was filmed in Israel or Gaza.)

A reverse image search did lead to several versions of the video – many of which claimed to be in Russia or Ukraine.

A YouTube video from 2014 showed the same smoke plumes and tree formations as Ms Pierson’s video. The caption on that video identified the weapons system being shown as the BM-21 Grad.

A search of videos for the ‘BM 21 GRAD’ led to a video from Belarus’s military TV that showed a different military drill from a different angle but that clearly took place in the same location.

The caption identified it as the Polessky firing range. But where is that range? After all, just because a military TV network says it’s one place doesn’t mean that is the case.

Gaza: Footage shows buildings destroyed in last wave of airstrikes

A news photograph from a decade earlier of a training exercise confirmed that the Polessky firing range was in Belarus, located almost 200 miles south of Minsk.

A separate video from activists together with the photo’s caption located it near the border with Ukraine.

After pushback online, Ms Pierson responded to her tweet, saying the video was simply meant to illustrate what “hundreds of rockets look like.”

But the video fails as a representation. The artillery shells shown in the video are ordered and rhythmic; the footage is clean and stable. Rockets fired in Israel and Gaza that weekend had none of these characteristics.

Aric Toler, a researcher for Bellingcat who first identified this location as Belarus, pointed out that this kind of misuse is common.

“This happens constantly with every conflict. We have recycled footage being passed around back and forth.”

He pointed out that the footage “sometimes [is] not even [from] conflicts.” It can be something as simple as an air soft game filmed in a particular way.

“The onus should fall a lot more on journalists and big-picture, high-user Twitter people” to check where the media they posted originates, Mr Toler said.

“I don’t think this is really something that should be the responsibility of the average person.”

Ms Pierson told The Fact Checker in an email the “tweet does not claim that it is actual footage.”

But there is nothing in her original tweet to give a viewer this cue. Rather, it’s the opposite.

She posted a video of rockets, with a caption about rockets, without clarifying they were not the same rockets.

When The Fact Checker pointed this out, she replied, “I’m not a reporter, it’s not my job to tweet hard news.”

Great March of Return: Injured Gazans still receiving rehabilitation treatment one year on from protest

Ms Pierson told us: “I am only responsible for what I say – not what others can comprehend.”

Deciphering the true location of video, particularly from a conflict zone, isn’t always easy.

But a simple Google search would have told her that this video probably wasn’t from May 2019 or from Gaza.

If the video was meant as a representation, as she claimed, she should have said as much sooner and then removed the video from her original tweet. Instead, the misleading video she posted gained more than a million views.

It’s dangerous for public figures to mis-attribute conflict footage – especially when it could be viewed as an attempt to shift public opinion and shape political rhetoric.

Ms Pierson (and others) should be more careful with their Twitter fingers.

The Washington Post

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in