Donald Trump has a Nancy Pelosi problem. The problem is that Pelosi is a woman, is powerful and successful, needs nothing from him, and is a woman. She also has the extremely irritating habit of refusing to get down in the mud and trade personal insults with him the way every one of his primary opponents did on their way to discovering that old truism: When you wrestle with a pig, you both get dirty, but the pig likes it. Instead, Pelosi responds to Trump’s attacks with a kind of concerned pity—which is seriously, seriously driving Trump into a frothing, ineffectual fury.
So what’s a pig going to do? Bring in more pigs. In support of Trump’s idea that there’s something wrong with “Crazy Nancy,” right-wing social media has been passing around videos of Pelosi in which the speed of some of her words was slowed down by 75% or more to make it sound as if she was drunkenly slurring. Those videos were passed around by a number of Trump figures, including Donald Trump Jr. and Rudy Giuliani, who said there was something “wrong with Pelosi” and that her “speech pattern is bizarre.”
Then Fox got in the game. Rather than slowing down Pelosi’s speech, it took a common editorial practice and simply flipped it. It’s normal for a news network, playing back a clip of a politician speaking, to edit the flow to reduce breaks and pauses, preserving the content while also shortening the run time. Fox did the opposite. It took a video of Pelosi’s press event on Thursday and edited out most of the content, saving only the pauses and hesitations, stringing them together to make it appear that Pelosi had stammered her way through the talk.
Fox created this altered video expressly to make Pelosi look incompetent and to support Trump’s claims about her mental state. And the results of this purposely distorted video clearly pleased its intended audience of one.
Trump didn’t just post this video on Twitter. He pinned it, making it the first thing everyone sees when they come to his account. Because this collaborative effort to smear a powerful woman, this pigfake, is exactly where we are: juvenile insults and vile misogyny supported by a massive propaganda machine that runs across both the internet and traditional media.
What Trump is trying to do to Speaker Pelosi could be the textbook example of how things stand. Pelosi’s speech was made in public. It’s likely that millions saw her deliver it live. And still, versions edited specifically to misrepresent that event are undoubtedly getting even more views.
Experts have repeatedly warned that, as we go into the 2020 election cycle, social media is likely to be overwhelmed by videos altered through “deepfake” techniques that make it possible to create the impression that someone did almost anything. But what’s happening right now shows that nobody needs bother. Because Trump has no problem passing around a video altered through techniques that could have been used in the 1930s.
Fox knows this is a false representation of Pelosi’s speech. Trump knows it too. And it’s ugly. And it’s sexist. But … it sure is mud. Pigs love mud.