Kos started it. Now the meme has spread throughout blogland like a California brushfire.
The claim: In one of her recent television ads, evil racist Hillary intentionally darkened the face of Barack Obama.
Moreover, she supposedly widened his face
in order to give him a "blacker" nose.
Kos himself has devoted two front-page columns to this nonsense. We should note that Markos Moulitsas (unlike yours truly) has no background in image manipulation, video production or advertising. Moreover, he seems to have lost his ability to fire up Google in order to do basic research.
The false accusation originated with a diarist who calls himself "Troutnut." (A reassuring pseudonym if ever I heard one.) I take the liberty of reproducing one of Mr. Nut's "damning" graphics. If you visit his page, you will have access to the actual Clinton campaign ad, which incorporates a shot of Obama originally taken from the Ohio debate, as broadcast on MSNBC.
On Kos, some discussion revolved around whether the exact same frames were compared. I don't think that issue matters. The important point is that Mr. Nut's bottom image -- which comes from the Clinton ad -- does indeed show an image that is somewhat desaturated, widened, and darkened. (It is darker all around -- including the background.)
But if eeevil
Hillary manipulated the image with racist intent, the same accusation can be levied against the pneumatic Obama Girl.
In the famed viral video, we find the following image:
This is an unretouched frame capture taken from the .flv file of the "I got a crush on Obama" video, available here
. The footage comes from his 2004 address to the Democratic National Convention.
Most of you will recall that speech, and I'm sure you will all agree that neither Obama nor the background looked nearly so dark on your television screens.
Oh, Obama Girl -- how could
you? You claim to be infatuated with the Savior from Illinois, yet we now discover that you have played to America's racist fears. How much did Hillary pay you?
By way of comparison, here's a better-quality image taken from the same speech. This version comes to us by way of a Charlie Rose broadcast
uploaded to YouTube. Although the Obama clip does not contain the exact same moment captured in OG's video, it does give us an image that comes closer to the quality of the original broadcast, at least in terms of color and luminance.
I have no doubt that the first-generation video is much brighter still.
I also have no doubt that the lovely, lip-synching Obama Girl herself looks lighter and crisper in the camera original footage taken for her video.
You have to understand that all of these videos have been compressed -- heavily
compressed -- in order to be uploaded to YouTube. Lo and behold, you will find that most YouTube videos are dark and desaturated when compared to better-quality materials.
For example, check out this clip
from the film Sweet Charity
. (I chose this example because the number is hilarious.) If you have a DVD of the film, you can do a side-by-side comparison. The experiment will conclusively demonstrate that Sammy Davis Jr. looks darker and murkier in his online incarnation.
Is there a grand conspiracy against Sammy? No.
The answer has to do with the codecs used to bring video down to a reasonable size for online streaming. Without these compression schemes, you'd have to wait hours
to see that Sweet Charity
number. All of these codecs are "lossy" -- that is, they degenerate the picture quality in various ways. Not only will you see poor resolution and weird, block-like artifacts, you can also expect to find differences in color saturation, contrast and brightness.
One popular codec is DivX, often used by the file-sharing community (i.e., your friendly bittorrent video pirate). DivX does a good job, but it ain't perfect. Fire up Google, toss in a few relevant key words -- "video" "compression" and "darken" -- and you will soon find this page
. Read it and weep, Markos:
DivX blurs and darkens footage when compressing and compresses better when blurred.
And then there's Quicktime
QuickTime compression tends to darken the video slightly, so you may have to compensate for this using the brightness adjustment tool.
Trouble is, most people do not use that tool. That's why Sammy looks darker on YouTube than he does when you rent the DVD from Blockbuster. So do Shirley MacLaine and everyone else in the show.All
compression schemes will degrade the image. Often, the image darkens. I'm sure that even the Charlie Rose version of the Obama clip, referenced above, looks brighter in the original.
Okay, so when Clinton's ad team went scrambling for footage of Obama, where did they acquire it? Not from the Obama camp, obviously. And not from MSNBC. I have no doubt that they got it from on online source
I suppose the clip could have come from a Tivo copy of the debate. Tivo is also lossy
So the video had already been degraded (compared to the original) when the editors of that commercial first took hold of it. Then they had to compress it again
to use AfterEffects, or whatever other program was employed to put in the words-n-graphics. The results were then compiled -- and broadcast.
And when a clip from that broadcast was placed back onto the internet, guess what happened? The clip was heavily compressed yet again
. The person doing the compressing probably didn't think about adjusting the color and luminance to match the broadcast original.
With each generation, the image gets worse.
So the darkening and desaturation is to be expected. But what about the widening of the face?
At this point, my friends, we must enter the eldritch realm of pixel aspect ratios, abbreviated PAR. You probably think that pixels (the smallest el
ements of a pic
ture) are always square. But you are wrong. The best explanation of a complex technological situation can be found in a .pdf document available here
The specification for NTSC format professional standard definition video -- also known as "D1" after a high-end digital video tape standard -- states that a frame is 720 pixels wide and 486 pixels tall... However, 720 divided by 486 does not equal 1.333; instead, it comes out to something wider than a 4:3 image.
To compensate, these pixels need to be displayed on a television screen 10% thinner than normal to compensate (In other words, roughly 90% as wide as they are tall). This is referred to as a PAR of 0.90, indicating how much the image has to be scaled horizontally to look correct upon playback. As long as you keep the image away from a computer and just display it on a video monitor, you'll never see this internal accounting. Alas, as soon as you look at one of these images on a square pixel computer monitor, the images will look a touch wide.
When the Hillary ad was placed online, everything in it was broadened -- including the image of Obama, including the image of Hillary. Everything. If the Obama imagery derived from an online source, it could have been broadened twice
And that's that. We here encounter no racism -- just an imperfect technology, misunderstood by Luddite lunkheads with a phobia for research. (Frankly, I strongly doubt that darkening Obama's face would ever affect a single vote.)
Did Markos seek technical expertise when he made his grand pronouncements? No, he did not. One of his commenters testifies that the image manipulation must have been intentional -- but this remark comes from a copy editor
at an ad house.
Although I've never worked for a large, prestigious firm, I have been involved in advertising since 1984. I'm a graphic designer and illustrator, and I've known plenty of others in the trade. I do image manipulation every damn day
. My lifelong best friend is a professional video editor with two decades' worth of experience, and we often "talk shop." He will surely confirm everything I say here. If need be, I can track down this guy
, who can confirm that -- since childhood -- I've had a strong interest in the technical side of motion picture production.
Markos Moulitsas, you stand exposed as a fool.
You have disgraced your once-fine site. Indeed, Kos has devolved into an anti-Clinton smear machine -- worse than The American Spectator, worse than Limbaugh, worse than Murdoch, worse than the Moonie press. (Shame on Americablog
, as well.)
I did not vote for Hillary. Even so, I am appalled by the sheer unreasoning hatred
festooning Daily Kos and other progressive blogs. I am even more appalled by false accusations of racism
leveled against the Clintons by fanatical Obama supporters.
Moulitsas is the new Scaife, and Kossacks have become the new Freepers. I wouldn't be surprised to see a Kos interview with Larry Nichols or Ken Starr.
The left has become the right. Facts no longer matter: When in doubt, smear
(By the way, if you play back that overrated 2004 Obama speech, you'll notice something odd: Not once does he criticize the decision to go to war.
He criticizes Bush for not sending in enough troops!)UPDATE:
Well, some brave soul used my post as the basis for a Kos diary entry. Here
. The response:
Yes, the Clinton campaign darkened the ad, or chose the darkest possible images.
Here we see the Kos strategem: When a lie is exposed, simply keep repeating it. Don't bother with evidence. Just repeat. This tactic works for Limbaugh, Murdoch, Bush...and now Kos.
Let me state the facts very clearly, in language that even the most fanatic Obamabot can understand: THE CLINTON CAMPAIGN DID NOT DARKEN ANYTHING. THEY DID NOT CHOOSE A DARK IMAGE. THEY DID NOT WIDEN THE IMAGE.
They are responsible only for what they broadcast, and the broadcast image was quite different.
The darkening and the PAR problem occurred when someone else
uploaded the thing to YouTube. And the same problems occur with lots of other
videos. That's why I cited the example of the Obama Girl vid. In that case as well, the problem was with the codec
used to compress the video for online purpose -- not with the way the original video was made.
When another brave soul invited the above-noted moron to follow my argument, here was what the moron had to say about my examples:
They're completely irrelevant, far as I can tell.
Once, many years ago, I caught a whiff of pure ammonia. Damn near knocked me out. A whiff of pure idiocy
, of the sort displayed by this Kossack, has a similar effect.
But that isn't the end of it...
If you really want to believe this, you need to get someone with a better clue as to how advertising is done and it's component technology. And I would really stress this second part, find someone that isn't a 911 conspiracy theorist.
Ho, this is rich. I
don't know about advertising. I
don't know about the tech. And this
Anyone who wants to get into a pissing match regarding credentials should re-read my piece. It gives only a small idea of the kind of expert "posse" I can line up if need be.
Moreover, this Kos kook calls me a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. Even though my site is filled with links to sites which debunk those theories.
Apparently, Kossacks can't read!