Thursday, March 06, 2008

Kos is a Klown (Or: Why did "Obama Girl" darken Obama?) UPDATE: Proof that Kossacks are morons

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.

(UPDATE: 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 elements of a picture) 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 creep does.


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!


Perry Logan said...

Will Obama survive the idiocy of his fans?

Joseph Cannon said...

Added note: My piece is already being discussed in the comments section of this Kos story:

For sheer obtuseness, you can't beat this response:

"the foundation of this otherwise factual description (ignoring the rants) is undermined by "I have no doubt" and the credibility meter plummeted.

"Either the person has direct knowledge of HRC campaign's procedures (which, if he did, he'd probably cite) or he really means, "I suppose..." However, his certainty about something he probably doesn't know discredits the rest of his certainties. I'll move on to find opinions from those people who have less of an ax to grind."

A KOSSACK is saying that *I* have an ax to grind? That's like Germany saying that it was invaded by Poland.

I make my statement based on what I know about video editors and how they work. When they go to original sources, they immediately run into the issue of $$$. To avoid the problem of $$$, they acquire footage however they can and then claim "fair use." Which they can do, if the clip is very short.

That's why I'm sure that the Hillary folk did not knock on MSNBC's door.

More to the point, it doesn't matter if the team acquired the clip from an online source, from a brown paper bag on a bus bench, from the Archangel Gabriel, or wherever. My argument still stands. The image was degraded when it reached the commercial's editors, and it was degraded further when placed online.

The actual post at that Kos address is quite good, as are some of the comments. ONe image proves that the broadcast version was actually much lighter.

Kos' die-hard defenders yammer on about "gamma" and such, pretending to a technical competence they do not possess. They remind me of a chimp in a suit trying to pass himself off as a businessman.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Cannonfire. The first time I saw this was at Kos' site. The first thing I noticed was the distorted image. That was pretty obvious. This seemed to give kos the greenlight unleash some serious pent up rage. Which in turn led his readers to unleash their anger. Only one person took a step back and linked to your blog post.

Odd how it happened to coincide with Obama taking a shellacking Tuesday night. Keep in mind this is the same crew that last week was ready to take Drudge's word as etched in stone fact.

What's going on?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Joseph Cannon said...

Anonymous. That was my first clue. He linked to a filthy lying tranny video, of course.

be.the.change said...

Your personal attack on Kos is ridiculous. Jealous much?

I find it ridiculous that Clinton, with all her money and political clout, could not find a video editor with the technical skills to put an undistorted video of her opponent.

This reminds me of RACISTS who learned they could get away with RACIST ACTIONS but making subtle digs at blacks. Like the leaked photo, "What's the issue? He's in his native dress." Give me a f*cking break.

Wake up and see what's happening.

I bet you have a defense for the Governor of Pennsylvania, a Hillary supporter, who said his state was racist therefore a lot of people won't vote for Obama. He point to that as a reason Hillary will win his state.

Joseph Cannon said...

Unbelievable. You do not have fact one on your side, yet you stick to your guns and continue to call Hillary a racist.

I bet you did not even follow the argument. You're an idiot.

Anonymous said...

Dear failed to address her kies about her accustation that Obasmas "subcommittee did bot address the Afghanistn issue?? Please finish your rant..OK..or just give up

Anonymous said...

Joseph, I'm sorry I linked to that claim in an earlier thread. I admit that I was in a hurry, and just caught it and ran.

For now and for me, this issue is not even worth evaluating, unless someone can offer a chain of custody for where the images were derived.

I'm about ¼ step below you in terms of technical knowlege and expertise in image production and manipulation. I am a serious amateur photographer, and have worked extensively in the electronic darkroom and video post-production on personal projects. I concur with everything you have said here.

At first, I could not understand why you were going on about these consumer video CODECs, until I realized what the original source material was. I am amazed that anyone would see fit to run an analysis or make any claim about the producer of a graphic product, based on a specimen that producer did not control all the way to the source.

I don't think HC deserves benefit of the doubt, but in this case, there is nothing to even doubt. Incredible.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Thom Hatmann mentioned your analysis today and was duly impresssed..or at least it gave him wiggle room to wonder after posting the Kos stuff on his own website.
As for Marcos..I interviewd him over a year ago and asked him what his opinion was regarding the Diebold fixing of computers in Ohio and elsewhere and his response was utter nonsense,,in so many words.
But here is a whopper for you..see how you rationalize this whale..United Technologies (arms manufacturerer) is about to bid up and up for the Diebold company in order to buy it. Mark Penn..Hilarys ahhhhh campaign manager? is the President of the company that controls United Tech.
Great Scott!

Nunzia Rider said...

Once again, Sir Joseph, you give reason a good name.

Anonymous said...

kudos, joe!! this post ranks up there with your very best. who ARE these people who see a boogy man behind every tree, for chrissake? (and that was NOT a racist slur, as the only boogy man that comes to my mind is boo radley in to kill a mockingbird; he was whiter than snow.)

kudos also for the thom hartmann mention; he gets very wide coverage, and he's just fantastic in his ability to reason and his ability to recognize an error.

and thanks too to anon1246 for referencing kos the klown's reaction to election fraud; that's when i started boycotting the jerk. anyone who dismisses it the way he has is not paying attention. though i should also mention that josh held that perspective for a long time, as well. it wasn't until he started uncovering the US atty scandal that he began noting the purpose in the whole scheme. still, he doesn't reference it much, not nearly what it deserves.

yeah, joe, this is quite the splendid coup. keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

Kudos.. Yay. Kudos. Hillary Good. Obama Bad. Yay. Kudos.

John said...

Joe, as always, you hit it out of the park.

Daily Kos has become a shell of its former self. It is sad watching it all.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, Obama looks handsome in both shots. I understand the technical disputes, but he looks good in both shots and in fact, the second makes him look more mature, older and even more handsome.

Obviously people who assert some great conspiracy have some kind of problem going on.

Anonymous said...

Some of your readers had already given up on Kos years ago, because he and his followers share your opinion on [taboo subject that gets us in trouble both there and here].

Joseph Cannon said...

I understand what you are saying, FF. I wouldn't dream of telling other bloggers or webmasters what to do or say. Besides, guys like Kos or Skinner or Marshall hardly need advice from the likes of me.

On the other hand, we all have a right to bitch about the choices they make.

My main problem with Skinner and Marshall is that they allow their readers to post a lot of crap.

(On a much humbler level: A lot of people don't like me because they want to post crap here and I won't let 'em.)

Kos crossed a line, though. He signed his own name to crap -- and he refused to apologize or to admit that he was wrong.

That's when I got pissed off. Before that point, I had little to say about the guy.

By the way, I had a long conversation with my video editor friend about the now-notorious Clinton video. Basically, he agreed with my analysis. But he also pointed out something else -- something ridiculously OBVIOUS -- which could have cleared up the controversy right away:

EVERYTHING in that Clinton commercial is dark (at least in the You Tube version).

All the problems with the face shot of Obama were problems affecting the entire video! You don't need to be a tech geek to know that this means that the problem was with the compression scheme.

(Hmm...I'm rambling, am I not? Very well then, let's ramble...)

And yet people STILL prefer to believe inane nonsense about Clintonian plots. The whole "Hill the racist" meme was ridiculous on its face. Why would the Clintons want to injure their rep with the black community? If Hillary still commanded the share of the black vote that she had four months ago, she might be the candidate by now.

"Darkening" Obama's face isn't going to change anyone's vote. You hear a lot of nonsense about people trying tricks like that in order to convey a subliminal message. Let me assure you -- people in advertising just LAUGH at paranoid theories about subliminals.

Those stupid books by William Key are garbage. Back in the '80s, I was one of the best freehand airbrush artists you could ever hope to hire, and I was NEVER asked to airbrush a subliminal message. I never even heard a rumor about another artist being asked to do such a thing.

I should stop here and devote a regular post to this topic...

Anonymous said...

My main problem with Skinner and Marshall is that they allow their readers to post a lot of crap.

(On a much humbler level: A lot of people don't like me because they want to post crap here and I won't let 'em.)

Someone once complained to Theodore Sturgeon that 90% of science fiction was crud. Sturgeon's reply was that 90% of everything is crud.

AitchD said...

"Those stupid books by William Key are garbage. Back in the '80s, I was one of the best freehand airbrush artists you could ever hope to hire, and I was NEVER asked to airbrush a subliminal message. I never even heard a rumor about another artist being asked to do such a thing."

Slam dunk, Joe. Any recommendations for who should play the part of you when Oliver Stone makes his movie about subliminal messages in advertising?

Joseph Cannon said...

Ferry Fey: What Sturgeon REALLY said was "90% of everything is shit."

Ted was a family friend. By which I mean: He dated my Mom's best friend and obviously wanted to bag my Mom as well. Actually, I think he wanted to bag pretty much every female in Los Angeles. If he failed in that goal, it was not for lack of effort.

Last time I saw him -- early 80s, I think -- he looked frail and ancient, but had nevertheless snared a lovely blonde my own age. She was prettier than any girl I had ever dated. I wanted to punch his lights out.

Oh, you know that Hubbard quote, attributed to Ted? He told me that story when I was seven. And he recounted it without rancor or envy -- in fact, he seemed amused.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm not a Daily Kos blogger or even much of a reader. And I appreciate your efforts to do some counter-arguing here. I linked over from the New York Times website. But I have some real questions about this whole thing.

My hesitancy with the notion that the darkening is just an unfortunate result of YouTube-ization is that the original footage from the debate has likewise been posted to YouTube, and it shows no such darkening. You can watch the two vids side by side at Wired:

What's more, there are like seventy-something videos on the Clinton campaign website, and none of the others seems to have this problem.

And I'm equally sketchy about the notion that this commercial itself is just generally darker. If you compare a shot of "3 a.m. Hillary" from this commercial against "3 a.m. Hillary" from a previous Clinton commercial, she doesn't look any darker at all. I tried it, which I guess shows how much I'm trying to parse this thing out.

Is there a technical angle I'm still missing here, cause I have to admit, from where I'm standing, it doesn't look good.

Joseph Cannon said...

Why is the other version of the debate footage lighter? Any number of reasons could explain it. Earlier generation. Higher bitrate. Different codec. Different settings. You're supposed to adjust brightness when making a DivX, to compensate for the natural darkening effect of the codec. But most people don't.

"What's more, there are like seventy-something videos on the Clinton campaign website, and none of the others seems to have this problem."

You compare 'em to broadcasts? Or to original footage? And just how did you make that comparison?

As for the last link -- sorry, I just don't see your point. The only comparison that matters, again, would be to the broadcast.

Look, it's just really damned obvious that the whole video is dark in its online version. I mean, I can rest my case on the shot of the White House alone.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the analysis; BartCop points out also that the top two photos are not even the same thing: you can see his teeth in one and not the other. I'd just like to add that it's really sad Kos spends so much time on this stuff, as if there are no more important political issues out there. Instead of worrying about Republicans, whom we all know to be racist, we're accusing HRC, wife of "the first black president," of racism. Nutty.

Anonymous said...

The problem with your argument is that Clinton's ad team are pros. They know about the compression issues. ObamaGirl is not a pro, or at least her ad is not professionally done. So you can't compare the two. Plus Clinton's team had direct access to the source digital feed of MSNBC. It's extremely unlikely that ObamaGirl got her video directly from the Charlie Rose show. So her video is a compressed copy of a compressed YouTube posting.

Anonymous said...

bandbabe, as for the "garb" photo, no evidence was ever provided for the claim theat the Clinton camp leaked it outside of the word of Matt Drudge...which I guess you think is good enough? Astonishing.

(Further, it was shown that the image first appeared on various right-wing websites weeks before)

So WHO has an axe to grind here?

In fact what the Clinton camp actually said was that Hillary often dressed in the native garb of countries she visited, so they didn't see why this photo was being made an issue of.

As for Gov. Rendell's comment, why should it need a defense? He was pointing out that there was racism in his state. I myself would rather have a politician who tells the truth - in this case, that racism still exists - than one who doesn't, wouldn't you?
We can't get rid of a problem if we don't acknowledge it still exists...but hey, let's just deny that racism, sexism, anti-Semitism all exist, and trash anyone who thinks otherwise...come to think of it, those are the first two requirements for joining the Republican when will you be signing up?



Anonymous said...

I used to be a regular at dkos. The place has turned in to a cesspool of stupidity and the front pagers as moderators are not helping. They are just like the moderators at DU where cliques reign.

You will notice if you have been there for many years that most of the smart diarists have left.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your analysis, Joe. The Kos/Americablog Hate Hillary First crowd have really taken irrationality to new heights. The whole darkening of Obama smear is so ridiculous on its face. Is there anyone on the planet unaware that Obama is black? How would darkening these photos or grabs hurt Obama in any way or help Hillary? It's a baseless attack routed in bizarre.

The "progressive" blogs I used to post and visit gleefully are, as you said, no better than Free Republic these days. They're driving Democrats and liberals who can hold two thoughts in their heads and admire both Obama and Clinton at the same time out of the party for good.

I wonder if i can get my donations back? Kos and his hatesphere of assholes will never see a dime of my money again. - M