Through a Glass Darkly

THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY….Over the past few days there’s been a huge fracas over accusations that Hillary Clinton’s campaign deliberately darkened Barack Obama’s face in an ad they ran in Texas. It started with a post over at Daily Kos on Tuesday and has been spread far and wide since then.

The problem is that it’s impossible to compare color tones using YouTube clips because their compression process doesn’t preserve color fidelity. However, FactCheck.org got hold of a high-quality recording of the ad as it appeared on station KCEN in Waco, Texas, and then compared it to MSNBC’s streaming version of the debate from which the clip was taken. Here it is (the ad is on the left, the original debate is on the right):

In the ad version, Obama’s face has been desaturated (i.e., there’s less color tone) but it doesn’t look any darker than the original. Nor has his face been widened to make Obama’s nose more prominent, as the original posters also suggested. That was yet another YouTube artifact.

Darkening images is fairly standard practice in attack ads, and FactCheck suggests that the Clinton campaign may have done it here. But if they did, it’s pretty damn subtle when you compare the original source material instead of stuff that’s been sent through the YouTube mill.

Hillary Clinton is running a rough campaign, and I’m pretty unhappy with some of her tactics, but that’s no reason to start hauling out all the old Clinton-hating artillery we came to know and love in the 90s. This ad isn’t evidence of race-baiting or anything else. Time to move on.

UPDATE: Spencer Ackerman points out that Factcheck does, in fact, say the images in the ad are darker than the images in the debate footage: “When we compared the frames in the ad to frames from the debate video using the ‘eyedropper’ tool in Photoshop image-processing software, we found that the frames in the Clinton ad are uniformly darker.”

I don’t have the entire video to compare, but I did load the two frames above into Photoshop, and I got exactly the opposite result. When you look solely at brightness, not hue or saturation, the two images are mostly identical. Where they aren’t, the frame from the ad is a little bit brighter, not darker. I just don’t see any evidence of darkening at all.

Let’s not go down the rabbit hole of 90s-era Clinton hatred, where any accusation that gets tossed out is presumed true unless it’s conclusively proven otherwise. That ain’t right. If someone has credible evidence of dirty tricks, based on high quality recordings of both videos, that’s one thing. But until then, there’s just nothing here.