Did Pete Buttigieg’s Campaign Insert ‘Artificial Applause’ Into a Video Ad?

A progressive activist group highlighted an editing trick used in a video promoting Democratic Party presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s campaign on Twitter in early February 2020.

The Center for Popular Democracy’s tweet, which has been shared more than 4,100 times since being published on February 6 2020, shows side-by-side footage of the former South Bend, Indiana mayor’s appearance on CNN on March 10 2019 with a clip from that event:

WATCH: @PeteButtigieg inserts artificial audience applause into #PeteOnCNN videos #SneakyPete (video by @rafaelshimunov) pic.twitter.com/LyxrcYstGH

— CPD Action (@CPDAction) February 7, 2020

The video posted by by Pete for America shows Buttigieg saying:

Statistically, we run the risk of being the first generation in American history to actually be worse off economically than our parents if nothing is done to change the trajectory of this economy. To me, that is not just a concern for our generation. It’s a concern that calls on us to build an alliance among generations to try to make sure that the future really is better than the past.

At that point, the campaign clip cuts to the sound of an audience applauding. But both the CPD’s video and CNN’s transcript of Buttigieg’s appearance show that the live crowd actually applauded after a different remark, and not as loudly as the one depicted in the campaign’s clip.

“And you don’t get that by promising to turn back the clock,” he said. “You get that by finding ways to make change work for us before we’re all disrupted out of a good livelihood by it.” His full remarks can be seen at the 29:31 mark of this video:

We attempted to contact CNN to see if they would provide their own footage from the event highlighted in the two clips. But their page listing various press contacts does not actually provide a way to contact them. Similarly, the voice prompt for CNN’s listed phone number for news tips tells callers that the communications department “does not accept transfers.”

Political advertising is no stranger to “creative” editing. In 2004 (and again in 2007), FactCheck.org pointed out that misleading claims or edits in political ads were to be expected and anticipated, because they weren’t, strictly speaking, illegal:

Laws protecting consumers from false advertising of products are enforced pretty vigorously. For example, the Federal Trade Commission took action in 2002 to protect the public from the self-proclaimed psychic “Miss Cleo,” who the FTC said promised free readings over the phone and then socked her gullible clients with enormous telephone charges. The FTC even forced a toy company a while back to stop running ads showing its “Bouncin’ Kid Ballerina Kid” doll standing alone and twirling gracefully without human assistance, which the FTC said was video hokum.

But there’s no such truth-in-advertising law governing federal candidates. They can legally lie about almost anything they want. In fact, the Federal Communications Act even requires broadcasters who run candidate ads to show them uncensored, even if the broadcasters believe their content to be offensive or false.

In 2020, the debate over fact-checking political claims — particularly during disinformation-riddled election years — has only been heightened by social media, but with little progress made on plans to corral rampant false statements, misleading narratives, and creatively doctored videos.