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Deepfakes, fake news and real lies: The threat isn’t technological; it’s human, here and now

2019-06-16

Roger (Stone), over and out (Cliff Owen/AP)

This is a column about something called deepfakes and the uncertain near-future, and what Roger Stone said after I asked him if he was a cuck.

That’s short for cuckservative, a portmanteau of cuckold — a term often racially inflected to refer specifically to a white woman being unfaithful to her husband with a black man — and conservative. Back in 2016, the slur was everywhere in the overlapping territory of the racists of 4chan and the perverts of Pornhub as Trumpists paraded their contempt for country-club Republicans’ often hypocritical old standards of decorum.

Those deplorables included Alex Jones, the Infowars snake-oil salesman who’d hooked up with Stone, the Republican Party’s former in-house rat-f--ker cast out of the Bob Dole campaign in 1996 when the National Enquirer outed him as a swinger. Weeks earlier, its sister paper, The Star, reported that Bill Clinton’s campaign manager, Dick Morris, had let a prostitute listen in on calls with the president.

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Stone insisted the Enquirer story was fake news, that he was the victim of a dirty trick by “a sick and disgruntled individual.” Eyes rolled, and he then wandered the political wilderness, continuing to advise washed-up-developer-turned-TV-guy Donald Trump while picking up campaign-related work, including Al Sharpton’s run in the 2004 Democratic presidential primary, pot-smoking Republican-turned-Libertarian Gary Johnson in 2012, and self-identified Eliot Spitzer madame Kristin Davis in her stunt runs in New York.

Somewhere in there, he claimed credit for the 2000 Brooks Brothers riot that ended the Miami-Dade recount and helped set the stage for the Supreme Court to award George W. Bush the presidency.

Briefly back in the spotlight in 2008 after dubiously inserting himself into Spitzer’s prostitution scandal — which he said he’d heard about while in a Florida sex club — Stone ‘fessed up, telling The New Yorker he’d lied in 1996 because “my grandparents were still alive,” adding, “I’m not guilty of hypocrisy. I’m a libertarian and a libertine.”

While Stone was, well, “Too Hot for the GOP,” documentarians Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro and Morgan Pehme began filming him for what they figured would be a sort of “Twilight of the Dirty Trickster.” Then, Trump descended the golden escalator and it was “The Last Heist.” Then, Trump won the White House and the movie finally came out: ”Get Me Roger Stone."

I was a talking head in it, which is how I ended up speaking with Stone in person for the first and only time at a party in 2017. I asked him if his 2006 ad, which had just been found by The Smoking Gun, seeking a male partner on Florida swingers hub Dark Cavern (“We unite black and white,” as “wives and studs…humiliate the wimp hubbies”) meant that he was a “cuck,” and if he was okay with the term.

The 64-year-old libertine — with no grandparents left to consider — said he didn’t remember the ad and it might be another fake, like some of the ones the Enquirer had reported on.

Today, we’re at the dawn of a new age of technological wonders, one where it’s ever easier to doctor videos and literally put words in someone’s mouth and “I’ll believe it when I see it” sounds like foolish counsel. You’ll see one of these deepfakes soon, if you ,haven’t already.

But old tricks are resilient and new ones often over-hyped. Fox News airing real footage edited to falsely suggest Nancy Pelosi has gone batty (somehow, Trump’s foes all end up reportedly half-mad and at death’s door) is exponentially more impactful than, say, MAGAman18 posting fake footage with the Speaker raving about Comet Pizza.

The urgent danger isn’t the deepfake future, but losing our grip on reality now as people like Stone concoct shallow fakes to lure our eyes away from what’s right in front of us to some wisp at the corner of our vision and the outside possibility that nothing is at it seems.