Fact Check: CNN Did NOT Refer To Michelle Obama As Transgender Male After Presidential Debate

Fact Check

  • by: Sarah Thompson
Fact Check: CNN Did NOT Refer To Michelle Obama As Transgender Male After Presidential Debate Altered Audio

While discussing a flash poll after CNN's June 27, 2024, presidential debate, did CNN Political Director David Chalian use a name for former first lady Michelle Obama that implied she is a transgender male? No, that's not true: Chalian did not call Michelle Obama "Big Mike." The 31-second-long video clip used to make this claim includes AI-generated fake audio. While the first 15 seconds of the clip's audio are genuine, the second half is fabricated.

The altered clip appeared in a post (archived here) on X on June 28, 2024. The caption for the clip read:

CNN calls Michelle Obama 'Big Mike'

This is how the post appeared at the time of writing:


(Source: X screenshot taken on Fri Jun 28 13:40:13 2024 UTC)

A June 28, 2024, post on X (archived here) contains a 42-second-long clip from CNN's live coverage (embedded below) showing the original footage of the flash-poll discussion without alteration. It begins when CNN Political Director David Chalian, the network's vice president of political coverage, asked, "Who won the debate?"

The first 15 seconds in the altered clip posted on X use the segment's authentic audio. Chalian said:

Who won the debate? We asked debate watchers in our instant poll and the answer is a resounding, 'Donald Trump did.' Sixty-seven percent of debate watchers in our poll say Donald Trump won the debate tonight and Joe Biden ... 33% say he won the debate tonight.

At the 15-second mark of the altered clip, the authentic audio ended, and the AI-generated part began. The fake voice continued:

I mean, guys, at this point I don't give a shit if you bring out Gavin Newsom or maybe Hillary Clinton or even Big Mike ... uhhh, I mean, Michelle Obama. Sorry, I don't know why I said 'Big Mike.' Back to you, Jake.

In the original clip, continuing from the 15-second mark, what Chalian actually said was:

Now this group of debate watchers, they told us who they thought would win the debate going into it before the debate, and take a look at how that changed over time: 55% thought before the debate that Donald Trump would win the debate. Forty-five percent thought Joe Biden would win the debate.

Using Hive Moderation's AI-Generated Content Detection tool, Lead Stories conducted an analysis of the audio in the altered clip. We downloaded a copy of the altered clip and cut it into two segments. The first 15 seconds of the clip scored only a 10.7 percent likelihood of "not likely to be AI-generated" (below left). The second half of the clip (below right) scored 100 percent "likely to be AI-generated."


(Source: Lead Stories composite image showing screenshots from hivemoderation.com results taken on Fri Jun 28 15:24:30 2024 UTC)

Additional Lead Stories fact checks of claims about the 2024 CNN presidential election debate can be found here.

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  Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson lives with her family and pets on a small farm in Indiana. She founded a Facebook page and a blog called “Exploiting the Niche” in 2017 to help others learn about manipulative tactics and avoid scams on social media. Since then she has collaborated with journalists in the USA, Canada and Australia and since December 2019 she works as a Social Media Authenticity Analyst at Lead Stories.


Read more about or contact Sarah Thompson

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