Ellen DeGeneres and Anderson Cooper Are Trying to Erase Bush's War Crimes. My Video Wouldn't Let Them | Opinion

Co-moderator Anderson Cooper finished off the fourth Democratic debate Tuesday night with a widely criticized question that reintroduced the controversy sparked by talk show host Ellen DeGeneres' disgraceful defense last week of her friendship with former President George W. Bush.

"Last week, Ellen DeGeneres was criticized when she and George W. Bush were seen laughing together at a football game," Cooper said. "Ellen defended their friendship by saying, 'We're all different...and we've forgotten that that's OK that we're all different.' In that spirit, we'd like you to tell us about a friendship that you've had that would surprise us, and what impact it's had on you and your beliefs."

Well isn't that heart-warming?

Not for human rights advocates like myself and millions of others, who saw yet another stop in what appears to be a campaign by Bush and his supporters to rehabilitate the image of a president so far held unaccountable for a war impacting millions; torture sites across the globe; a criminally negligent response to Hurricane Katrina that killed and harmed more people than the storm itself; a war on LGBTQ Americans in the shape of a proposed constitutional amendment designed to cast them as second-class citizens; and a Wall Street–centered economic policy that led to the largest transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the ultra-wealthy in modern U.S. history.

The campaign is so successful that despite Bush's very recent and very central behind-the-scenes role lobbying for President Donald Trump's Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh, one is still more likely to hear about Bush's paintings or his sharing candy with former first lady Michelle Obama. Meanwhile, the FBI has failed to interview the long list of witnesses supplied by those accusing Kavanaugh of rape, attempted rape or sexual misconduct, and the justice sits ready to enact judgments that will prove detrimental to all women and all vulnerable Americans well beyond his lifetime appointment.

Ellen's rubbing elbows with Bush was enough to inflame many critics. However, for me, it was her follow-up statement on her talk show announcing her friendship with Bush and using her platform to lecture millions of Americans about being nice and maintaining relationships with not only people you don't always agree with but also people who harmed millions without apparent regret, repair or accountability.

In that speech, with a single stroke, Ellen portrayed people who advocate for human rights, including those who do so because their personal safety is threatened, as an unreasonable mob unable to appreciate nuance and diplomacy. Ellen also dismissed Bush's long-buried victims and still-suffering survivors, casting them aside as one might differences with a friend about a fur jacket—to borrow her example.

How could a lesbian woman so brazenly absolve someone who harmed so many women and LGBTQ people? How could a Louisiana native wash over the devastation Bush caused after Katrina?

As I was watching her announcement, I imagined the killed, wounded, tortured and displaced Iraqis she was erasing. I could practically see them on screen as she was speaking. That's when I realized she was, in fact, in front of a blue screen. A blue screen that I could edit.

Ellen DeGeneres erased those Iraqis. And I wanted to put them back in.

Rafael Shimunov's video featuring images of the Iraq War was still available on YouTube, as of time of publication.

When I published the video on Twitter, it didn't receive much attention outside of people who already supported me. It had reached about 10,000 views before Twitter took down the content for what it said was a report of copyright infringement, also known as a DMCA claim, named after the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which became law in 1998.

That law, however, outlines protections for "fair use" under commentary, satire, transformational use and education, as do Twitter guidelines. In fact, when copyright holders use Twitter's tool to take down content, Twitter warns them on multiple occasions not make claims on fair use and even threatens that they would be liable for legal fees if they made a false claim.

Twitter users aware of the fair use provision challenged the censorship of my video by uploading copies of it their own accounts, forcing Ellen's team to track down and make false claims against each one.

It may be true that Ellen has nearly half a billion dollars. That she gifted Trump a gold baby carriage with a crystal chandelier hanging from it. It is true that Ellen herself was sued for actual copyright infringement for using over 1,000 songs from artists for her show's dance routines without paying them. It is true that Ellen is flanked by a behemoth like Warner Bros. on one side and an endless line of celebrities willing to ignore human suffering to appear on her show on the other.

Yet her team could not keep up with us. And after enough negative press, they seemed to give up making the copyright claims altogether. We won.

Ellen Show Hurricane Katrina
One week after Rafael Shimunov released a video of Ellen DeGeneres explaining her friendly relationship former President George W. Bush, with a backdrop of rotating images from the Iraq War, he released another video, this time with evacuees from Hurricane Katrina in the background. Screenshot of Rafael Shimunov's Twitter video, with permission from Shimunov

One particular frame of the video, where Ellen's hands line up with one of Bush's torture victims, has inspired artists. I've received messages from human rights lawyers, veterans, survivors and even one from Mary Mapes, the journalist who exposed the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. I was inspired by the messages from Twitter users who felt empowered. People with small followings stepped up to risk their own Twitter accounts and host copies of the video, becoming part of a movement that has produced a collective view count of over 2 million so far.

Most moving of all were the private messages from young people who admitted to me that Bush's crimes had indeed been erased from their lives and thanked me, and all of those who supported the video, for unerasing them.

No talk show host or presidential debate will rewrite history, and we will make certain of that.

Artist and activist Rafael Shimunov has since risked his Twitter account to publish a second Ellen video, this time featuring images of Katrina victims. Shimunov is promoting a petition to compel Twitter's legal head, Vijaya Gadde, to reinstate every copy of his video and redesign its reporting process, which he argues automatically favors the powerful.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.