“When you guys put somebody in the car, please don’t be too nice,” President Trump is seen telling an assembly of police officers at the beginning of a recent MeidasTouch video. That clip is immediately followed by his spokesperson saying the president was “making a joke,” then by footage of police roughing up protesters last spring. We then see footage of Trump proposing Clorox injection as a coronavirus treatment while White House medical official Deborah Birx lowers her head in dismay; leading a crowd in a “Lock her up” chant about Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer; and calling for virus testing to be slowed down. Each clip is followed by footage of the president or spokespeople saying he was “having fun,” “being sarcastic” or making a “comment in jest” — and then by statistics or clips of the soaring infections in the U.S., the right-wing kidnapping plot against Whitmer and more. “NONE OF THIS IS FUNNY,” the video concludes. “LET’S GET SERIOUS. VOTE JOE BIDEN.”
While the facts and footage are well known, seeing it all edited together is damning. And although there are several punch lines in the two-minute video, as the closing words say, it’s not funny. That clip and more than a hundred like it — along with a series of outdoor billboards, a radio show and a podcast — are the work of MeidasTouch, a political action committee formed earlier this year by brothers Ben, Brett and Jordan Meiselas, who have deep connections to the entertainment industry. Their father is top music attorney Kenny Meiselas, who reps Sean “Diddy” Combs, Lady Gaga, the Weeknd, Lizzo and others. Ben, 35, is a litigator and civil rights attorney who represents exiled NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and led a class-action suit over the disastrous 2017 Fyre Festival; Brett, 30, is a video editor and former head of post-production and social media for “Ellen”; and Jordan, 27, is an executive at Steve Stoute’s branding and marketing firm Translation.
The videos rarely use narration, opting instead to juxtapose quotes from the president and his associates with footage that starkly contradicts them. “It’s exactly what I would do in a trial,” Ben says. “‘Here’s what Trump or his family or staff are saying. Here are the facts and the data. Decide for yourself’ — although I have between two minutes and 30 seconds to convince my jury, which is the American people.” All three brothers collaborate on the clips, but Brett has taken on production duties as a full-time job.
None of this is funny. We need serious leadership again. pic.twitter.com/QPWQEJkirp
— MeidasTouch.com (@MeidasTouch) October 23, 2020
The videos have racked up more than 150 million views, and the PAC has raised more than $2.5 million, drawing the support not just of the Democratic establishment but of celebrities ranging from Judd Apatow and novelist Don Winslow to Mark Hamill and Henry Winkler.
The idea was hatched in March after the brothers found themselves temporarily sidelined by lockdown. “We just couldn’t do nothing as we saw the country falling apart and Trump lying about it every day,” Ben says. “Now, rather than spending an hour being angry, we’re angry for five minutes and then get to work.” MeidasTouch — a play on their last name combined with the motto “The truth is golden” — began as a blog but caught on as Brett started producing videos late in March. One that incorporated Ronald Reagan’s 1984 debate quote, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?,” quickly gained a million views, and the numbers soared as the Meiselases began producing more videos.
“We decided to lean into what seems to be missing, which is that progressives never really punch back,” Ben says.
Brett, a USC film school graduate, cranks out the clips with remarkable speed, averaging two or three hours from ideation to creation, and sometimes as quickly as 45 minutes. He attributes his speed and precision to his work on “Ellen.”
“It was pretty rigorous turning out TV-quality video for a daily talk show,” he says. “But where that was impactful and funny, now the goal is to be impactful and persuasive.” He cites Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” and Stephen Colbert as inspirations. “They really created the blueprint for how to expose hypocrisy in an impactful and powerful way.” While MeidasTouch occasionally accepts videos from outside producers, Brett estimates that 90% are entirely the work of the brothers.
Not surprisingly, the ones that come with a heavy dose of schadenfreude or negativity are the biggest hits: The top two are takedowns of Trump’s children, one titled “Bye Ivanka” (10.1 million views) and the other “Bye Don Jr.” (8.7 million). The team has worked to balance that with positive, pro-Biden ads, but to paraphrase Richard Nixon, the brothers are basically playing by the rules of politics and social media as they found them.
“People sometimes say we’re preaching to the choir,” Brett says. “But that’s exactly what Trump’s doing. We’re trying to pull together the biggest and loudest choir, and get them to the polls.”