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Rubin: Fouts’ explanation is more absurd than the tapes

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

The mayor of Warren wants us to believe he’s being ambushed over a few piles of dirt.

The price tag for that ambush, if in fact there was one, would be hundreds of thousands of dollars. Either that, or you’d have to find an incredibly talented comedian willing to sacrifice his career and risk getting sued or even prosecuted — again, over a few piles of dirt.

So that’s one possibility: an expensive, far-fetched, needless and thoroughly unproven dirty trick. The other possibility would be exactly what it sounds like: Jim Fouts, 74, writing yet another check with his mouth that his rump can’t cash.

Recordings surfaced this week of someone who happens to sound exactly like Fouts, saying outrageous things similar to what his former political consultant says he’s heard him snarl plenty of times before.

The truth, Fouts claims, is that he’s the poor, innocent victim of slander, character assassination, and a few other things nearly as nasty as what we all heard in those sound bites from Motor City Muckraker. He says Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel is orchestrating a devious campaign against him because of their dispute over dumping at Freedom Hill Amphitheatre in Sterling Heights.

A spokesman says Hackel had nothing to do with the recordings, which included middle-school-level, foul-mouthed observations about older women and a comparison of black people to chimpanzees.

Common sense says the same thing.

“I don’t know that the technology is out there,” says Ed Primeau, to seamlessly and affordably utter words in a person’s voice in a manner that would fool even an authority on the subject.

Eighty-percent sure

Primeau owns Audio Forensic Expert in Rochester Hills. He’s the gentleman CNN hired a few years ago to prove that the calming tones of Siri on your iPhone were provided by a voice actress from Atlanta named Susan Bennett.

He’s also the expert who told The Detroit News he was 80 percent sure the voice on the last tape, a diatribe against “retards,” belonged to the mayor of Michigan’s third-largest city.

He says he can tell from the sound spectrum that the latest spite was recorded in a different place, but in general, the snippets are “too short for science.”

“Russia, China, maybe Silicon Valley,” Primeau says. “I don’t know who else would be able” to do what Fouts has described.

Adobe has created a sort of Photoshop for audio called VoCo, but it’s not yet available and an early review say it still sounds a bit synthetic.

Primeau figures if someone truly wanted to launch a seamless attack, the tab would hit six figures. He’s never even heard of anyone making the attempt.

Fouts, though, says it’s happening to him. He must be more important than we knew.

Is faking it worth it?

Assuming the alleged impersonation isn’t a function of technology, it must be the product of talent.

Oakland County voice artist Eric Harthen makes much of his living doing impressions of everyone from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump to an absolutely airtight Matthew McConaughey. You’ve probably heard him on the radio, even if you didn’t know it.

“I’ve done prank calls as a celebrity where you have somebody on the phone for a couple minutes,” he says. “But audio, played over and over? I don’t think that could be done.”

Beyond that, he can’t imagine who would try it.

“Can you guarantee me immunity?” he asks. Can you hit rewind on his conscience? Can you pay someone in the small community of impressionists enough to make the risk worthwhile?

“It’s the mayor of Warren,” he points out. Not the president, not the governor, not even a Kardashian.

Maybe you’d take the trouble and the risk over a pile of diamonds, but for a few piles of dirt? For Jim Fouts?

There’s no need. He’s burying himself.