CNN Silent on Contributor's False Viral Tweet

Surely the former Bill Clinton spokesman wasn't being deceitful?

Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart (1999) (Getty Images)
January 23, 2020

CNN has remained silent about a contributor's viral tweet that misleadingly claimed to relay a conversation between Republican senators.

Former Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart received more than 9,000 retweets and 36,000 likes for a tweet claiming to report an overheard conversation between two Fox News-watching GOP senators. "Is this stuff real? I haven't heard any of this before. I thought it was all about a server," the senators supposedly said. "If half the stuff Schiff is saying is true, we're up shit's creek. Hope the White House has exculpatory evidence."

Replies to the tweet indicate that many people took Lockhart's scoop seriously. When reached for comment about the episode, a CNN spokesman redirected the Washington Free Beacon to a communications director for the network who ignored multiple requests for comment.

In follow-up tweets, Lockhart acknowledged that he "made up" the overheard conversation and called it satire. Lockhart did not delete the misleading tweet even as it went viral, and the clarifying tweets did not achieve the same reach as the original.

After he continued to receive criticism from conservative and liberal journalists alike, Lockhart characterized his detractors as "purveyors of Pizzagate and the Seth Rich conspiracy."

CNN reporters on the media and "disinformation" beats have repeatedly said that satire is no excuse for spreading "fake news," particularly if some internet users mistake it for genuine news. Some have accused comedy websites of hiding behind satire to mislead voters while dodging punishment from social media companies.

Brian Stelter, the network's media critic and host of Reliable Sources, was also silent on the matter, although he did tweet about President Donald Trump's "false claims."

Lockhart, who has made frequent appearances during the network's impeachment coverage, also sparked controversy on Tuesday when he said that Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) should face prison time for tweeting while he was on the Senate floor. The former public relations executive was seemingly unaware that most politicians have dedicated press staffers who handle their social media accounts, and that senators cannot be imprisoned for breaking Senate floor rules.

Cruz mocked the tweet with a graphic of a cell phone reading, "Come and Take It"—a mock-up of a popular flag commemorating the famous victory at the Battle of Gonzales that sparked the Texas Revolution.