Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) took to Twitter on Tuesday to eviscerate a Politico story about her that she argued contained “false information.” On Wednesday, an unlikely ally emerged: Donald Trump Jr.
The president’s eldest child, who has been an outspoken critic of the newly elected congresswoman’s democratic socialist views, appeared to set aside his political differences to commiserate with Ocasio-Cortez over her outrage at the media. On Tuesday, the 29-year-old slammed Politico for writing stories about her that lacked “a SINGLE named or verifiable source,” adding, “My dad had a name for junk articles like this: ‘Birdcage lining.’ ”
“Welcome to our world ...” Trump Jr. tweeted, referencing Ocasio-Cortez’s original Tuesday tweet. “You think that’s bad? Imagine what it’s like when they actually hate you.”
Trump Jr. has adopted his father’s anti-mainstream-media rhetoric, often using the phrase “fake news” in social media posts. President Trump has also repeatedly referred to members of the press as “the enemy of the people."
The Politico story that drew Ocasio-Cortez’s ire was published early Tuesday morning and reported that she was working to recruit a primary challenger to unseat Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) in 2020. The story cited unnamed sources, one of whom was quoted saying Ocasio-Cortez is “going to go all out to take him out,” referring to Jeffries.
In November, Ocasio-Cortez voiced support for a national movement spearheaded by Justice Democrats, a progressive political action committee, that aims to replace incumbent Democrats, the Hill reported. Justice Democrats backed Ocasio-Cortez, who pulled off one of the biggest upsets during the primaries when she unseated 10-term incumbent Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) in June before winning the general election last month.
But Corbin Trent, Ocasio-Cortez’s communications director, denied the claims, telling Politico that the incoming congresswoman had not recruited what the news site described as “an anti-Jeffries candidate.”
“We’re not looking at recruiting people to run campaigns, we’re looking at building a congressional staff,” Trent said.
On Twitter, roughly 12 hours after the story had been published, Ocasio-Cortez lashed out at Politico, writing that “one disappointment about DC is the gossip that masquerades as ‘reporting.’”
“For the record, this is the second @politico article about me in a short period of time with *0* named sources to back claims containing false information,” she wrote in follow-up tweet. “It’s really unfortunate.”
Brad Dayspring, Politico’s vice president of marketing and communications, told The Washington Post in an email Wednesday, “We stand by our reporting.”
“It’s unclear what the Congresswoman-elect believes is inaccurate, as she doesn’t specify in her tweet and neither she, nor her staff, has asked for a correction,” Dayspring wrote.
A spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez did not respond to a request for comment late Wednesday.
As The Post’s Paul Farhi reported in 2013, the use of anonymous sources has only increased in recent years, and the practice is especially commonplace in stories about politics, where sources often can’t speak to the media without risking retaliation.
“The fact is that many companies, government agencies, and institutions of every type do their best to make sure people with knowledge won’t speak publicly,” Martin Baron, The Post’s executive editor, told Farhi. “They apply pressure and, at worst, fire people. At other times, people who speak openly can suffer recrimination. Or they are bound by policies that prohibit use of their name. As unpleasant as anonymity may be, very often the alternative is no information whatsoever."
As The Post’s then-executive editor Benjamin C. Bradlee found out during the pre-Watergate and “Deep Throat” years, relying only on named sources frequently meant the paper was unable to report important news stories, Farhi wrote. At one point, Bradlee had attempted to ban stories that depended on anonymity, according to Farhi. The result?
“The Post’s competitors, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, published important news stories that The Post did not have,” wrote Ben Bagdikian, who was an assistant managing editor at the time. “The paper’s readers were deprived of significant information.”
Bradlee’s policy lasted two days, Bagdikian wrote.
Still, even with the prevalent use of unnamed sources, many non-journalists question their credibility. In 2017, Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan highlighted anonymous sourcing as “one of the least-understood” mysteries of journalism, pointing out that many news consumers are unaware of the thorough vetting process most major newsrooms go through before allowing such a source to be quoted.
“A lot of people seem to think that when we use anonymous sources, we don’t even know who they are — that they’re anonymous to us,” Post reporter Wesley Lowery told Sullivan.
President Trump recently slammed unnamed sources, tweeting in August, “When you see ‘anonymous source,’ stop reading the story, it is fiction!” (In response to the tweet, several reporters pointed out that in the past, Trump had been a background source for New York publications, the Hill reported.)
Many social media users, including CBS News reporter Grace Segers, were quick to point out that Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitter outburst mirrored President Trump’s criticism of the media.
In response, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “It cuts both ways — if all an article contains is anonymous sources for gossip (as opposed to whistleblowing) how can readers tell the difference between rumor and fact?”