“I debated whether I should even respond tonight to the president’s son,” Cooper said on Monday’s “AC360.” “I know he considers himself an outdoorsman and pays a lot of money to be led to wildlife in Africa that he then kills. But I’m not sure if he’s actually been to a hurricane or a flood. I didn’t see him down in North Carolina over the last few days helping out, lending a hand, but I’m sure he was doing something important besides just tweeting lies.”
The photo in question was taken in Texas in 2008 during Hurricane Ike. Wearing waders and clutching a microphone, Cooper stands near a patch of submerged vegetation in waist-high floodwaters as a cameraman looks on.
Because the cameraman is standing in much shallower water that only goes up to his ankles, Cooper was accused of exaggerating the extent of the flooding in memes that spread on social media over the weekend as Hurricane Florence hit the Carolinas.
“If the media will lie about this, what else are they lying about?” asked one such meme, which also included a photo of a Weather Channel reporter who was mocked for dramatically struggling to stand upright amid the storm winds while people in shorts casually strolled by in the background. (The Weather Channel later defended the shot, saying the reporter was standing on wet grass while the others were on a sidewalk.)
On Sunday morning, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted out the context-free photo. As of Monday night, it had been retweeted more than 8,000 times.
During his Monday show, Cooper hit back, displaying Trump Jr.’s tweet on the air as he read some of the responses that had followed.
“Some guy said I was on my knees to make it look deep and then went on to say that I was used to being on my knees, which I assume is some sort of anti-gay reference,” he said. “Very classy.”
He later added, “The idea that I am kneeling in water to make it look deep is, frankly, idiotic.”
Cooper went on to explain that the photo was taken during Hurricane Ike, not during Hurricane Florence, as anyone who saw it circulating over the weekend might have assumed. He pointed out that the cameraman who appears in the photo was Doug Thomas, a CNN audio technician who died in September 2017. And he played back multiple clips from the original broadcast, which show him walking around in the floodwaters.
“I’m not done,” he said, five minutes in. “I’m just getting started.”
Pushing back against the idea that he had attempted to dramatize the situation, Cooper pointed out that he had told viewers in 2008 that the water had actually receded, and that CNN had also showed footage of emergency vehicles driving on a nearby road that was not nearly as flooded.
“You can argue I didn’t need to be standing in waist-deep water,” he said. “I could have been standing on the road by the camera crew. But, again, I didn’t want to be roaming around on the highway interfering with rescue vehicles in any way. I also wanted to show people how deep the water was and how dangerous it is for anyone driving.”
He added, “It’s easy to make fun of someone standing in water reporting. I get that.”
Why devote 10 whole minutes of an hour-long show to debunking Trump Jr.’s tweet?
“I rarely respond to online conspiracy theorists or cable news cranks looking to get into a mutually beneficial beef that will boost their ratings,” Cooper said at the beginning of his monologue.
But, he also said, “I’ve covered hurricanes for about 14 years and it really does make me sad to think that anyone would think that I would try to fake something or overly dramatize a disaster.”
Wrapping up, he told the audience, “Look, I don’t expect the president’s son to ever admit that he was wrong or one of the president’s advisers or frankly anyone else who’s retweeted any of these pictures. But I at least thought that they and you should know the truth.”
Trump Jr. was not the only one pointing out Cooper’s past hurricane coverage. Lynne Patton, a top official with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and a longtime Trump family employee, shared the meme on her Instagram account over the weekend. She added the caption, “You know it’s sad when even the WEATHER is #FakeNews.”
When CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski pointed out the post, Patton responded by photoshopping a shark into the photo. “
#NeverClaimedItWasFlorence,” she wrote. “#MoreFakeNews.”
It’s not the first time that Cooper has taken time on his show to deliver a monologue aimed at the president or his surrogates. He has repeatedly accused the White House of “gaslighting” the American public, most recently taking aim at Sarah Huckabee Sanders over her contention that the media was overly focused on speculating on the identity of an anonymous official who published an op-ed in the New York Times.
In June 2017, after Trump tweeted that MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski “was bleeding badly from a face-lift” on a visit to Mar-a-Lago, Cooper read out loud from the president’s own book, “Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again,” picking out a passage where then-candidate Trump spoke of wanting to restore “the pomp and circumstance and the sense of awe” to the Oval Office.
In January, Cooper devoted part of his show to responding to the president’s infamous “shithole countries” remark, telling viewers about the strength and dignity that he had seen on reporting trips to Haiti. “It’s a dignity many in this White House could learn from,” he said. More recently, he accused the president last week of “making a mockery” of the tragic number of deaths following Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
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