Politics

Ocasio-Cortez strikes back sharply after fake nude photo circulates online

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

It’s important to make this clear from the start: They weren’t her feet.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., whose outspokenness and progressive views have made her a target of conservatives, lashed out at right-wing news site The Daily Caller after it posted an article Monday showing a photo that had been falsely described as a nude selfie of the congresswoman with an emphasis on her feet.

It was fake foot news.

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Confused yet? Here’s what happened. A photo that was apparently taken by a woman in a bathtub, showing her from the shins down, had been making the rounds on social media. A reflection of more of the woman’s body can be seen in the faucet. This led people to describe the photo as a nude selfie.

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By the time The Daily Caller had posted its article, the picture’s true origins had been uncovered, thanks in part to the sleuth work of a foot fetishist, an online photo gallery of celebrity women’s feet and a woman who traded sexts with former Rep. Anthony Weiner.

The Daily Caller acknowledged the fake in its story but not in its headline: “Here’s the Photo Some People Described as a Nude Selfie of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.” The site has since given its article a new headline (and, in what it said was an editing error, a new URL that resulted in original links to the story breaking).

The photo was only the most recent attempt to sully the reputation of Ocasio-Cortez, a rising star on the left who, at 29, is the youngest woman ever elected to the House of Representatives. Last week, before Ocasio-Cortez was sworn in, video surfaced of her dancing on a rooftop in college, in a leak that was widely viewed as an effort to embarrass her. (It didn’t work.) Before that, conservatives criticized her clothes, the home in which she grew up and the nickname she went by in high school.

In every instance, Ocasio-Cortez has fired back on Twitter and elsewhere, seemingly generating more goodwill from her supporters in the process. On Wednesday, she criticized The Daily Caller’s original headline for failing to note that the photo was not of her. She also called the outlet’s behavior “completely disgusting.”

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While The Daily Caller’s headline, strictly speaking, may not have been inaccurate, it was misleading. The photo in question shows a woman’s bare legs and feet in a bath with overlaid text claiming it was posted on Instagram by Ocasio-Cortez. It had been circulating for weeks on mainstream sites like Twitter as well as parts of 4chan and Reddit often known for their hostility to women.

It received wider attention Sunday after it was posted to Reddit’s popular section Drama with a lewd caption encouraging viewers to look at the reflection in the tub’s faucet, where the photographer’s breasts are visible. The implication was that the photographer was Ocasio-Cortez.

But one Reddit user cross-referenced the photo with known images of Ocasio-Cortez’s feet on Wikifeet, a website for foot fetishists, and determined it didn’t match.

Some other Reddit users suggested the photo was an altered version of one belonging to Sydney Leathers, a former sexting partner of Weiner, who retired from Congress in 2011 after a scandal over his online behavior and before facing a similar scandal during his campaign for New York City mayor in 2013.

Leathers confirmed the photo was originally hers on Twitter, where she apologized to Ocasio-Cortez, saying: “I’m sorry creeps are trying to pretend my pics are actually pics of you. Happy to clear that up.”

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The Daily Caller said on Twitter on Wednesday that it regretted the error and that it “deleted and fixed” the headline once editors noticed it. It also said its article was intended to “inform our audience that a fake image was circulating online.”

Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t buying it. In a response on Twitter on Thursday, she said:

On Wednesday, The Daily Caller added a correction to its original story, saying the previous headline “made an inaccurate implication.” The headline now clarifies: “Anthony Weiner Mistress Stands Up for AOC After Evil Internet Trolls Spread Fake Nude Photo.”