CNN's Brian Stelter was mocked on Twitter Wednesday for his responses to a tweet President Trump sent regarding media speculation over first lady Melania Trump’s recent absence from the public eye.
“The Fake News Media has been so unfair, and vicious, to my wife and our great First Lady, Melania. During her recovery from surgery they reported everything from near death, to facelift, to left the W.H. (and me) for N.Y. or Virginia, to abuse. All Fake, she is doing really well!” Trump tweeted.
CNN senior media correspondent Stelter quoted the president’s tweet and wrote, “Trump is conflating random Twitter commenters with ‘the media’ here. A common tactic of bad faith critics. But disappointing to see POTUS do it.”
Media watchdogs quickly called out Stelter for hypocrisy, since he was among the reporters who helped pushed the narrative that the first lady was “missing in action.”
D.C. Examiner’s T. Becket Adams replied, “You’re joking, right?”
Writer Erick Erickson added, “Given the number of blue check marked accounts and your own that have turned this into a game of Where’s Waldo, I have to disagree on this one. And a number of prominent media figures have speculated openly about abuse, etc.”
Daily Caller media editor Amber Athey responded to Stelter's tweet, telling the CNN media guru to "stop gaslighting us."
Stelter responded, saying that the White House should provide links to the claims made by Trump. Athey fired back with evidence that verified reporters speculated on everything from a suicide attempt to domestic abuse being the reason for the first lady staying out of the public eye for a few days.
Stelter went on to claim that tweets sent by reporters are not the same thing as published reporting, which was quickly criticized.
“Enough with the semantics, you’ve been dabbling in conspiracy theory territory and you know it,” one user responded, while another said, “Stelter’s defense/deflection of him promoting conspiracy theories is getting pretty weak.”
“Oh for heaven's sake we're not idiots. You et al were obviously suggesting something was amiss when you reported on it. You opened the door for the speculation, and you did it with purpose,” another user added.
One user asked, “You're trying to say that when these ‘journalists’ go on their verified Twitter accounts, where they identify themselves as members of major news organizations, that what they're doing is NOT reporting?”
Athey sent a follow-up tweet mocking Stelter with an attached article showing a CNN article speculating on plastic surgery being the real cause of Melania’s absence, “CNN: It was only random twitter users floating conspiracies about Melania… Also CNN: Let's repeat those conspiracy theories in our reporting and ask the first lady's spokesperson about them!”
Stelter's “Reliable Sources” newsletter on Sunday led with a giant graphic of a calendar, placing question marks on each date since Mrs. Trump was “last seen” on May 10. Beneath the graphic, the newsletter specifically stated that she was expected to attend an event on Monday to honor Gold Star families.
“BUT BUT: The event is closed to the press, so Monday evening may not resolve the mystery,” CNN’s Brian Stelter wrote. He made a similar argument on Twitter, writing “if the event is closed press, it means the ‘Melania hasn't been seen in public’ issue will linger.”
The first lady appeared at the event on Monday as scheduled.
In addition to Stelter, Salon writer Bob Cesca, Rolling Stone senior writer Jamil Smith, New York journalist Natalia Antonova, Atlantic senior editor David Frum and professor C. Christine Fair are among the media members and influencers who have floated conspiracy theories regarding Melania Trump’s absence.
The first lady – a notoriously private person – stayed behind Friday when President Trump and several family members went to the Camp David retreat for the weekend. While she hadn't made a public appearance since before her five-day hospital stay last month for treatment of a kidney condition, she had been seen around the White House.
Amid the backlash, Fox News contributor Stephen Miller joked, “We haven't seen Brian in almost an hour. Where did he go? This is a legitimate news story that he just disappeared without warning or answering questions.”
Stelter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.