Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is firing back at the “completely disgusting behavior” of the conservative news outlet The Daily Caller for publishing a fake nude photo of her with a misleading headline that did not make clear the photo was a hoax.
Ocasio-Cortez, who recently joined Congress as a representative from New York City, linked the coverage to the broader right-wing animosity that she has faced.
“GOP have been losing their mind + frothing at the mouth all week, so this was just a matter of time,” she wrote on Twitter Wednesday.
She noted that a reporter from the Daily Mail, a British tabloid, had been reaching out to her boyfriend’s family for potential stories.
“Women in leadership face more scrutiny. Period,” she continued.
In a followup message, Ocasio-Cortez explained to her followers: “The @DailyCaller reposted [the photo] and refused to indicate it was fake in the title as well.”
“Completely disgusting behavior from Conservative outlets. No wonder they defended Kavanaugh so fiercely,” Ocasio-Cortez added in reference Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh who was accused by professor Christine Blasey Ford of sexual assault in high school. Kavanaugh has denied the allegation.
The Daily Caller, which was co-founded by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, was quick to express regret for its headline on Wednesday night. But it contended its article was “otherwise no different” than similar stories published by the Huffington Post and Vice.
In a statement to PEOPLE, a Fox News spokesperson said — referencing an Ocasio-Cortez tweet contending that Carlson financially supported the site — that Carlson “does not finance The Daily Caller in any way, nor does he have any role whatsoever in its editorial operations. She would have known that if she’d bothered to check.”
On Thursday morning, The Daily Caller re-titled its article to make clear the image is not of Ocasio-Cortez and appended a correction at the bottom: “An earlier version of the headline for this story made an inaccurate implication. The story has since been updated for accuracy.”
The Daily Caller’s editor, Geoffrey Ingersoll, responded defensively on his on Twitter Thursday, replying directly to Ocasio-Cortez. “The story is about how your enemies – who Betsy [the reporter] describes as both horrible and evil – conjured up this fake nude and spread it online,” he wrote. “You must just be trying to score cheap political points since there is no way you could have a real issue with her post.”
In contrast to Ingersoll’s tone, the outlet had tweeted Wednesday night that “we regret the error as the intent was to inform our audience that a fake image was circulating online.”
The Daily Caller’s coverage was originally presented in a materially different way from Vice’s reporting, which it pointed to in Wednesday’s original statement. (It is unclear what Huffington Post article was being referred to.)
As one user wrote back to The Daily Caller, noting the difference between Vice’s approach and their own: “One of these informs an audience. The other misinforms them.”
Unlike The Daily Caller’s first headline, The Vice piece, published Monday, was titled: “A Fake Nude of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Was Debunked By Foot Fetishists” and detailed an effort online to circulate an image purportedly from Ocasio-Cortez’s Instagram.
The photo has been appearing since December on various Internet forums, according to Vice, but in fact belongs to a woman named Sydney Leathers, who confirmed the connection to Vice.
In a later column for the website Washington Babylon, Leathers wrote, “I’m deeply sorry to her [Ocasio-Cortez] that Internet misogynists used an old photo of mine to try and target her.”
“If anyone wants to try to target AOC again, I would happily take the blame for whatever comes out just to keep a woman like her in a position of power,” Leathers wrote.
The Daily Caller article still contains a screenshot of the image, which shows a woman in the bathtub and the reflection of her breasts in the tub faucet.
A screenshot circulated before the site’s apology shows it initially tweeted only the story’s headline, a link and a photo of Ocasio-Cortez with no further explanation.
Tweeting the article now includes the updated headline as well as a brief, somewhat vague description that reads, “But alas, these are not her toes.”
(Representatives for Ocasio-Cortez and The Daily Caller did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.)
Ocasio-Cortez has rocketed to national prominence in less than a year after upending political expectations when she won her primary last summer against a veteran lawmaker.
At 29, she is the youngest woman to serve in Congress.
As an unabashed democratic socialist pushing for, among others, tuition-free public college and policies that fight climate change, she has attracted intense scrutiny from conservatives.
After an old video of her dancing in college was recirculated last week online, she playfully responded in kind, filming a new clip of her outside her Congressional office.
“I hear the GOP thinks women dancing are scandalous,” she tweeted. “Wait till they find out Congresswomen dance too!”