Senior HUD official attempts to clarify controversial social posts

A senior official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development attempted on Monday and Tuesday to clarify controversial social media posts about news coverage of Hurricane Florence and the sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Lynne Patton, HUD’s regional administrator for New York and New Jersey, on Sunday shared a meme on her verified Instagram page, where she is followed by more than 35,000 people, that falsely alleged CNN’s Anderson Cooper faked a live shot. Patton, who was previously an aide to President Donald Trump’s son Eric, on Sunday also commented positively with two emojis on an Instagram post by Donald Trump Jr. mocking the assault allegations against Kavanaugh.

HUD did not respond to multiple comment requests, including asking if the agency enforces social media guidelines. Patton says on both her personal Instagram and Twitter pages that her views do not reflect those of HUD.

“You know it’s sad when even the WEATHER is #FakeNews. #StayWokeMyFriends,” she wrote as a caption on a picture of Cooper standing in waist-deep water. The photo showed Cooper’s cameramen standing on a road several feet away in more shallow water, attempting to imply that Cooper was exaggerating the flood’s impact.

“If the media will lie about this, what else are they lying about,” a caption on the photo of Cooper read.

The photo of Cooper is from 10 years ago during Hurricane Ike, not Hurricane Florence, and Cooper’s segment was designed to show how surprisingly deep floodwaters were. Cooper noted in his segment that the road in front of him had only an inch of water and he was staying off it to provide room for emergency services to operate. Floodwaters varied, with some homes nearby in water that was several feet high.

After a member of CNN’s KFile team pointed out the misleading nature of the meme on Twitter, Patton mocked the post from the reporter.

“Raaarrrrr!!! #BreakingNews Senior HUD Official Claims Anderson Cooper Eaten By Shark. #TheyreCalledMemesFolks #JustAskMikeSeidel #NeverClaimedItWasFlorence #MoreFakeNews,” she tweeted, sharing the same picture of Cooper with a shark photoshopped ready to eat him.

Cooper responded to the original meme — which was shared by others on social media, including by Trump Jr. — on his show Monday evening.

“For those who think I was kneeling or faking the water level or making it look worse than it was or standing in some sort of a hole, this is an area where people had been trapped on the roofs of their homes by water,” Cooper said. “Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who I actually interviewed during this broadcast, called it the largest rescue and recovery operation in Texas state history.”

On Tuesday, Patton issued a tweet saying she regretted if her post was “misinterpreted as insensitive.”

“As a volunteer in Katrina & Matthew, the assertion that I (or anyone from this Admin/family) would mock death is preposterous. To discredit @KFILE’s false claim, I used a meme equally as ludicrous. I regret it was misinterpreted as insensitive & am honored to serve daily at HUD,” she wrote.

The statement is the second statement in two days that Patton issued over her own social media posts.

After her comment on the Kavanaugh post, she issued a lengthy statement on Instagram and Twitter saying she was not attempting to diminish the allegations with her choice of emojis.

“This was not an attempt to diminish sexual assault.To the contrary, my commentary was in direct response to the hypocrisy as highlighted by @donaldjtrumpjr in as much that #SenatorFeinstein deliberately concealed Ms. Ford’s letter for nearly TWO MONTHS, releasing it only when the timing best suited that of her own party,” she wrote. “True exploitation at its finest. In response to those who are citing #TheHatchAct, my commentary was made via a personal account during personal time. “KFILE deliberately tagged my official Twitter handle merely to emphasize their own criticism. Therefore, the only partisan violation being committed here is the fact that I have to explain this.”