Hero or villain, Ocasio-Cortez remains a media fixation


NEW YORK (AP) — Believe it or not, there are other members of Congress besides Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

You wouldn’t know that by how the freshman Democrat from New York has become a media fixation like no
other politician since President Donald Trump. She’s been a cover subject in both New York tabloids, a
punchline on "Saturday Night Live," the target of a Washington Post investigation and depicted
as a hamburglar at a conservative conference — and that’s only this month so far.
This past weekend she was featured at the trendy South by Southwest conference, where science guy Bill
Nye offered a surprise endorsement of her environmental plans.
Boldness, youth and an embrace of social media have made AOC — the shorthand is already widely known — a
hero to the left, a villain to the right and irresistible to journalists.
"She is the political mirror image of Donald Trump," said Frank Sesno, director of the School
of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University and a former CNN Washington bureau chief.
"He’s old, she’s young. He’s far right, she’s far left. What they share is a take-no-prisoners,
no-holds-barred approach to politics, and their rhetoric is the brash, sometimes profane rhetoric of our
social-media-driven times."
Moving into a presidential primary campaign where a defining issue will be how far left the Democrats
want to move, AOC has become a symbol for the party’s progressive wing even though, at 29, she’s too
young to run herself.
Her status is evident on social media. During the second half of February, her Twitter handle, @AOC, was
mentioned 3.64 million times on the social network. That was more than handles for the two congressional
leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (1.22 million) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (696,000)
Since she took office, stories about AOC have averaged about 2,200 likes, shares, or comments on
Facebook, according to the social media analytics company NewsWhip. That’s more than double the typical
interactions on Pelosi articles. No other Democrats came closer.
With such metrics, news stories are certain to follow. There have been many, ranging from the Washington
Post’s look at whether questionable financial practices of Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional chief of staff
clash with his boss’ view on money in politics, to a Daily Mail reporter tracking down her mother and
discovering — surprise! — she’d like to see her daughter get married.
AOC frequently uses social media to counter stories. When a dance video she made with friends in college
circulated, she combined video of a brief twirl outside her office with the message: "If
Republicans thought women dancing in college is scandalous, wait ’til they find out women dance in
Congress, too."
After the New York Post suggested AOC, chief proponent of "Green New Deal" legislation, might
be hypocritical for riding in gas-guzzling cars, she noted that she also uses airplanes and air
conditioners. "Living in the world as it is isn’t an argument against working toward a better
future," she tweeted.
"She understood how to use social media in a way that is incredibly effective, both to speak to
constituents and other people in power with a truly authentic voice," said veteran news executive
Kate O’Brian.
AOC’s defeat of powerful Rep. Joseph Crowley in a primary led many young Democrats to embrace her as an
underdog. That’s also perfect for Republicans who like to portray more extreme elements as typical of
the Democratic party, Sesno said. The GOP is increasingly dominated by older, white men, and here’s an
outspoken, young Latina woman from the heathen environs of New York City.
"This idea of making her the face of the Democratic party hits a lot of boxes for them," said
Nicole Hemmer, author of "Messengers of the Right" (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016),
about the conservative media’s impact on politics. "She is young, a symbol of the party moving to
the left, and she isn’t afraid of the word ‘socialism.’"
In January, Fox News Channel’s prime-time hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham did 27
segments focusing on the freshman Democrat. There were none on McConnell, according to the liberal
watchdog Media Matters.
"It’s not a mystery," said Tim Graham of the conservative Media Research Center. "AOC is a
machine of silly things she says, gaffes and extreme statements, and the impression she gives is
amateurism. The same thing that is her appeal is also her downside. She was a bartender."
Her opponents have also been guilty of overreach, such as when a quickly disproven photo was spread
online purporting to be a nudie selfie. Conservative activist Sebastian Gorka claimed of AOC’s
environmental legislation, "they want to take away your hamburgers."
Ocasio-Cortez told The New Yorker magazine last week that the "ravenous hysteria" about her is
getting out of control.
"It feels like an extra job," she said. "I’ve got a full-time job in Congress and then I
moonlight as America’s greatest villain, or as the new hope. And it’s pretty tiring. I’m just a normal
There’s already a backlash; the Post’s Alexandra Petri wrote satirically last week, "I am sick of
hearing about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from my voice talking about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez."
Greta Van Susteren, political analyst for the Gray Television stations, warned AOC to watch out.
"Being the media darling is fun while it lasts and it is power that can be wielded
effectively," Van Susteren said. "But of course the media can be like a bad date — fickle. You
can get dropped fast, not even a ride home."
Hemmer believes the young politician isn’t going anywhere soon.
"She’s definitely not a flash in the pan," said the University of Virginia professor. "She
definitely has some staying power, and it’s going to be interesting to see how she evolves over
The AP’s Eric Carvin and Josh Cornfield contributed to this report.

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