Veteran Associated Press diplomatic writer Matt Lee refuted a report from The Washington Post Thursday that some State Department officers have been instructed not to look Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the eye.
Lee conceded the juicy rumor makes for an interesting headline, but assured his readers based on personal experience that the claim is false.
“It’s compelling gossip,” he tweeted. “I have looked him [Tillerson] in the eyes and not turned to stone. At least not yet…”
The assertion, which was sourced to anonymous “career diplomats,” generated a wave of ridicule and criticism of Tillerson on social media. Left-leaning news outlets quickly picked up and spread the report, which characterizes Tillerson as someone who makes outrageous demands of his subordinates. The Huffington Post published a Twitter round-up of celebrities, politicians and random users reacting to the WaPo story, and Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu was one of many who fretted about the eye contact rumor, saying he finds the article “disturbing.”
But Lee, who has covered the State Department for 18 years, said the claim simply isn’t true. He had heard the allegation about employees being forced to avert their gaze in the presence of the secretary of state two weeks before the WaPo story was published. After checking into the claim, he determined that it nothing more than an unfounded rumor.
When asked by a Twitter user how he knew the claim was false, Lee replied: “Because I have covered State since 1999. Because I know people who didn’t start in 2009.”
“This is not true and people repeating it are making it more difficult to address very real issues,” he tweeted.
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