Editor’s Note: CNN correspondents and commentators experienced the 2016 presidential election in unique and interesting ways. This recollection and others were produced in conjunction with CNN’s election project, “A Race Like No Other: The Unprecedented Election of 2016.”
Gaslighting — malicious actions taken to make others question reality — is a term that firmly entered the public consciousness during the 2016 election. And on the morning of March 25, I was gaslit on live television for all to see.
In one surreal moment, a supporter of Donald Trump’s campaign confronted me on CNN with a National Enquirer story about sexual affairs. There wasn’t a shred of evidence connecting me to the story, but the Trump supporter used the national platform to ask me to “denounce or confirm” an affair I never had.
When this happened, I watched my entire career — as a Capitol Hill reporter, an author, a high-profile Senate aide and a CNN contributor — flash before my eyes. I knew full well how a story like this, though untrue, could damage a woman.
In the moment, I immediately declared the allegations to be “categorically false.” But now, with new light on the story, credible news organizations paid attention to what was previously considered tabloid smut. Two presidential campaigns made statements about the matter later that day.
I was at risk of being professionally destroyed. The online harassment was brutal. A friend who does online analytics told me there were more than 46,000, mostly negative tweets directed at me in 72 hours.
People photo-shopped images of my two children and me in hurtful ways and impersonated my husband with fake social media accounts. I swung between wanting to bury my head into a pillow and sob and personally confronting every troll attacking my family.
I was trapped inside an alternate reality. But unlike some victims of gaslighting, who may actually question their sanity, I was surrounded by friends, family and colleagues who helped me stand firm in my truth.
What was happening to me online was not what was happening in my real life where I had an incredible job, superb colleagues, and a husband and kids who overwhelm me with love every day. I was living the dream, not the nightmare. The smear I faced was not my reality.
Looking back, I can see how people struggled to separate fact from fiction this election cycle. The lies told by candidates and surrogates were so brazen, at times they pushed the bounds of sanity. I was gaslit along with the rest of America.
To me, the collective gaslighting of America will always be the defining phenomenon of the 2016 election.