Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Republican known for her right-wing views, gave a Saturday speech in which she expressed vehement opposition to government involvement in Americans’ lives.
“We’re here to tell government: we don’t want your benefits, we don’t want your welfare, don’t come knockin’ on my door with your Fauci ouchie,” Boebert said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, using the phrase “Fauci ouchie” to refer to the Covid-19 vaccine. “You leave us the hell alone.”
Some left-leaning pundits quickly accused Boebert of hypocrisy – in part because, they claimed, the restaurant she owns received government aid from the Paycheck Protection Program, a pandemic-era federal loan program intended to help small businesses pay their employees and stay afloat.
“Lauren Boebert’s restaurant received a $233,305 PPP check and she receives a $174,000 taxpayer-funded salary,” read a tweet from a Twitter account for “No Lie with Brian Tyler Cohen,” a progressive podcast. (The account’s motto: “No bad faith talking points, no disinformation & no lies.”)
Cohen has a significant following – his YouTube account has more than 1.2 million subscribers – and the tweet from his podcast account was retweeted more than 18,000 times. Many other left-leaning Twitter accounts then repeated the claim about Boebert’s restaurant accepting PPP funds.
But the claim is false.
Facts First: Boebert’s Colorado restaurant, Shooters Grill, did not receive PPP money, federal records show. An unrelated Ohio restaurant company with a similar name, Shooters Sports Grill LLC, was the entity that got a $233,305 PPP loan, according to a database run by the news nonprofit ProPublica. After CNN contacted Brian Tyler Cohen to ask about the claim that Boebert’s restaurant got PPP money, he deleted the tweet and acknowledged that the claim was inaccurate.
Boebert spokesman Ben Stout told CNN that the congresswoman has no connection to the Shooters Sports Grill restaurants in Ohio. The people who answered the phone Sunday at two of the Shooters Sports Grill locations in Ohio also said their establishments are not connected to Boebert. And the Ohio company’s website, various official records, and local news articles show no relationship to the congresswoman.
Cohen said the false claim about Boebert’s restaurant taking PPP money was made by “my employee,” whom he said got Boebert’s restaurant “confused” with the Ohio restaurant company. Cohen said he does not run his podcast’s Twitter account, only his own personal account, and was “embarrassed” at the error.
“I really regret this happening and try to be very, very careful with this kind of stuff,” Cohen said in a message to CNN.
After CNN’s private exchange with Cohen, his podcast account publicly tweeted: “My job is to stop misinformation, not spread it; no excuse for getting this wrong. I apologize to the congresswoman and you all.”
False claim persists
Boebert tweeted on Sunday morning to say that she “DID NOT take any PPP loans” and to complain that “Twitter’s fact checkers” were allowing the false claim to “trend” on the social media service “as though it’s factual.”
CNN debunked the claim on Sunday afternoon, as some others on Twitter had in the morning. As is often the case, however, tweets that echoed the initial false claim remained online even after the claim was disproven and the initial tweet was deleted.
The false claim was repeated on Twitter by – among others – Richard Ojeda, a former West Virginia state senator and unsuccessful candidate for the House, Senate and presidency (his tweet was retweeted more than 4,000 times); singer-songwriter and political tweeter Ricky Davila, who has more than 359,000 followers (his tweet, which also mentioned others who did get PPP loans, was retweeted more than 2,800 times); and the Twitter account for the progressive political action committee Really American, which has more than 326,000 followers (its tweet received more than 4,300 retweets).
The false claim about Boebert also made its way to Facebook, where it was shared by – among others – a “People for Bernie Sanders” account with more than 1.5 million followers.
Davila deleted his tweet on Sunday night after CNN messaged him to say the part about Boebert was false. He said, “I don’t want to put disinformation out there.” Really American also deleted its tweet after a message from CNN, and it retweeted our debunking.
After CNN messaged Ojeda, he posted a second tweet in which he continued to criticize Boebert but acknowledged “it looks like” she did not receive PPP funds.