WASHINGTON -- A fictional comment about the Holocaust, attributed to U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton and purportedly printed in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, never appeared in the newspaper's pages. Instead, it originated in a fictional article on the website of former U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.
The dispatch, which falsely claims to come from The Associated Press, was not initially labeled as parody or satire. Franken is a former "Saturday Night Live" writer and performer.
"Sen. Tom Cotton did not speak to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about the Holocaust. Reports that he was quoted in the newspaper speaking about the Holocaust are fabricated," Managing Editor Eliza Gaines said in a written statement Wednesday.
AP Director of Media Relations Lauren Easton also disavowed the article.
"This is not an AP story and should not have been labeled as one," she said in an email.
Cotton, a Little Rock Republican, was sharply criticized this week after telling the Democrat-Gazette that slavery was a "necessary evil" in the eyes of the Founding Fathers.
Without it, he has said, the Constitution would not have been ratified, and the 13 states would never have united.
Cotton later said he had not endorsed the Founders' view. Without the Union, however, no one would've been able to stop the fascists and the communists in the 20th century, he posited.
On Tuesday, a fictional story, titled "Tom Cotton -- The Holocaust 'A Necessary Evil'" -- was posted on Franken's website and began spreading via social media.
It claimed that Cotton was "embroiled in yet another controversy after telling The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that 'the Holocaust was also a necessary evil.'" It included quotes from a fictional television interview, with Cotton telling Fox News that "the editors of the newspaper had 'taken my words out of context.'"
Without the Holocaust, the state of Israel wouldn't have been formed, a necessary step before Jesus can return "in the clouds of glory," the story stated, attributing the view to the Arkansas politician.
When posted on some social media sites, the article was mistaken for an actual news report. On Twitter, people have expressed outrage after reading Franken's creation.
In a written statement, Cotton said: "The Holocaust is not a fitting subject for jokes. It's disappointing Al Franken thinks it is."
Reached Wednesday evening, Franken confirmed that the report was fictional.
He subsequently updated the post, attaching an asterisk at the top and a disclaimer at the bottom.
"The piece was meant to be satirical," he told the Democrat-Gazette in a written statement.
"Because Sen. Cotton's remarks about slavery were so racist, people thought that he actually said that the Holocaust was a necessary evil. Let me be clear he has not said that. At least not that I know of," the former lawmaker said.
Franken and Cotton, while on opposite ends of the political spectrum, are both Harvard graduates and their time in office overlapped.
The Democrat is Jewish and served from July 2009 until January 2018; the Republican is a Methodist, first elected to the Senate in 2014.
Cotton regularly appears on right-wing radio and television news outlets. Franken is the author of a best-seller, "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations."
Franken, a Minnesotan, left the U.S. Senate while facing claims of sexual misconduct, bowing to pressure from members of his own party before the Senate Ethics Committee could determine the facts.
Seven current and former U.S. senators later said they had been wrong to demand his resignation, the New Yorker later reported.
Information for this article was provided by Maggie McNeary of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.