A few misinterpreted tweets about actor Tom Selleck spiraled into a political, economic and philosophical debate last month — and where else but on Twitter.com. Selleck was trending on Monday, Sept. 6 for no particularly timely reason, and by Tuesday afternoon the conversation had strayed into a partisan name-calling match. Here's how the strange scandal played out.
The Selleck trend of early September seems to ahve started with a tweet by a C.S. Lewis fan account, which posted a quote from Selleck about his Christian faith that morning. In it, Selleck said that he owed all of his success to Jesus Christ, and that his religion still anchors him to this day. As comments piled up, some users cracked jokes about the roles Selleck has played that would not be suitable for church. Things got really controversial when they began discussing his advertisements for reverse mortgages, which are widely considered predatory.
WWJD? Certainly NOT scam elderly folks out of their mortgage money.— Meerkats R Furious (@MeerkatsRMammal) September 6, 2021
Selleck was trending on Twitter within a couple of hours, and many people of all religious, social and political inclinations were condemning his ads for reverse mortgages. Somehow, the two topics became inextricably linked, in an increasingly familiar Twitter phenomenon not unlike the old children's game "Telephone." A report by Business Insider was shared widely, explaining how reverse mortgages are rarely favorable and how they are often pitched to the elderly in a predatory manner.
As the day went on, it may have been hard to interpret how the backlash against Selleck began, but some high-profile conservative pundits were quick to read it as a political attack. Author Ann Coulter confused the matter by re-posting the Belief Net link and writing: "THIS is why liberals are hating on Tom Selleck today." To be clear, the outrage against reverse mortgages was not a partisan issue, nor was it an attack on Christianity itself.
I don’t think Jesus would be cool with him ripping off old people with the reverse mortgage scheme— Chris Brown (@ChrisJBrown64) September 6, 2021
Still, many of Coulter's followers took her word for it, and some harsh conversations began to pile up in the replies. Coulter's over-simplification may have gained traction in part because Selleck is an outspoken conservative in his personal life. Selleck was a member of the board of directors for the National Rifle Association (NRA) for many years, as well as a public spokesman for the organization. He also publicly endorsed Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, touting McCain's "libertarian leanings" in the National Review.
Still, the politicization of Selleck, Christianity and reverse mortgages in that 48-hour period was a frustrating case of miscommunication at every turn. It had some users questioning the value of collective conversations on a platform like Twitter altogether.