A federal pardon for Joe Exotic?
At a White House press conference Wednesday, a reporter asked President Donald Trump a pop culture-infused question: What are his thoughts on pardoning the "Tiger King" star?
Exotic, real name Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, is the subject of the popular docu-series that garnered more than 34 million viewers within the first 10 days of its March 20 release, according to Nielsen. In 2018, he was convicted of attempted murder for hire and a slew of wildlife violations including killing five tigers. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
The question about a potential pardon came courtesy of New York Post reporter Steven Nelson.
.@stevennelson10 asks President Trump about#TigerKing: "I was wondering if you've seen the show and have any thoughts..."
President Trump: "Would you recommend a pardon?"
Jim@Acosta: "I'm not weighing in on Tiger King."
Full video here:https://t.co/z42TJyteNIpic.twitter.com/oq2otCp97X
"One of the biggest rating hits of the coronavirus, aside from these briefings, has been a show on Netflix called 'Tiger King,'" he said. "The man who's the star of this is a former zoo owner who is serving a 22-year prison sentence. He's asking you for a pardon, saying he was unfairly convicted."
Nelson also brought up that Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., "jokingly said he was going to advocate" for the pardon.
"I was wondering if you've seen the show and if you have any thoughts on pardoning Joe Exotic," Nelson continued.
Yes, a 'Tiger King' personality shared the stage with Britney Spears at the 2001 VMAs
The president cracked a smile.
"Which son? Must be Don," Trump said. "I had a feeling it was Don. Is that what he said? I don't know. I know nothing about it. He has 22 years for what? What did he do?"
Nelson then explained the premise of the series, including the charges against Exotic.
"Do you think he did do it? Are you on his side? Are you recommending a pardon?" Trump replied. "As a reporter you're not allowed to do that. You'd be criticized."
'Tiger King': Joe Exotic's journey from big cats to the Big House after murder for hire
The president then turned to an off-screen reporter, identified by CSPAN as CNN's Jim Acosta.
"Would you recommend a pardon?" Trump asked.
"I'm not weighing in on 'Tiger King,'" Acosta replied.
"I don't think you would," said Trump. "I'll take a look."
The question drew mixed reactions on Twitter, with some people appreciating the lighthearted query and others taking issue with it, given the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic.
Comedian Terrence Williams wrote that he found the question, "SO FUNNY."
"You know what, I say pardon Joe Exotic," Williams said in a video along with his tweet. "Free Joe Exotic!"
User @RbrtLP wrote it's "kinda nice not to have doom and gloom all the time," while user @BobQuarantine wrote that Nelson "needs a raise."
"That was fantastic," wrote user @MikeDeWyze. "Very grateful for that guy!
User @KristaLynn_doll wrote the question "was a needed moment of hilarity in the darkest of days."
Others weren't as amused.
"Is someone asking Trump about Tiger King during a White House briefing during a national emergency?" wrote "The Death of Expertise" author Tom Nichols. "Who the hell just asked that?"
User @kingsrush called Nelson a "moron."
"This is a (expletive) clown show!!!" he added.
User @LoriAndJava wrote Nelson "should be fired, shunned, banned for life."
"Does he not realize thousands of people are dying," wrote user @SocalledLizzie. "This Steven guy is cancelled."
Dr. Eugene Gu, who became one of seven Twitter users to win a landmark First Amendment lawsuit against the president, forcing him to unblock them on Twitter in 2018, also weighed in.
"The media is so addicted to sensationalism that a journalist at the Coronavirus Press Conference literally asked Trump whether he will listen to Donald Trump Jr.’s suggestion to pardon Tiger King Joe Exotic for hiring a hit man," Gu wrote on Twitter. "We have a broken government and a broken media."
Hours after his controversial question, Nelson took to Twitter to provide more context.
"I asked President Trump about a pardon request from the star of Netflix's top rated show after his son weighed in," he wrote, along with a link to his most recent article from the conference. "But I also asked about WHO coronavirus funding and this emerging bipartisan detail that may land in recovery infrastructure bill."
The seven-episode series "Tiger King" (now streaming) explores the life of Exotic (born Joseph Schreibvogel), a man with an affinity for big cats, blonde mullets, guns and explosives.
"Tiger King" examines Exotic's life at Oklahoma's Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (referred to as the G.W. Zoo) and his hatred for Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue sanctuary in Tampa, Florida. Exotic deemed Baskin a threat to his livelihood through her advocacy of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which aims to abolish ownership of big cats as pets and the practice of cub petting.
Contributing: Erin Jensen, USA TODAY; Brett Kelman, The Tennessean