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Trump and Twitter: once again doing devil’s work with Scarborough smear | COMMENTARY

Joe Scarborough and President Trump
Joe Scarborough and President Trump (AP)

With the death toll from COVID-19 climbing toward 100,000 and the economy sinking to Depression-era levels, you might think the president of the United States would have better things to do than troll the host of a morning cable TV show with unfounded, potentially libelous, conspiracy theory allegations of murder.

But not this president. Donald J. Trump has shown an ignorance, arrogance, recklessness and lack of decency without parallel in the history of the White House. And Mr. Trump only gets nastier and more destructive to our democracy week by week as his ineptitude in the face of the greatest challenge to the nation since World War II becomes more apparent.

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Mr. Trump’s latest deep dive into the muck of social media libel and slander involves tweets about the death in 2001 of a congressional aide, 28-year-old Lori Klausutis, in the Florida office of Joe Scarborough, then a Republican member of the House of Representatives from Florida. She died when she hit her head during a fall caused by an undiagnosed heart condition, according to police and the medical examiner’s report. The fall took place in Florida at a time when Mr. Scarborough was in Washington.

Despite those facts, Mr. Trump has taken to pushing a conspiracy theory that Mr. Scarborough, now the co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” with his wife, Mika Brzezinski, was involved in the death of Ms. Klausutis. The president was at it again Tuesday, stirring the pot by calling Mr. Scarborough a “Psycho,” while falsely labeling Ms. Klausutis’ death a “cold case."

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“In 2016 when Joe & his wacky future ex-wife, Mika, would endlessly interview me," Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter, "I would always be thinking ... about whether or not Joe could have done such a horrible thing?”

That’s the sleazy way you smear someone in social media. And Twitter is to smears what the Petri dish is to bacteria and fungi: That’s where our president lives.

No matter how disgusting the nature of the smear, I probably would not be writing about this today if it were just Mr. Trump attacking Mr. Scarborough, who has become one of the president’s harshest critics on cable TV. Getting libeled and slandered is, sadly, the price you pay for working in media today, when almost anything goes.

I am writing about Mr. Trump’s tweets because of a letter that Timothy J. Klausutis, husband of the woman who died in Mr. Scarborough’s office, wrote to Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter. The letter was published in The New York Times Tuesday in a column by Kara Swisher.

“I’m asking you to intervene in this instance, because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him ― the memory of my dead wife ― and perverted it for perceived political gain," Mr. Klausutis wrote.

“I have mourned my wife every day since her passing,” he continued. “I have tried to honor her memory and our marriage. As her husband, I feel that one of my marital obligations is to protect her memory as I would have protected her in life."

What decent person would not be moved by such words?

“The President’s tweet that suggests that Lori was murdered ― without evidence (and contrary to the official autopsy) ― is a violation of Twitter’s community standards,” Mr. Klausutis added. “An ordinary user like me would be banished from the platform for such a tweet, but I am asking only that these tweets be removed.”

Twitter replied with a statement saying: “We are deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family." But they did not remove them.

Mr. Trump’s response to Mr. Klausutis’ pain was to cause more of it on Twitter Wednesday with yet another tweet about “Psycho Joe Scarborough and the alleged “cold case.”

But it appears that Mr. Klausutis’ words and coverage of them might have had some effect on the Trump-Twitter relationship after a day of fierce criticism directed at the social media platform.

Late Tuesday, Twitter branded two of Mr. Trump’s tweets about mail-in ballots “potentially misleading” with a fact-check label. It is the first time the platform has done so. The tweets were false claims by the president that mail-in ballots are “substantially fraudulent.” Twitter’s label says, “Get the facts about mail-in ballots,” and directs users to articles by such outlets as CNN and The Washington Post, which provide facts about mail-in voting that challenge Mr. Trump’s false claim.

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That’s not nearly as strong and righteous as removing the tweets about Lori Klausutis or mail-in voting, but it might be a start.

Or, maybe it’s just a sop by Twitter’s Mr. Dorsey to try to quiet the outcry against his platform’s disgusting relationship with Mr. Trump.

David Zurawik is The Sun’s media critic. Email: david.zurawik@baltsun.com; Twitter: @davidzurawik.

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