A version of this article first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
President Trump's appalling tweets have real world consequences.
Take his reckless posts about MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. For the past few weeks, Trump has been insinuating that Scarborough was responsible for the 2001 death of Lori Klausutis, who worked in his Florida office when he was a GOP congressman.
This conspiracy theory, ironically, fueled left-wing attacks against Scarborough in 2001. It was debunked back then, but it's been revived now, by right-wing attackers, because Scarborough and his show "Morning Joe" are vociferous critics of Trump. Trump claimed on Sunday that there's "a lot of interest in this story about Psycho Joe."
This is beyond the pale, and every honest broker in politics and media knows it. As Mediaite's Josh Feldman noted here, Trump is being "roundly trashed" for pushing the conspiracy. If you're unsure about the facts, read the old fact checks from the AP and other news outlets.
The president is promoting a repugnant conspiracy theory and ignoring the actual facts of the case because he wants to drag Scarborough's name through the mud. His smears are also hurting the Klausutis family. Family members declined my interview requests in recent days... and this story in The Washington Post articulates the reasons why: "No one in Klausutis's family would talk about Trump's tweets for this article, fearing retaliation by online trolls of the type who went after parents of the Sandy Hook massacre victims... 'There's a lot we would love to say, but we can't,' said Colin Kelly, who was Klausutis's brother-in-law."
Three tweets from the right
-- Fox's Brit Hume reacting to one of Trump's shameful posts: "30K retweets for this discredited tale, based on a three-year old post from some wing-ding website. This is why even his critics should want DJT to play a lot of golf, because when he does, he's not tweeting crap like this."
-- NRO's Jay Nordlinger: "What Trump is engaged in here is sick beyond belief. All people of good will -- and even some with less than good will -- should reckon with it."
-- David Frum: "Yesterday, the president accused a prominent citizen of murder. Surely the attorney general wants to get right on this important news? The US Attorneys? The crack investigative crew at Fox News? Judge Jeanine? Or do they all tacitly agree: Trump's words are just empty craziness?"
"Attempts to intimidate..."
This is what an MSNBC spokesman said earlier in the month when Trump started this insane crusade: "Attempts to intimidate and bully the free press, including through the bizarre peddling of fringe conspiracy theories, will not prevent Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski or any of MSNBC's journalists or analysts from holding power to account. We'll continue to accurately and thoroughly report on the White House's handling of the Coronavirus pandemic."
Over to you, Twitter...
Donie O'Sullivan writes: Last summer Twitter rolled out new rules for world leaders who tweet on its platform -- chief among them, of course, Trump. Twitter said that those users would be able to tweet things that are in violation of Twitter's normal rules but that Twitter would label those tweets -- explaining that, although they were against the rules, they'd be left on the platform as they were newsworthy and should be used to hold those leaders to account. It was not an all together bad idea. But a month after Twitter made that announcement, Trump sent racist tweets about "The Squad." Based on the site's own rules, those tweets should have been labeled as being in violation of its policies. But they were not, as we reported at the time.
In fact, Twitter has not labeled any of Trump's tweets. Then came this weekend... And all the lies about Joe Scarborough. Why might Twitter be slow to act and enforce its own rules? Well, all you need to do is read this WSJ story from the weekend.
I inquired about the accusatory tweets, and Twitter declined to comment: "We have nothing to share at this time," a spokeswoman said...
Donie O'Sullivan adds: Last year Sen. Kamala Harris called on Twitter to shut down Trump's account, raising the Q, do we really want to live in a world where a private company can just kick off heads of state as it sees fit? (Trump would find a new platform anyway.)
In that sense, I don't think the people who join the chorus of calling for social media companies to muzzle Trump have really thought through what they are suggesting and the precedent they are suggesting be set. BUT... Twitter has laid out its rules clearly here -- it did a whole PR push on how it was going to label tweets from world leaders that broke its rules. In that sense, it very much needs to be held to account...
>> Here's the Q that deserves an answer, posted by Gabriel Sherman: "Doesn't baselessly accusing someone of murder violate Twitter terms of service??"
Oliver Darcy writes: As Trump continues in his attempts to smear Scarborough with this conspiracy theory, it's worth doing this thought experiment: Imagine how the President's allies would behave if the tables were turned and Scarborough were using his powerful platform to suggest Trump committed murder. They'd be (rightfully) outraged and calling for his firing. So why the silence from them now? Why are the standards higher for a cable news host than the President of the United States?