Oh, Yeah. This Is Normal.

Ken AshfordEbola/Zika/COVID-19 Viruses, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

I really don’t know what you do about a president like this. And it has become so normalized (at least for Trump) that this barely makes news.


Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham, a top Trump ally, and two House Republicans from Michigan called for the never-penitent president to say he’s sorry. “If he said that I think he should apologize,” Graham told reporters Thursday morning. He said he hadn’t seen the remarks, but “that would be a bad thing to say.” “John Dingell is a fine, fine man,” Graham said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also said “what the president misunderstands is that cruelty is not wit.”

“Just because he gets a laugh for saying the cruel things that he says doesn’t mean he’s funny,” Pelosi said. “It’s not funny at all. It’s very sad.”


The widower of a woman whose 2001 death has become fodder for baseless conspiracy theories spread by President Donald Trump is appealing directly to the head of Twitter to take down the president‘s tweets.

“I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong him — the memory of my dead wife — and perverted it for perceived political gain,” Timothy J. Klausutis wrote in a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, which was dated last week but gained attention Tuesday when the New York Times’ Kara Swisher published it in an op-ed.

Klausutis’ late wife, Lori, died at age 28 from a fall precipitated by an undiagnosed heart condition, as confirmed by the medical examiner and police. Nineteen years later, her death is making headlines because of her employer at the time: then-Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.). She was working in a Florida office, while Scarborough was in Washington at the time of her death.

But now Scarborough is an outspoken — and, thanks to his MSNBC talk show “Morning Joe,” prominent — critic of Trump. So fringe conspiracy theories that have circulated in the past began to bubble up again, intimating he might have murdered Lori Klausutis. The president and his family were quick to pick up on the thread in multiple tweets this month.

In his letter, Klausutis suggested to Dorsey that “Twitter’s policies about content are designed to maintain the appearance that your hands are clean.” Per his reading of Twitter’s terms of service, he said, other users would be banned for tweets like Trump’s.

Klausutis also wrote of the enduring pain his wife’s loved ones feel over her early death, and how the conspiracy theories have made it harder for them to move on.

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

Twitter last year said it would begin marking politicians’ rule-breaking tweets with warnings, but the company has been reluctant to remove them out of free speech and censorship concerns. An October blog post laid out company executives’ thinking, positing that leaving world leaders’ tweets up may serve the public interest even if they violate policies.

Speaking of a freaky-deaky country, here’s the cult:

UPDATE: NY Times editorial:

This episode is not unlike other infamous stories floating around social media, like the inhumane speculation about the death of a Democratic National Committee staffer, Seth Rich, or the ocean of nasty misinformation about the murders of the children of Sandy Hook Elementary that got Alex Jones deservedly thrown off several platforms.

But this mess is perhaps the high tide of that endless spew of toxic bile because it is being relentlessly amped up by the leader of the free world.

Tweeting misinformation is not new for Mr. Trump, who uses the service as his political cudgel to govern, campaign, wage petty digital wars and, more recently, peddle dangerous medical advice about Covid-19. All of this Twitter has allowed, because it has deemed even the most inane of the president’s utterances as “newsworthy.”

At least Mr. Trump is consistent in his lowering of the bar. As the number of Americans who have died from the coronavirus approached 100,000, the president declined to address the virus’s tragic toll and chose instead to keep up the series of tweets about Ms. Klausutis, all aimed at attacking Mr. Scarborough, who is now a high-profile MSNBC host.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Scarborough have been engaged in a very public brawl for a long time, but it turned heinous when the president decided to tweet the much-debunked and vile conspiracy theory about Ms. Klausutis’s death. In reality, she had an “undiagnosed heart condition, fell and hit her head on her desk at work,” wrote her husband in the letter to Twitter, but Mr. Trump ignored those facts.

When Mr. Scarborough’s co-host and wife, Mika Brzezinski, addressed the issue on the air and on Twitter, calling for the platform to ban Mr. Trump from the service, all hell broke loose. Some claimed First Amendment rights for the president (even though Twitter is a private company and not a public square), while others correctly pointed out that Twitter often blocks or bans users for much lesser offenses. Others who simply abhor Mr. Trump or Mr. Scarborough and Ms. Brzezinski used the situation to bash their preferred bugbear.

But, hate them or not, the Trump-Scarborough duo matters less here: They are both famous and have to suffer the slings and arrows of that trade, even if Mr. Trump is falsely accusing Mr. Scarborough of an affair and murder.

The real issue is the very serious collateral damage of this fight, which is the post-mortem libel of Ms. Klausutis and the ensuing suffering of her husband and family. They are the victims, of Mr. Trump and of Twitter’s inability to manage its troubled relationship with him.

The company tends to be hands-off when a Trump controversy erupts, relying on a tenet that he is a public figure and also that it cannot sort out what is truth and a lie and is therefore better off letting its community argue it out. While that might work when it comes to some issues, it has broken down here.

How to fix it is the digital equivalent of a Gordian knot, except there is no cybersword of Alexander the Great to slice it in half. Banning Mr. Trump outright, the most extreme move, seems to be a nonstarter, given Mr. Dorsey’s belief that less is more when it comes to governing. While it worked when Mr. Jones was tossed off, a move that Mr. Dorsey came to last among the social media giants, doing the same to Mr. Trump would be quite different.

While I had thought throwing Mr. Trump off Twitter was not the worst idea — after all, what would the president do without his raging addiction to Twitter? — I have come to believe that a Trump ban would be pointless and too drastic. The firestorm it would set off would alone be disastrous for Twitter to manage and probably come with deep financial repercussions. If you think that is not a good enough reason, I invite you to visit the reality of living as a public company in the digital age.

Another solution being discussed inside Twitter is to label the tweets as false and link to myriad high-quality information and reporting that refute the tweets’ sinister insinuations. Sources told me that after initial hesitance in dealing with Mr. Trump’s tweets about Ms. Klausutis, the company has accelerated work on a more robust rubric around labeling and dealing with such falsehoods.

Again, top company executives hope that this placement of truth against lies will serve to cleanse the stain. I think this is both naïve and will be ineffective — most people’s experience tracks with that old axiom: A lie can travel halfway around the world while truth is still getting its shoes on.

In the digital age, that would be to the moon and back 347 times, of course, which is why I am supportive of the suggestion Mr. Klausutis makes in his letter to simply remove the offending tweets.

While the always thoughtful Mr. Dorsey has said previously that he has to hew to Twitter’s principles and rules, and that the company cannot spend all of its time reacting, its approach up until now results only in Twitter’s governance getting gamed by players like Mr. Trump, in ways that are both shameless and totally expected.

So why not be unexpected with those who continue to abuse the system? Taking really valuable one-off actions can be laudable since they make an example of someone’s horrid behavior as a warning to others. While it is impossible to stop the endless distribution of a screenshot of the tweets, taking the original ones down would send a strong message that this behavior is not tolerated.

Or, if he must, Mr. Dorsey could set up an independent content board as Facebook has recently done, which could take on thorny questions like this and remove them from his purview. This might seem like a cop-out, but putting these questions up for a more measured debate might be the exit that the company needs to focus on the rest of its business.

Perhaps such a board could include Mr. Klausutis, who might know more than most people about the price of all this.

“I have mourned my wife every day since her passing. I have tried to honor her memory and our marriage,” he wrote to Mr. Dorsey, with the kind of enduring dignity that would be nice to see more of from our leaders. “There has been a constant barrage of falsehoods, half-truths, innuendo and conspiracy theories since the day she died. I realize that may sound like an exaggeration, unfortunately it is the verifiable truth. Because of this, I have struggled to move forward with my life.”

It’s long past time to let him do that and, most of all, to let Lori Klausutis rest in peace.

And even more stupid….partying in the Ozarks:

In response, St Louis County health officials asked all the swimmers to quarantine for two weeks (they won’t) and issued a travel advisory:

Update — Twitter schools Trump, but not about the Scarborough tweets.

Twitter on Tuesday slapped a fact-check label on President Trump’s tweets for the first time, a response to long-standing criticism that the company is too hands-off when it comes to policing misinformation and falsehoods from world leaders.

The move, which escalates tensions between Washington and Silicon Valley in an election year, was made in response to two Trump tweets over the past 24 hours. The tweets falsely claimed that mail-in ballots are fraudulent. Twitter’s label says, “Get the facts about mail-in ballots,” and redirects users to news articles about Trump’s unsubstantiated claim.