The true victim of one of President Trump’s most heinous slanders has sent a heartbreaking letter to Jack Dorsey, the co-founder and chief executive of Twitter, appealing to Dorsey to take down tweets in which the president spread a false insinuation about the tragic death of a young woman nearly two decades ago.
I won’t repeat the president’s actual lying words here or go into the toxic specifics of what he claims. You can look them up if you are interested. But what Trump wants his 80.2 million Twitter followers to believe is that Joe Scarborough, an MSNBC host who has been critical of him, murdered Lori Kaye Klausutis, who worked for Scarborough as a district office aide back when he was a conservative Republican congressman from Florida. (Scarborough is also an op-ed contributor to The Post.)
A person who by all accounts was brimming with promise and goodness, Klausutis died in 2001, two weeks before her 29th birthday. While working late at Scarborough’s office in the panhandle town of Fort Walton Beach, she fainted and hit her head on a desk. Her body was found the next morning. There were no signs of foul play. She had told friends she wasn’t feeling well. The medical examiner concluded that she had passed out as the result of a heart condition. Scarborough, who said he had met her only a few times, was 900 miles away in Washington at the time.
To Trump, suggesting that Scarborough had something to do with her death is just another way of stoking his political base, which feasts on his lies. But the real pain has fallen on the late woman’s family, and especially her widower, Timothy J. Klausutis. His grief over her death nearly killed him, expressing itself in uncontrollable eating that sent his weight up to nearly 400 pounds. He regained his health and lost more than half his body mass, but he never remarried and still lives in the house he and Lori shared.
Last week, Timothy Klausutis wrote a letter begging Dorsey to delete the tweets by Trump that have revived the old lies and brought them to the fore in a heated election year. His plea, reported Monday morning by Kara Swisher in the New York Times, spoke to the collateral damage that is rippling through a family still in mourning: “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. I would also ask that you consider Lori’s niece and two nephews who will eventually come across this filth in the future. They have never met their Aunt and it pains me to think they would ever have to ‘learn’ about her this way. My wife deserves better.”
In fact, we all deserve better. As anyone who is familiar with Twitter knows, it is a private company that regularly blocks or bans users for abuses far less offensive than the ones Trump commits on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. There is a case to be made to give more leeway to political speech, even when it is expressed in irresponsible ways. Twitter policy, as noted in a blog post in October, is that where world leaders are concerned, “we will err on the side of leaving the content up if there is a clear public interest in doing so.”
Perhaps you could argue that there is a “public interest” in knowing that a deranged man sits in the Oval Office. But Trump has provided plenty of evidence of that already. Whatever the demons that drive him, they have gained even more control of his mind and his itchy fingers amid the coronavirus pandemic that has thrown the country he leads into the greatest crisis in memory.
As the death toll neared 100,000, the president spent part of Memorial Day weekend, one of the most sacred spots on the secular calendar, retweeting eight posts from a supporter known for racist and sexist comments. I won’t repeat those here, either.
Twitter took a welcome and overdue step late Tuesday. After Trump tweeted false claims that mail-in voting would lead to widespread fraud — one of his favorite themes lately — the social media platform slapped two of his posts with labels diverting its users to links where they could read the truth.
That’s a start, but it is not enough. Trump is going to get even worse between now and the November election. We have not seen the bottom, because there is no bottom. Twitter should also remove those tweets that soil the memory of Lori Klausutis — and show that its supposed standards actually mean something.
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