Trump's latest bogus conspiracy theory : Did Joe Scarborough murder his aide?

The president is resorting to long-debunked rumors that have no basis in reality

Published November 29, 2017 12:45PM (EST)

Joe Scarborough                (NBC/Today)
Joe Scarborough (NBC/Today)

It has been a banner day for President Donald Trump on Twitter. Legendary even.

Along with tweeting out multiple videos of purported Muslim atrocities (sourced from an Islamophobic conspiracy Twitter feed, of course), claiming he is solely responsible for the noted rises in the consumer confidence index and the GDP and hailing the firing of NBC's Matt Lauer, he dug into a thin-as-paper theory that Joe Scarborough, the host of MSNBC's "Morning Joe," bedded and murdered a woman in 2001.

And now this should be debunked.

Trump began — at around 7:16 AM — to veer into conspiratorial territory when he started complaining about MSNBC and NBC News chairman Andy Lack in the wake of Lauer's dismissal. "Wow," the commander in chief wrote, "Matt Lauer was just fired from NBC for “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.” But when will the top executives at NBC & Comcast be fired for putting out so much Fake News. Check out Andy Lack’s past!"

Taking a break for two hours, the president returned to the general subject without coming back to Luck's supposedly shady past. "So now that Matt Lauer is gone," he tweeted, "when will the Fake News practitioners at NBC be terminating the contract of Phil Griffin?" Griffin is the president of MSNBC, and there is no clear reason for why he should be fired. Generally speaking, the channel's ratings are up, though, yes, they still lag behind that of the president's favored outlet, Fox News.

That's when things got particularly dicey. The president wrote, "And will they terminate low ratings Joe Scarborough based on the “unsolved mystery” that took place in Florida years ago? Investigate!"  

This is — well, this is a lot. Trump was referring to a longstanding, long-debunked theory that while a Republican congressman for Florida's 1st District in 2001, Scarborough had an improper relationship with aide Lori Klausutis and, perhaps to cover it up, murdered her. Subsequently, the theory went, local authorities helped to conceal Scarborough's crime.

Insofar as anyone, including the Fort Walton Beach medical examiner can tell, Klausutis, 28, "lost consciousness because of an abnormal heart rhythm and fell, hitting her head on a desk," at the congressman's local district office. "The head injury caused the death," the medical examiner said.

As the St. Petersburg Times reported shortly after Klausutis' death, she had suffered from a series of pre-existing conditions. "Relatives said she had been taking medication for acne and that she suffered a head injury in a traffic accident when she was a teenager that left her in a coma," the paper wrote. "When she recovered, she had signs of short-term memory loss."

Those in the dark concerns of the media that trafficked in conspiracy theories grabbed this personal tragedy and spun it into internet gold, creating and broadcasting a narrative that eventually made its way to more mainstream outlets, including the Daily Kos (site founder Markos Moulitsas was a particularly outspoken proponent). At one point, documentarian Michael Moore registered the domain name

Much of the theorizing was hinged on legitimate questions about medical examiner Dr. Michael Berkland's very checkered history. As well, the fact that Scarborough retired from politics soon after Klausutis' death collected suspicion. Still, to this date there is no hard (or even soft) evidence that the congressman and his aide were sexually involved in any way or that her death is anything other than what was reported. There are long tracts question how a young healthy person could have died in this way and so on, but this is — at its core — a rootless conspiracy theory.

That Trump — who is, remember, the sitting president of the United States — picked it up and played with it says a lot. Remember, this is the same president who — perhaps feeling betrayed by a former sycophant's transformation into a critic — claimed that Scarborough and his partner Mika Brzezinski were at his Mar-a-lago resort over the New Year and that she was “bleeding badly from a face-lift” at the time. She was not.

More or less, even talking about that or this Scarborough conspiracy theory is to wade into a pile of garbage, to carefully parse vomit regurgitated by people for whom facts simply don't matter. Honestly, that this or any other outlet has to re-litigate this long busted narrative is beneath not only those media sources, but the public that reads them.

But this is where we are thanks to a man, and a political party, for whom dangerous counterfactual truths can be willed into being and prominence so long as they come in all caps with exclamation points. Just look at Twitter in general or the personal page of Scarborough's brother George. People are buying it.


By Gabriel Bell

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