Twitter has (correctly) declined demands from various people to delete the tweets of President Donald Trump pushing the conspiracy theory that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough murdered a young intern, Lori Klausutis. I have repeatedly denounced the use of this tragedy as reprehensible given what the family has gone through. I have received many emails from people who defend Trump’s tweets and advance this claim. I am not convinced for all of the reasons that I have stated previously. I view this conspiracy theory as analogous to the one involving with Rep. Gary Condit and the death of intern Chandra Levy. In that case, Condit actually had an affair with Levy but I was highly critical from the outset of the overwhelming presumption of guilt based on nothing but sensational and scurrilous rumor. It is not enough to say that “some people believe this might be true” to justify such tweets. Seven percent of Americans believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows, but we do not investigate the claim.
The family of Lori Klausutis is obviously not trying to shield Scarborough and would be the first to pursue any credible allegation of foul play. They do not believe this conspiracy theory and have been reportedly traumatized by the continued use of the death for political purposes.
While I still oppose censorship on free speech grounds, it is important to remind people that this malicious attack on a political critic is not without costs for people like this family. Political passions often ignore such costs. That was brought home by a letter from her widower Timothy Klausutis. Klausutis wrote a letter last week to Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey to delete the tweets because “My wife deserves better.”
He stated “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.” (Here is the letter in full)
For those of us who oppose censorship (private or public), these controversies are difficult because of the great empathy for family members who clearly still grieve the loss of their child. Twitter apologized yesterday but declined to delete the tweets. That was the correct thing to do. As discussed in a column today, however, Twitter proceeded to then post the first warning on another series of Trump tweets. That was the wrong thing to do.