President Trump is finally checked by Twitter — but not for the tweets you might think

Your Wednesday Poynter Report

May 27, 2020
Category: Newsletters

The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, click here.

Twitter and Trump.

Finally, Twitter called out the president of the United States for one of his tweets. It slapped a “fact-check” label on him. That’s never happened before.

But, surprisingly, the label was not for the controversial tweets that have been in the news the past week. That controversy — involving President Donald Trump, Twitter, Joe Scarborough and the death of one of Scarborough’s former staffers — rages on. And it appears Twitter is not going to do anything about that.

The details are well-known by now: Trump has put out several tweets suggesting Scarborough, the MSNBC co-host who is highly critical of the president, had something to do with the death of a Scarborough staffer, Lori Kaye Klausutis, when he was a congressman in 2001.

That staffer’s widower is pleading with Twitter to remove Trump’s tweets. In a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Timothy Klausutis wrote, “My request is simple: Please delete these tweets.”

He wrote, “I’m a research engineer and not a lawyer, but I’ve reviewed all of Twitter’s rules and terms of service. The President’s tweet that suggests that Lori was murdered — without evidence (and contrary to the official autopsy) — is a violation of Twitter’s community rules and terms of service. An ordinary user like me would be banished from the platform for such a tweet but I am only asking that these tweets be removed.”

Klausutis said he is “now angry as well as frustrated and grieved.” He wrote, “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.”

He also wrote, “My wife deserves better.”

In a statement, Twitter said, “We are deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family. We’ve been working to expand existing product features and policies so we can more effectively address things like this going forward, and we hope to have those changes in place shortly.”

“We’ve been working to …” isn’t good enough. Neither is “we hope to have those changes in place shortly.” It’s already too late.

This story is making national headlines. It’s being asked in official White House press conferences. Trump is still making the claims. For Twitter to say, in effect, “We’re looking into it” is not only irresponsible, it’s cruelly insensitive.

What about Facebook?

Twitter isn’t the only social media outfit seemingly doing nothing about Trump’s tweets regarding Scarborough. Trump’s tweets often are cross-posted to Facebook. And Facebook’s response is even more feeble than Twitter’s.

In a statement to CNN’s Oliver Darcy, a Facebook spokesperson said, “We do not remove political speech solely because people may find it offensive, as this content understandably is to the family of Lori Klausutis and others. Speech from candidates and heads of state is among the most scrutinized content on our platform, which helps ensure people are held accountable for their words.”

That statement carried all the weight and power of a wet noodle.

More from Trump and the tweets

During a press conference Tuesday, President Trump was asked about his tweets involving Scarborough and the death of his staffer, as well as the letter written by the widower of that staffer.

First, however, Trump had to take a jab at the reporter asking the question, who was wearing a mask.

After already answering the first part of a two-part question, Trump said to the reporter, “Can you take (the mask) off because I cannot hear you?”

The reporter said, “I’ll just speak louder, sir.”

Trump responded with, “Oh, OK, because you want to be politically correct.”

The reporter said, “No, sir, I just want to wear a mask.”

After that bit of commentary from the president, Trump was asked if he had seen the letter the widower wrote to Twitter asking that Trump’s tweets be removed.

Trump said, “Yeah, I have, but I’m sure that ultimately they want to get to the bottom of it.” Then he proceeded to lean into the conspiracy again, bringing up Scarborough’s name and saying, “It’s a very suspicious thing and I hope somebody gets to the bottom of it.”

Gets to the bottom of what? No foul play was suspected then nor now, except by Trump. Even the woman’s husband is begging that this story be put to rest. Trump doubled down Tuesday despite pleas from the woman’s family to stop talking about it.

Calling out Twitter

MSNBC television anchor Joe Scarborough in 2017. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

New York Times opinion writer Kara Swisher (who is the one who obtained the letter sent by Lori Klausutis’ widower) wrote that “Twitter Must Cleanse the Trump Stain.”

Swisher wrote, “… 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.”

And Swisher makes a great point. Yes, this really is a political catfight between Trump and Scarborough, but real people are being hurt beyond Scarborough.

“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,” Swisher wrote. “They are the victims of Mr. Trump and of Twitter’s inability to manage its troubled relationship with him.

Pants on fire

By the way, Poynter’s PolitiFact and reporter Jon Greenberg put Trump’s claims about Scarborough on the Truth-O-Meter.

SPONSORED POST

QuickNews — the news aggregator using the latest and greatest advances in artificial intelligence to serve you a personalized news feed in real time. Free of political bias, containing only top-notch sources, and able to learn your interests on the fly, it’s used by thousands of users across five continents. Available on both iOS and Android.

Fact-checking the president

So which Trump tweet did Twitter finally draw a line in the sand about? This one:

There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed. The Governor of California is sending Ballots to millions of people, anyone…..

…living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there, will get one. That will be followed up with professionals telling all of these people, many of whom have never even thought of voting before, how, and for whom, to vote. This will be a Rigged Election. No way!

Twitter put a label on it that said, “Get the facts about mail-in ballots,” and linked to news articles about Trump’s unsubstantiated claim. It’s the first time Twitter has put that label on a Trump tweet.

For years, Twitter allowed world leaders to tweet pretty much anything unchecked. Earlier this month, the social network put new rules in place to “limit the spread of potentially harmful and misleading content.”

Overwhelmed in her job and underwhelming in her performance

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany walks off after a press briefing at the White House on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Tuesday was an awful day for White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. It was just the latest in a series of awful days. Her tone-deaf and irresponsible responses to questions about President Trump’s tweets suggesting Scarborough might have murdered a former staffer show not only incompetence but arrogance on McEnany’s part.

And it was another example of how she appears simply overmatched in her role as White House press secretary. Check out my column on Poynter.org about McEnany and how this moment and job seem too big for her.

‘Fox & Friends’ drops the ball

One controversy that McEnany has been involved in is a comment she made during a press conference last week when asked about what authority President Trump had to reopen churches. McEnany said at one point that it was “interesting to be in a room that desperately wants to seem to see these churches and houses of worship stay closed.”

Reuters’ White House reporter Jeff Mason angrily pushed back, saying he went to church and was “dying to go back to church.” Fox News’ Chris Wallace slammed McEnany’s comments, saying it was unlike anything he has ever seen before from the White House briefing room. So, during an appearance on Tuesday’s “Fox & Friends,” McEnany was asked about it.

Co-host Brian Kilmeade asked McEnany, “Were you questioning the religious beliefs of the press?”

She said, “No, I never questioned the religious beliefs of the press. Many of our journalists are great men and women of faith.”

She added that he found it peculiar that the media was asking so much about churches and that “I’ve never been asked why a liquor store was essential.”

But that’s not what McEnany said in the press conference. It would have been nice if Kilmeade did his job and followed up, but that didn’t happen. The “Fox & Friends” crew simply moved on to the next topic.

Bash and Biden

Joe Biden. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

CNN’s Dana Bash had an up-and-down exclusive interview Tuesday with presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. She was strong at times, and less so at other times.

She addressed the issue that many wanted to hear: Biden’s “you ain’t black” comments made last week in an interview with Charlamagne tha God.

“First of all, it was a mistake,” Biden said. “And I was smiling when he asked me the question. I shouldn’t have been such a wiseguy. He was being a wiseguy and I responded. I shouldn’t have done that. It was a mistake. I have never taken the African American community for granted.”

Bash could have raised an eyebrow and questioned Biden’s remark about Charlamagne tha God being a “wiseguy.” She also asked a question that seemed to not only let Biden off the hook, but slam Trump.

“You did make an effort to clean up that comment pretty quickly,” Bash said. “It still got a lot of attention. President Trump says offensive things, he never apologizes for it. Is there a double standard here, and if so is there a lesson for you in how to compete with him?”

While Bash’s intent about Biden’s tactics against Trump might have been a worthy topic to explore, her execution came off as pro-Biden, as did this question: “Well, you know I’m sure you’ve seen some Democrats have said, Mr. Vice President, stop apologizing. You’re going to say dumb things. Don’t apologize because that’s not the world we’re living in.”

She had solid moments, too, but those questions were not among them.

This was Biden’s first in-person interview since the coronavirus lockdown. He and Bash sat on a bench more than six feet apart.

Media tidbits

  • The WNBA’s Sue Bird, soccer’s Megan Rapinoe and NFL quarterback Russell Wilson will host this year’s ESPY Awards, ESPN’s annual made-for-TV event honoring the top plays, moments and athletes in sports. They also raise awareness and funds for the V Foundation for Cancer Research. Typically held the day after baseball’s All-Star Game, this year’s show will be a virtual event because of the coronavirus. It will be aired on June 21 at 9 p.m. Eastern.
  • There’s a space launch today. Elon Musk’s SpaceX will attempt to launch two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station in a mission called Demo-2. All the networks will break into special coverage. Lester Holt will anchor an NBC News Special Report starting at 4:25 p.m. Eastern. He will be joined by Tom Costello from the Kennedy Space Center, Kerry Sanders from Florida and Al Roker from New York. Nicolle Wallace will anchor MSNBC’s coverage with retired NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson and Clayton Anderson. Over on Fox News, Neil Cavuto will anchor special coverage with analysis from Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt and Tracy Cernan, daughter of late astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man on the moon. There also will be additional analysis from Tom Jones — not me, the veteran NASA astronaut. Fox News’ Phil Keating will be at Cape Canaveral and Kristin Fisher, the daughter of two astronauts, will offer commentary, too.

Hot type

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

More resources for journalists

Want to get this briefing in your inbox? Sign up here.

Follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.