Trump Using Weaponized Conspiracy Theory to Attack Joe Scarborough
There’s a section in “The Choice 2016,” the two-hour PBS documentary about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, that encapsulates his nature. When Trump was building the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, Marvin Roffman, a securities analyst, pointed out that he was overleveraged and the venture would fail.
Trump responded with an angry letter to Roffman’s company, Janney Montgomery Scott, demanding they fire him. The company folded to Trump and fired the analyst. But Roffman had the last laugh, Trump’s venture eventually collapsed because it was drowning in debt. After he was blackballed in his industry, Roffman later successfully sued his former employer and Trump, according to a 2016 Politico article.
That episode is typical of Trump, it features his trademark behavior, mendacity, bullying, vindictiveness and an inability to tolerate criticism. And this behavior is found in his recent public battle with MSNBC host Joe Scarborough.
Trump Vs. Scarborough
Trump has been feuding with Scarborough and his wife and co-host Mika Brzezinski a for a while. They used to be friends back in the days when Trump was just a reality TV host and hotelier, but things started going downhill when Trump ran for president.
Scarborough, who is a moderate Republican, has been horrified by Trump’s performance as president and what he’s done to the party and the country. And he has been scathing in his criticism of the president on his three-hour show “Morning Joe.”
Naturally, Trump who can’t tolerate any form of criticism, has struck back by promoting a baseless conspiracy theory. He’s accused Scarborough of being involved in the murder of former intern Lori Katsulis. However, she died almost 20 years ago, when she fainted and hit her head in Scarborough's office. The police investigated the case and ruled it an accidental death.
But Trump has been promoting the lie that Scarborough murdered the former intern on Twitter.
This attack on Scarborough also shows Trump’s authoritarian streak. Scarborough acknowledged this in a May 28 New York Times article. “It’s remarkable that we have a president who is trying to have someone prosecute the person he considers to be his chief critic in the media,” he said. “That’s what Putin does. That’s what Orban does. That’s what autocrats have been doing for centuries.”
“Did he get away with murder? Some people think so,” said the president in a tweet.
This is not only outrageous, it’s also ridiculous. If anyone else was doing this, they’d be fired from their job. Brzezinski has demanded Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey take action, calling Trump’s behavior libelous. Even Klausutis’ family has begged the president to stop besmirching her name.
Republicans have also urged the president to show restraint.
“He’s the commander in chief of this nation, and it’s causing great pain to the family of the young woman who died. So I would urge him to stop it.” said Rep. Liz Cheney, according to Politico.
The Distraction Game
Of course, Trump hasn’t stopped because there is a method to this madness. Trump, a master of media manipulation, has two goals with this action. As Media Matters President Angelo Carusone pointed in an interview on “Background Briefing,” Trump wants to distract attention away from the bad publicity he got for golfing on Memorial Day while the coronavirus death toll was getting close to 100,000. A frequent Trump tactic is creating a story, even through bad publicity, to distract from another scandal.
But the president also wants to demonize Scarborough and make an example of him. In today’s insane media-political landscape, even the most ludicrous of rumors get taken seriously. MAGA cultists, QAnon followers and other mentally-distressed people are fueling this ridiculous Scarborough non-story. According to Daily Beast writer Will Sommer, Trump’s lie was picking up steam in far-right circles. He compared it to Alex Jones’ promotion of the idea the Sandy Hook shooting was faked by the government.
“I checked out a conspiracy theory forum with 20K members to see how they’re handling the Trump Scarborough accusations. The top post accuses Tim Klausutis of all kinds of crimes. This really appears to be headed to Sandy Hook/Seth Rich territory, thanks to the president,” said Sommer in a tweet.
Jones’ followers harassed parents of some of the children killed in the shooting by calling them “crisis actors.”
In 2019, The New York Times reported a jury announced a $450,000 judgment against the publisher of a book that claimed Sandy Hook victim Noah Pozner wasn’t killed at the massacre. During the trial, Lenny Pozner, Noah’s father, provided a certified death certificate to prove his son was real. Jones eventually paid the families a settlement and admitted he was wrong.
However, Trump has a powerful army of followers and he uses it to harass and torture his opponents. Former FOX News propagandist Megyn Kelly realized this in 2016 when she questioned Trump’s sexist comments. Eventually, she had to make a pilgrimage to Trump Tower and beg Trump to call off the dogs. But she got the message, lay off Trump or he’ll come after you.
Silencing Trump Critics
This attack on Scarborough also shows Trump’s authoritarian streak. Scarborough acknowledged this in a May 28 New York Times article.
“It’s remarkable that we have a president who is trying to have someone prosecute the person he considers to be his chief critic in the media,” he said. “That’s what Putin does. That’s what Orban does. That’s what autocrats have been doing for centuries.”
However, Trump wants the MSNBC host to be silenced and taken off the air. And this has happened before, in 2019 former intelligence officer Malcolm Nance, who has been one of Trump’s fiercest critics, was briefly removed from MSNBC after Attorney General William Barr claimed the Mueller report cleared Trump. (It didn’t.)
According to a 2019 Mediaite story, MSNBC brass claimed Nance was “unprofessional and hyperbolic.” Nance had called Trump a “traitor” on Twitter. (This is an accurate statement.)
However, Nance, Scarborough and Roffman were all right about Trump. This is not the time to bend to Trump’s lies, bullying and conspiracy theories. We need to listen to Trump critics, especially when they’re telling the truth.
In 1999, when Trump pondered running for president on the Reform Party ticket, Roffman told the New York Daily News: “If he runs the country like he rewards his shareholders, it is going to be a disaster.”