President Donald Trump has been spreading a debunked conspiracy theory that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, who is now a loud Trump critic, is a murderer. Unlike with previous pro-Trump conspiracy theories, Fox News isn’t covering this story on-air at all (even to debunk it) -- even as the network's most prominent host pushes the baseless attack on his radio show.
Trump has repeatedly tweeted about Lori Klausutis, a former intern of Scarborough’s who died after fainting at work at hitting her head on a desk. The president’s son Donald Trump Jr. has also spread the conspiracy theory on Twitter. Klausutis’ widower has written a letter to Twitter asking that the company remove the tweets from Trump and his son; in it, he specifically mentions young family members who will learn about Lori through this conspiracy theory, and he says Trump has taken his late wife’s memory “and perverted it for perceived political gain.” (In response to the letter, Twitter has declined to take any action.)
While social media platforms allow the conspiracy theory to spread, right-wing media are happily seizing on the claim to hit Scarborough, a prominent Trump critic. Sinclair contributor Sebastian Gorka, Mark Simone, Newsmax’s John Cardillo, Infowars, and Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich have all pushed it recently. (As a counterpoint, here’s Washington Examiner columnists sayingvTrump has better things to do than push baseless conspiracy theories about Scarborough).
As my colleague Matt Gertz has noted, this conspiracy theory about Klausutis is akin to those about murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, which swamped right-wing media in 2017 -- and still appear to this day. Fox News was infamously a hub of Seth Rich conspiracy theories in 2017, with host Sean Hannity taking the lead. The network promised a review of its coverage but it has yet to be released, three years later.
Watching Fox News now, though, it’s clear what the network’s takeaway to the Rich situation has been: Don’t mention the conspiracy theory on air at all, even to report that the president of the United States is spreading it.
A review of Fox News transcripts in the SnapStream video database show that Joe Scarborough hasn’t been mentioned on the network since May 3, when host Howard Kurtz briefly mentioned a different Trump Twitter attack on the MSNBC host. The Trump tweets mentioned by Klausutis’ widower, Timothy J. Klausutis, postdate that mention.
In fact, the only mention of Scarborough since May 3 was when Fox News ran White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany's press conference on May 26 -- and she was pressed about why Trump was accusing Scarborough of murder. (McEnany deflected, stating absurdly that Scarborough was the one who had questions to answer.)
Meanwhile, Hannity -- who has never apologized for or even renounced his vile Seth Rich conspiracy theories -- is cheering on Trump.
Here’s how he talked about Trump’s conspiracy theories on his radio show on May 20, mocking Scarborough’s wife and co-host, Mika Brzezinski, for even bringing it up, before claiming that there are “irregularities” involved and loudly declaring his willingness to “go there” if not for the holiday weekend.
Hannity also briefly discussed the matter earlier in the show with disgraced former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who quickly changed the subject.