Back in 2010, Markos Moulitsas, better known as the founder of the Daily Kos blog, was a regular guest on MSNBC. The pairing of a liberal blogger and a liberal network was a natural one, so Moulitsas was used to going on TV and swapping insults about Republicans with Keith Olbermann or whoever.
That state of affairs came to a screeching halt in July of 2010, when Moulitsas found himself summarily blacklisted from MSNBC. His offense? Mentioning, on Twitter, the strange, sad story of Lori Klausutis, the intern who was found dead in Joe Scarborough’s office when the “Morning Joe” host was still a Republican congressman.
Here’s their exchange:
Markos: Like story of a certain dead intern. RT @JoeNBC: Luckily for the White House, the media has been negligent on this story since Day 1.
Markos: But if you want to talk about bullshit “scandals”, @JoeNBC, there’s this one about Joe Sestak and the White House you might’ve heard of.
JoeNBC: @markos Unbelievable. You have a long history of spreading lies suggesting I am a murderer. This is the 3rd or 4th time by my count.
Markos: @JoeNBC, I’ve never suggested you’re a murderer. I’ve noted media hypocrisy in going after Gary Condit. But he was Dem. You aren’t.
JoeNBC: Anyone in media who interviews @markos, know that you’re extending your credibility to someone who regularly suggests that I’m a murderer.
Markos: A bit touchy, @JoeNBC? Links for where I accuse you of being a murderer please.
After this happened, MSNBC president Phil Griffin wrote to Moulitsas to say that he was banned from the network. It was one of the more bizarre pieces of cable news weirdness in history. It was also one in a long line of mini-wars Joe Scarborough has waged in an effort to stop getting people to insinuate that he killed his intern.
Let’s get one thing clear: There is zero evidence to suggest that Joe Scarborough had anything to do with the death of Lori Klausutis. But the story of Klausutis’s death has nevertheless haunted Scarborough over the years.
A journey into the time machine is necessary at this point. We emerge in May of 2001. The world is merely a pit of misery, rather than the apocalypse-lite horrorscape we’ll all get used to in the coming decades, and Florida Republican Joe Scarborough has just announced that he’s resigning from Congress after a mere six years in office to spend more time with his kids, one of whom has just been diagnosed with diabetes. It’s an abrupt end to a brief political career.
Fast-forward to July 19, 2001. Two people looking for assistance in an immigration case open the door to Scarborough’s district office and find a grisly scene: Lori Klausutis is lying dead behind a desk.
From an Associated Press report:
A 28-year-old office worker for U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough was found dead Friday in the congressman’s district office.
Preliminary findings from the medical examiner’s office showed no foul play or any outward indication of suicide, said Police Chief Steve Hogue.
Authorities identified the woman as Lori Klausutis of Niceville. She had worked for Scarborough since May 1999, said Mick Serrano, press secretary for the congressman.
A month later, a medical examiner concluded that Klausutis had been feeling unwell and had died after heart problems caused her to fall and hit her head on the desk. There were no apparent signs of foul play. Case closed.
The medical examiner’s ruling didn’t satisfy a surprisingly varied cross-section of armchair conspiracy theorists and Poirots, though. There were your garden-variety crackpots. But there were also people like Vanity Fair’s James Wolcott, whose mention of the case prompted an outraged Scarborough to write a lengthy letter to the magazine in 2005 (Wolcott apologized for bringing the story up):
His libelous charge, pulled from a hate site on the Internet, led readers to believe that a good woman named Lori Klausutis carried on an adulterous sexual affair with a congressman before being killed in a sleazy sex-scandal cover-up. The article also suggested that this imaginary sex scandal forced me to leave office. I was painted as the Republican Party’s answer to Gary Condit, saved from prosecution by a right-wing media machine.
Here are the facts Vanity Fair and James Wolcott would have learned had they spent five minutes on the telephone engaging in rudimentary fact-checking: (1) Lori worked in my annex office in Okaloosa County, Florida. (2) I met her no more than three times; I was never alone with her. (3) I didn’t leave Congress because of her death; I announced my retirement from Congress in May 2001-she passed away several months later.
Michael Moore also faced Scarborough’s wrath after he “registered the domain name JoeScarboroughKilledHisIntern.com,” another Vanity Fair article notes. (The website never really got off the ground.)
Then there was Katherine Harris, the cartoon villain who went from helping tilt Florida into the Bush column in 2000 to running for Senate in 2006. That campaign was a legendary disaster, but one series of calls Harris made garnered particular attention. From the Miami Herald:
Katherine Harris’ floundering U.S. Senate campaign lost its high-level staff again this week and is groping for a message – which doesn’t surprise Republican insiders who trace the seeds of her trouble to the story of “Joe’s dead intern.” This wasn’t any old Joe.
It was Scarborough, host of the prime-time MSNBC show Scarborough Country and a former Pensacola Republican congressman who was courted by national Republicans to run against Harris. But before he could announce he wouldn’t, Harris called major donors and suggested Scarborough would have to answer questions about the strange death of a former staff member in 2001, according to two former high-level Harris staff members, a GOP donor and Scarborough.
An especially fascinating wrinkle in this ongoing saga is the heated battle about it on Wikipedia. There are pages and pages of arguments about Klausutis in the internal editorial discussions. There’s even some (seemingly fake) person claiming to be Joe Scarborough who keeps weighing in. Here’s one excerpt:
Joe Scarborough again. Though I am pleased that 50% of my life as described by Wikipedia no longer involves an event that I had absolutely nothing to do with, I am surprised that Wikipedia continues to allow Gamaliel to remain an administrator when she has shown such bad faith in this matter…
These continued skirmishes have clearly not hindered Scarborough’s media career, but not every fight has been won. His Wikipedia page currently includes this unsourced passage: “There had been speculation that Scarborough was having an affair with one of his Congressional aides, Lori Klausutis, who was later found dead in Scarborough’s office after allegedly fainting and hitting her head on a desk in July of 2001.”
Lost in all this fracas, of course, has been Klausutis herself, whose story is a grain of sand in the annals of pre-9/11 America. Meanwhile, Joe Scarborough has failed upward, again and again.
Jack Mirkinson is a writer in New York.