June 23, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Controversy Around Scarborough Staffer Death Is Legit And Has KC Roots

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On Wednesday President Donald Trump tweeted, “Will [NBC] terminate low ratings Joe Scarborough based on the ‘unsolved mystery’ that took place in Florida years ago? Investigate!” The tweet, predictably, prompted Scarborough and much of the media to question Trump’s sanity.

“Looks like I picked a good day to stop responding to Trump’s bizarre tweets. He is not well,” Scarborough replied in his tweet. The “not well” trope became the dominant media talking point in response to this and a few other tweets.

The media dismissed the president’s inference about the July 2001 death of a 28-year-old staffer named Lori Klausutis in Scarborough’s Florida congressional office as an unfounded “conspiracy theory” not worth investigating.

As recently as 2011, however, the media were not nearly that dismissive. Those paying attention knew there was one major problem with the resolution of Klausutis’s untimely death–the medical examiner who performed the autopsy, a Kansas City exile named Dr. Michael Berkland.

Media lost interest in staffer death when Scarborough turned against Trump.

What interested the left-leaning media in 2011 was that Scarborough, a Republican at the time, was thinking of leaving his post at MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and running again for congress. This made him a target. “If ‘Morning Joe’ does wind up on a ballot somewhere,” wrote Roger Shuler of the Daily Kos, “voters might want to keep this question in mind: Was a young woman once murdered in Joe Scarborough’s office?”

Berkland’s history made Shuler’s question worth consideration. In his autopsy, Berkland determined that Klausutis, alone in the office at the time, fainted as the result of an undiagnosed cardiac arrhythmia and hit her head on a desk. His autopsy report all but ended the official investigation into Klausutis’s death.

As Shuler knew, Berkland had left Kansas City under a cloud. Wrote the Kansas City Star in 2012, “Berkland was fired in 1996 as a contract medical examiner in Jackson County in a dispute over his caseload and autopsy reports. Investigators found eight undissected brains when they reviewed files and specimens handled by Berkland, indicating he had fabricated autopsy results, authorities said.” (Italics added)

Shuler quoted the Pitch on Berkland’s continuing problems in Florida: “Berkland claims he ‘sectioned’ Klausutis’ brain during her autopsy to determine that her head was injured by a fall, not by a blow from a weapon. But that’s the same sort of claim that got Berkland run out of Kansas City in 1996, after he’d falsely reported that he’d sectioned brains later found whole by his boss.”

Again according to the Star, Berkland was fired from the Pensacola medical examiner’s office in 2003 “for not completing autopsy reports.” At the time, the State of Florida also withdrew his license to serve as a medical examiner.

The Star was reporting on Berkland in 2012 for another problem altogether. The opening sentence pretty much tells the story, “A former medical examiner who was fired by Jackson County more than a decade ago has been arrested in Florida and charged with keeping human remains in a rented storage unit.” Berkland clearly had some problems.

So did the official investigation. According to an earlier report written by Jennifer Van Bergen at Truthout, there were any number of unresolved issues around the death of the young staffer.

* Among them was Scarborough’s unexpected resignation from Congress six months after being re-elected and two months before the death. Divorced two years earlier, Scarborough cited the “wild rumors” about his sons as the reason.

* Berkland, as reported above, had lost his license in Missouri for falsifying autopsies.

* Berkland’s supervisor had contributed thousands of dollars to Scarborough’s election campaign.

* There were contradictory reports about whether there was a visible head injury.

* The report contained several inconsistencies. For one, Klausutis, a marathon runner, was said to have died of a cardiac arrhythmia.

* Unresolved too was whether the office was locked and the lights were on. One report claimed the door was locked and the lights were off Another said the door was unlocked and the lights were on.

“Is Joe Scarborough a murderer?” Shuler asked in conclusion. “We cannot reach a conclusive answer at this point. But the evidence strongly suggests that Lori Klausutis’ death was the result of foul play, not an accident.”

With Scarborough now an avowed enemy of the president, the Star will likely join the other media in shoving this case down the memory hole if for no other reason than to embarrass Trump. Their editors ought not. They have the inside track on Berkland. Real journalists would at least look into it.

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