There are inconsequential social media screw-ups.
And there are malicious lies.
President Donald Trump seems to have them confused.
The other day, an errant tweet — its author later said it was meant as satire — threw the president into a familiar-sounding uproar. Written by political scientist Ian Bremmer, the tweet put words in the president’s mouth that he never uttered. It gave the impression that while in Tokyo, Trump stated that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is “smarter and would make a better President” than former vice president and current Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
Naturally, this brought forth cries of outrage we’ve heard before from the president: Change the libel laws! Fake news! Bremmer has apologized — as he should have, since the ill-advised tweet was circulated by Trump critics and people in media.
But Trump has yet to apologize for his own words and actions that — over decades — have been immeasurably more damaging. It was 30 years ago this month that Trump the real estate developer paid $85,000 for full-page ads in New York City’s newspapers, essentially calling for five black and Latino teens to be put to death.
This was before their trial in the infamous case that is the subject of a new Netflix miniseries out this weekend, “When They See Us,” written and directed by Ana DuVernay.
Coerced by police, the five Harlem boys confessed to the vicious attack and rape of a young Yale-educated investment banker, a white woman, who had been jogging in Central Park. She was in a coma for 12 days afterward.
Many years later, a murderer and serial rapist came forward and made a confession. When DNA evidence backed that up, the Central Park Five were exonerated and, in 2014, after a civil rights lawsuit, received a $40 million settlement that they shared.
But Trump never recanted. Shortly after the settlement, he published an op-ed piece in the New York Daily News, calling the outcome a disgrace. He continued — even into the 2016 presidential campaign — to suggest he still thinks the cleared men are guilty.
Former White House adviser Pat Buchanan was one of those who jumped on Trump’s race-baiting bandwagon. One of the teens should be “hanged in Central Park,” Buchanan said, while the other boys should be “stripped, horsewhipped and sent to prison.”
Gabrielle Bruney wrote in Esquire recently that the case “tapped into America’s centuries-old racist fear of sexual violence by non-white men against white women.”
Trump took full advantage of that fear, always with his political ambitions in mind. And new information never changed his view.
“They admitted they were guilty,” he told CNN in 2016, blithely ignoring that the confessions were coerced.
The harm to five young lives and families can never be undone. But a misleading tweet? Now that’s serious stuff, according to the insulter in chief.
“People think they can say anything and get away with it,” Trump tweeted.
The president, who has made more than 10,000 false or misleading claims while in office, often says that he would like to “loosen up” U.S. libel laws so that victims like him can win big payouts.
Owning up to circulating falsehoods really is a swell notion. So is apologizing for doing damage to reputations and lives. But accountability, it seems, is only for other people.