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White House social media director promotes bogus Irma news

When White House officials can't be trusted as reliable sources of information, there are consequences for the administration's lack of credibility.
The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)
The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. 

Dan Scavino Jr., the White House director of social media, has an unfortunate habit of making headlines for the wrong reasons. A few months ago, for example, after Donald Trump lashed out at the mayor of London following a terrorist attack, Scavino argued the president's criticism was payback for something the mayor said about Trump 13 months ago.

In August, Scavino used his social-media presence to target Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), piling on to the intra-party feud.

Slate noted over the weekend that Scavino made a different kind of misstep related to Hurricane Irma.

Fake images and videos of Hurricane Irma that are making the rounds on social media can fool anyone, including, apparently people who are actually working at tracking the storm. The White House's own director of social media, Dan Scavino Jr., sent out a tweet that he thought showed massive flooding at the Miami International Airport as a way to demonstrate how President Donald Trump's administration was keeping track of Irma's devastation. The problem? The video was not actually of the Miami airport.Miami International Airport quickly replied to Scavino's tweet to inform him that the video did not depict the situation at the airport.

Scavino eventually deleted the tweet -- roughly a half-hour after publishing it -- though the original message said he was sharing social-media footage of the storm with the president and vice president.

Not surprisingly, the mistake made Scavino the butt of online mockery, but I think there's a serious point just below the surface.

In fairness, Scavino almost certainly wasn't responsible for the original mistake. Someone sent him the wrong information, and he promoted it, assuming the news was true, without any due diligence. It's a well-intentioned mistake that many of us have made.

The trouble is, Scavino is no longer a guy who runs a golf resort; he's the White House director of social media. When a White House official provides information to the public about an ongoing natural disaster, highlighting video footage he claims to be sharing with the president and vice president, we need to be able to count on its accuracy.

"Too good to check" doesn't work in these circumstances.

Look, I realize it was just a misguided tweet, which Scavino deleted after being fact-checked by the airport itself. This isn't the sort of thing that's likely to cost him his job. But when White House officials cannot be trusted as reliable sources of information -- when we have to treat practically everything from the West Wing like a silent movie -- there are consequences for the administration's lack of credibility.