Dear Berkeley: You really shouldn’t have

I really wish Berkeley Breathed hadn’t done that.

In case you don’t know, the Pulitzer-winning Bloom County cartoonist posted an official-looking letter on his Facebook page last week, purportedly signed by President Trump’s lawyer,  Marc E. Kasowitz.

The letter threatened legal action unless Breathed removed images of the president and First Lady from his social media sites. It also quoted Trump warning that he would have Breathed’s “ass in a sling by lunch” unless the offending pictures were deleted.

A few days later, Breathed posted a letter he purportedly had written in response. He wrote that he had removed the images, wouldn’t do it again, and was offering Melania Trump a stuffed Opus the Penguin as a goodwill gesture.

Both letters swiftly went viral, with the original Facebook post being seen by 3 million newsfeeds, according to The New York Times. Just imagine, our  thin-skinned president using his expensive lawyer to dish out a crude threat to a cartoonist! Can’t the man take a joke?

For those of us concerned about verbal and physical assaults on the press, the story rang true.

Online outlets including Daily Kos and Uproxx picked up the story, but by Friday afternoon, the day after Breathed posted his response letter, doubt began to surface.

It was BuzzFeed — ironically, one of the sites  denounced as “fake news” by Trump  supporters — that contacted Kasowitz and broke the news that the letter was not real.  Snopes.com picked up on the report, and other outlets, including the Associated Press and New York Times, followed.

Breathed did not respond to queries from the AP, according to a report filed on May 26.

But why create fake news? Why give more ammunition to those who say the “liberal media” can’t be trusted? Does Breathed, who revived Bloom County in 2015 as an online strip, need the exposure that badly?

It says something about what’s  happening in this country that people were so quick to believe Trump would go after a cartoonist over some caricatures that apparently never existed in the first place.

It had all of Trump’s hallmarks — the insensitivity, the desire to protect his family’s brand, even the tough-guy threat.

But there are enough real attacks on our press freedoms right now. We don’t need to make them up.  Breathed owes his followers — and Trump’s lawyer — an apology.

And I’d love a stuffed Opus.

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