A long-simmering feud between US president Donald Trump and the anchors of a popular morning television show burst into flames this week after Trump insulted the MSNBC co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski on Twitter.
This morning (June 30), the hosts retaliated, claiming that Trump used the National Enquirer, a salacious tabloid sold in supermarket checkout aisles, to try to blackmail them into more favorable coverage of his presidency.
Willie Geist, another of the hosts on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, which attracts about a million viewers a day, said on air this morning:
We got a call that, the National Enquirer is going to run a negative story. And they said, if you call the president up and you apologize for your coverage, then he will pick up the phone and basically spike the story.
Brzezinski and Scarborough have recently gotten engaged after leaving other people, and Brzezinski said she thought the story might relate to their relationship. “They were pinning the story on my ex-husband,” she said, adding that her children were targeted by reporters.
As the Republican-led Congress struggles to pass a health care bill, many of Trump’s foreign policy efforts fall flat, and his popularity continues to sag, some see the latest Trump Twitter war as a way to divert the nation’s attention from these shortcomings. But the allegations of blackmail, if true, would be unprecedented. Many forms of blackmail are crimes under state and federal law.
Trump called the report “fake news” on Twitter and said Scarborough called him to get a National Enquirer story pulled. A spokesman for the National Enquirer’s parent company did not return a call for comment, but the tabloid did tweet a link to a rather tame photo gallery, titled “Joe Scarborough & Mika Brzezinski:
#MorningJoe Couple’s Sleazy Cheating Scandal!”
Trump has had a long, close relationship with the National Enquirer, which has traditionally scrutinized the personal behavior of past presidents and candidates, but mostly has left him untouched. A just-published profile in the New Yorker of David Pecker, the chief executive of the tabloid’s parent company, American Media, describes a close friendship between the two men. Trump is “extremely loyal to him, and he had no issue being loyal in return. He told me very bluntly that he had killed all sorts of stories for Trump,” the profile quotes another magazine executive saying.
A slew of politicians, including many Republicans, publicly denounced Trump’s Twitter comments yesterday. They included many of the same people who condemned Trump’s bragging about committing sexual assault in a video that appeared last October, but then went on to fall in line behind him after he was elected.