TV hosts accuse White House of blackmail over tabloid piece

Mr Joe Scarborough and Ms Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC's Morning Joe programme have been critical of US President Donald Trump since he took office in January. They claimed top White House staff members warned that the National Enquirer was planning to p
Mr Joe Scarborough and Ms Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC's Morning Joe programme have been critical of US President Donald Trump since he took office in January. They claimed top White House staff members warned that the National Enquirer was planning to publish a negative article about them unless they begged Mr Trump to have the story spiked.PHOTO: REUTERS

'Apologise to Trump or get bad press' was the alleged threat

WASHINGTON • Two television hosts assailed by US President Donald Trump have questioned his mental health and charged that the White House had tried unsuccessfully to get them to apologise to the President for unfavourable coverage in exchange for his getting a negative tabloid story about them killed.

"He appears to have a fragile, impetuous, child-like ego that we've seen over and over again, especially with women," said Ms Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC's Morning Joe, on the programme. Ms Brzezinski and Mr Joe Scarborough fired back on their programme and in an opinion piece in The Washington Post after Mr Trump's Twitter messages last Thursday, which attacked them, particularly Ms Brzezinski, in highly personal terms.

Mr Trump called Ms Brzezinski "low I.Q. Crazy Mika" and alleged that she was "bleeding badly from a face-lift" when she visited his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida around New Year's Eve. He called Mr Scarborough "Psycho Joe". Mr Scarborough said Mr Trump packed "five or six lies into two tweets", including mischaracterising their meetings at Mar-a-Lago. Ms Brzezinski said she has never had a face-lift.

Meanwhile, presidential counsellor Kellyanne Conway, speaking on ABC's Good Morning America, defended Mr Trump's "ability to fight back when he is attacked". She declined to endorse the content of his tweets. Mr Trump's tweets, his latest attacks on the US news media, were roundly condemned by lawmakers in both parties and became a distraction as his fellow Republicans in the Senate try to iron out their differences over major healthcare legislation.

Ms Brzezinski and Mr Scarborough, who were on friendly terms with Mr Trump in the past but have been critical of him since he took office in January, described White House pressure over a planned negative story about them in the National Enquirer tabloid newspaper.

Mr Trump was friends with Mr David Pecker, chief executive of the National Enquirer's parent company, American Media. The tabloid specialises in scandalous stories about celebrities and has been supportive of Mr Trump. "This year, top White House staff members warned the National Enquirer was planning to publish a negative article about us unless we begged the President to have the story spiked. We ignored their desperate pleas," the co-hosts wrote in the Post.

In a Twitter post on Friday, Mr Trump gave a different account, saying Mr Scarborough "called me to stop a National Enquirer article. I said no!" Ms Brzezinski said she was very concerned about what this reveals of Mr Trump.

"President Trump launched personal attacks against us Thursday, but our concerns about his unmoored behaviour go far beyond the personal. America's leaders and allies are asking themselves yet again whether this man is fit to be president," the co-hosts wrote in the Post column.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 02, 2017, with the headline 'TV hosts accuse White House of blackmail over tabloid piece'. Print Edition | Subscribe