The hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Friday accused the White House of blackmailing them with a potentially damaging story in the National Enquirer, which they said was eventually published after they refused to “grovel” to the President and apologize for their critical coverage of them.
In an op-ed in the Washington Post Friday, co-hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough hinted at the threat: “This year, top White House staff members warned that 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.”
During their broadcast Friday, Brzezinski and Scarborough implied that they thought Trump was behind the whole story, and that he used it in an attempt to pressure them to apologize to him.
“We got a call that, hey, the National Enquirer is going to run a negative story against you guys, and it was, you know, Donald is — the President is friends with the guy that runs the National Enquirer,” Scarborough said. Trump’s relationship with Enquirer CEO David Pecker is well known.
“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,” Scarborough continued. “I had — I will just say three people at the very top of the administration calling me, and the response was like: Are you kidding me? I don’t know what they have, run a story. I’m not going to do it.”
“The calls kept coming,” Scarborough said. “And kept coming. And they were like, ‘Call. You need to call. Please call. C’mon, Joe, just pick up the phone and call him!’”
Brzezinski said the magazine called her children and close friends. They were pinning the story, she said, on her ex-husband, “who would absolutely never do that, so I knew immediately it was a lie and they had nothing.”
“These calls persisted for quite some time and then Joe had the conversations that he had with the White House where they said, oh, this could go away,” she said.
Co-host Willy Geist interjected: “So I just want to be very clear here: The National Enquirer is harassing your children, your daughters, who are teenagers,” he said. “And then Joe in turn is getting calls from the White House.”
“Saying, ‘Call Donald and apologize,’” Brzezinski added.
Scarborough said he and Brzezinski were even questioned outside Brzezinski’s house at one point by “a guy in a van that was just staked out there, watching.”
“It was clear that he was from a tabloid,” he said. “And he started asking questions and then, after all this started to happen, that’s when we started getting calls from the White House saying, ‘If you call, you need to call the President and we’ll do what we can.’”
The pair refused to apologize to the President, they said. And the eventual story, Scarborough said, was not accurate.
In a statement posted to its website, the Enquirer’s Chief Content Officer, Dylan Howard, defended the story.
“At no time did we threaten either Joe or Mika or their children in connection with our reporting on the story,” he added. “We have no knowledge of any discussions between the White House and Joe and Mika about our story, and absolutely no involvement in those discussions.”
And Trump, after “Morning Joe” concluded, took to Twitter to offer his version of events:
Watched low rated @Morning_Joe for first time in long time. FAKE NEWS. He called me to stop a National Enquirer article. I said no! Bad show
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 30, 2017
The White House did not respond to TPM’s request for comment.
New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reported that White House press secretary Sean Spicer told him that “I’m not aware” of White House officials calling the TV hosts to get them to apologize to Trump in exchange for him telling the Enquirer to spike the story. “That would be news to me,” he added, according to Sherman.
Sherman also reported denials from the magazine’s editor-in-chief that its CEO was involved in the story, or in editorial decisions generally.
Nat. Enquirer EIC Dylan Howard tells me he never spoke w/ owner David Pecker about killing Joe/Mika story
— Gabriel Sherman (@gabrielsherman) June 30, 2017
Howard denies Pecker's influence. "No one controls the editorial decision making process at the National Enquirer other than me," he says
— Gabriel Sherman (@gabrielsherman) June 30, 2017
Scarborough painted the incident as part of a larger trend of Trump using the Enquirer as a vehicle to attack his enemies, pointing to damaging stories that he said were “planted” in the paper about then-rivals Ben Carson and Sen. Ted Cruz during the presidential campaign.
“There were all these stories that were planted in the National Enquirer for people that Donald Trump wanted to attack. And then he would talk about it on the campaign trail. So when we heard, we said, ‘Oh, so we’ve gone from campaign mode, to now trying to attack us.’”
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) June 30, 2017