Feud escalates between ‘unmoored’ Donald Trump and television hosts amid allegations of blackmail involving National Enquirer
Early in the 2016 campaign the hosts had been accused of being too friendly with Trump, a frequent guest on air, but the relationship later soured
Two US television hosts hit back on Friday after a deeply personal attack by US President Donald Trump, questioning his “unmoored behaviour” and fitness to serve in an escalating public feud.
Trump’s coarse outburst against journalist Mika Brzezinski – the latest salvo in his ongoing war with the media – sparked a major backlash, as well as stern condemnation from within his own Republican party.
In a feisty response, Brzezinski and her fiance and co-host Joe Scarborough, who headline the Morning Joe programme on the left-leaning MSNBC cable network, penned a Washington Post opinion piece titled “Donald Trump is not well”.
“Our concerns about his unmoored behaviour go far beyond the personal,” they wrote, saying they were “neither shocked nor insulted” by Trump’s attack.
“America’s leaders and allies are asking themselves yet again whether this man is fit to be president. We have our doubts, but we are both certain that the man is not mentally equipped to continue watching our show, Morning Joe,” they said.
They also claimed said the White House used the threat of a National Enquirer story about their romantic relationship as leverage in an unsuccessful effort to extract an apology for on-air criticism of the president.
Apparently stung by sharply critical coverage on the show, Trump had fired off two tweets on Thursday, saying: “I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore).
“Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe came to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!”
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
In the Post, the co-hosts described his tweets as “a flurry of falsehoods” and “laughable,” saying they went to the Florida resort at Trump’s invitation, and chatted pleasantly with the former real estate tycoon and his wife Melania.
They also rejected Trump’s graphic description of the 50-year-old Brzezinski, while disclosing that she “did have a little skin under her chin tweaked, but this was hardly a state secret”.
Brzezinski and Scarborough went on to accuse Trump of an “unrelenting assault on women”, including a notorious attack on former Fox reporter Megyn Kelly, who he described as having “blood coming out of her wherever” after she challenged him in a campaign debate.
Trump has been caught on tape boasting about groping women, and using disparaging terms such as “slob,” “fat pig” and “dog” to describe others.
Brzezinski and Scarborough – who are engaged to be married – said top White House staff members warned them the National Enquirer scandal tabloid was planning to publish a negative article about them “unless we begged the president to have the story spiked”.
“We ignored their desperate pleas,” they wrote.
That claim triggered an angry back-and-forth with the president, who retorted: “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.”
The TV host tweeted back a denial of his own – claiming he had records to prove he was right.
The fiery exchange also prompted the National Enquirer to issue a statement defending a story it published about the couple, and denying any part in the feud.
“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,” said Dylan Howard, vice-president of news for the Enquirer’s publisher, American Media Inc.
Early in the 2016 campaign the Morning Joe hosts had been accused of being too friendly with Trump, a frequent guest on air, but the relationship later soured.
Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders was staunch in defending her boss, saying he had been “attacked mercilessly” on the MSNBC show, and that: “I don’t think that it’s a surprise to anybody that he fights fire with fire.”
In recent days Trump has escalated his attacks on US media outlets – which he accuses of peddling “fake news” – singling out CNN over the retraction of a story about his administration’s supposed Russia ties, as well as rival cable networks, The New York Times and The Washington Post.
But the vulgarity of his latest assault triggered a torrent of criticism including within his own camp. Jeb Bush, his rival for the White House nomination last year, summed them up as “Inappropriate. Undignified. Unpresidential.”