Trump Colluded with National Enquirer to Blackmail Joe Scarborough. Yes, Really.

Yesterday, Trump’s itchy Twitter finger revealed itself again, when he tweeted against Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski:

Both Trump’s inability to use technology (this Forbes article from last year mentions he’s a total luddite) and his sexism (no backup source necessary) are on display here, as he lobs a cheap insult at Mika while also not using the reply function on Twitter correctly.

However, what might be the most disturbing aspect to this story came out today in a Washington Post editorial by Scarborough and Brzezinski, and was expanded upon by Scarborough on today’s Morning Joe

“I think we have to talk about it now, because it explains the relationship and his really strange obsession with this show and in particular, his really disturbing obsession with Mika…We got a call that, hey, the National Enquirer is going to run a negative story against you guys, and Donald is friends, the president is friends with the guy that runs the National Enquirer, 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 this story.’”

The incident in question dates back to March, when Scarborough first found out the Enquirer was preparing a story on his affair with Brzezinski, both of whom were already married. Trump, angry at his negative coverage on the show, wanted Scarborough to apologize, and according to New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman, he even enlisted Jared Kushner to play mediator between the current TV host and the former reality TV host. The apology never took place, and the story ran in June. 

Trump, of course, had to respond to these accusations: 

The President threatening his enemies in the media goes back to Nixon, but Nixon never knew how to manipulate the media as well as Trump did – and no, that doesn’t mean Trump’s tweets are part of an underlying strategy to distract us all from the horrific voter fraud committee, he’s still the same fat, impulsive baby that he’s always been. But given Trump’s coziness with certain members of the media, and his history as a media figure, he has an army of people who can do his dirty work for him, and one of them, detailed by Jeffrey Toobin in an excellent New Yorker article, is National Enquirer publisher David Pecker. 

Pecker, in his own way, is as skilled in micro-targeting as Steve Bannon and his firm, Cambridge Analytica: he knows who to feature on the cover of his magazines to get you to buy a copy on the checkout line while you’re reaching for the Dentyne. According to him, Enquirers which featured Trump on the cover “sold between two and fifteen percent more than the weekly average for non-Trump covers.” The headlines he’s used for the President have been fawning, like “Donald Trump – Inside His Plan for World Peace!” By contrast, his Hillary Clinton-related headlines include, “How Bill and Hillary Bashed His ‘Bimbos’ into Silence,” and regularly cites disgraced former Clintonite Dick Morris on their so-called shenanigans.

Pecker claims to be apolitical, and it’s true that he’s given to left/center-leaning magazines as well – he was one of the original investors in John F. Kennedy Jr.’s George, back in 1995. But he’s fascinated by celebrity, and who else embodies someone famous merely for being famous better than Donald Trump? Sucked into the con that he was the epitome of success, he befriended him and has since become a part of his inner circle, attending his wedding to Melania in 2005 and befriending Jared Kushner, all according to Toobin’s article. Since then, Pecker has allowed Trump to plant stories in his magazine, including one deriding actress Salma Hayek for her height

It’s also important to note that, earlier this year, Pecker purchased US Weekly from Wenner Media, charming heir apparent Gus Wenner into making the sale, as well as being upfront about his loyalty to the President. All that explains how Ivanka made the cover of the magazine earlier this month:

For Trump to threaten Scarborough and Brzezinski with a publication that, essentially, operates as his Pravda, is another sign of how obsessed Trump is with maintaining his image as the greatest person ever, even while, to paraphrase a 1960s chant, the whole world is laughing (the most recent Gallup poll has him at a 57% disapproval rating as of this writing.) But it also reveals his dictatorial nature: in a country which didn’t have a First Amendment, he could have easily suspended the free press by now. With Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ not ruling out the possibility of cracking down on other media organizations, and Sarah Palin suing The New York Times for defamation, as well as the continuing misfires of Andy Lack to turn MSNBC into Diet Fox News, we see how fragile this institution is, and how it needs protection from charlatans who would rather turn it into clickbait meant to dull critical thinking than challenge the status quo. 

And for the President of the United States to be colluding with a two-bit rag publisher to control his publication’s content is a warning sign of how much worse things could get, especially given Pecker’s intent to buy Time Magazine. If that happens, we could all be royally screwed. 

Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.