ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
President Trump yesterday struck at MSNBC hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, and this morning, the duo struck back. They accused Trump of trying to pressure them into apologizing for criticizing him on the air. The pair had recently announced their engagement, and they said White House officials told them that the president would stop the National Enquirer from publishing a negative story about them if they just did what he wanted. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us now to discuss this. Hello, David.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Robert.
SIEGEL: And first, let's listen to Joe Scarborough explaining what he and Mika Brzezinski thought of that offer.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOE SCARBOROUGH: The response was like - I 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 and kept coming. And they were like, call. You need to call. Please call...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: So...
SCARBOROUGH: Come on, Joe, just pick up the phone and call him.
SIEGEL: Does Joe Scarborough have any evidence to back up those claims?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, he said today that he had texts and phone records to back it up. And he's - the thing that he was saying that he was asked to do was to apologize to President Trump for the criticism that he and Mika Brzezinski have offered on their show since his inauguration. I will say an NBC News official said to me, confirmed to me that they had contemporaneously kept NBC News executives apprised of what they felt was pressure from them and essentially a form of extortion to apologize for their cover in order to get this personal story squashed in the National Enquirer.
SIEGEL: What does the White House have to say about all this?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know, President Trump himself this morning sent a tweet seeming to confirm there had been some conversations. He tweeted in part, quote, "he called me to stop a National Enquirer article. I said no." Now, there's another source associated with the White House who told me that there had been a conversation between Joe Scarborough and Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and his senior adviser, in which Scarborough had reached out and sought help for dealing with the Enquirer article.
Kushner said, you probably should talk to my father-in-law, the president. Scarborough said, by this account, he's kind of mad at me. And Kushner said, well, maybe you should apologize. That's a different framing of an interaction not consistent with what Scarborough and Brzezinski had said and certainly doesn't address what two other people in the White House might have said in interactions with Scarborough.
SIEGEL: Well, let's take the scenario that Scarborough and Brzezinski described, which was that people at the White House, at least, felt that Donald Trump had enough sway with the National Enquirer that he could get them to spike a story. How does that strike you?
FOLKENFLIK: I think the record would strongly support that conclusion. I think that, you know, you have a number of very positive stories run by the Enquirer over the years. And it's worth pointing out that the head of the parent company, a man by the name of David Pecker, is a close friend and associate of the president, who has talked publicly about his willingness to give positive coverage to Donald Trump and negative coverage to his critics in order to support him. And also in order to, as he said told The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin for a story published this week, in order to appeal to their audience, which they see as older, tend to be white, tend to be in the middle of the country.
But if you look at a series of articles of people who have been critics or political opponents of the president, you know, the Enquirer went out of its way to publish stories on Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, planted, you know, really negative stories about Megyn Kelly and her relatives, claims of plastic surgery or personal foibles - Hillary Clinton much the same. Even Salma Hayek last year said that Trump or his associates planted a negative story about her attributes after she refused to date him. This all adds up to the sense that it's hard not to believe that this in some ways could be a very plausible scenario.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's David Folkenflik. David, thank you.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
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