Trump’s Ugly Media Obsessions: ‘Fat’ Meghan McCain, ‘Bitch’ Katy Tur & More
In this selection from their new book, “Sinking in the Swamp,” Daily Beast reporters Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng lay bare Trump's petty, relentless rants about the media.
The new book Sinking in the Swamp: How Trump’s Minions and Misfits Poisoned Washington (Viking) will be published Feb. 11, 2020. Pre-order your copy here.
It was the middle of the day on the fourteenth floor of Trump Tower in the final weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign, where a ragtag group of Trump loyalists monitored and synthesized the unending stream of news coverage about their candidate. Often, when most of the campaign’s staffers had already gone home, Team Trump’s skeleton crew of media watchers were left working the midnight shift in the campaign’s so-called war room. War rooms are the rapid-response nerve centers of political campaigns, where staffers huddle around television sets, keeping tabs on any developments in the race or mentions of their candidates, ready to blast out a statement or a media pitch if a moment in the news cycle presents itself.
The news cycles of 2016 were consumed by Donald Trump to a degree unusual even for a major-party presidential candidate. That made his campaign’s war room a central component of the campaign apparatus. And it also meant long hours for those tasked with sifting through the streams of cable news coverage and drip drip of reporting on their candidate’s various flaws, foibles, and outrageous campaign trail pronouncements and actions.
The Donald himself rarely ever set foot in his own campaign offices. Staffers recalled fewer than half a dozen times throughout the campaign—including election night—that he was spotted roaming the fourteenth floor. So on this quiet, average day in Trump Tower in September 2016, the war room’s denizens were stunned when they turned their heads to see that “DJT,” as campaign staffers knew him, had quietly sauntered up next to them. Some of them had never actually met the candidate, and here he was, calmly surveying his political operation.
No one knew what to say to the candidate. But he soon piped up. Trump motioned toward the war room televisions, each screen tuned to a different cable news channel.
“Which do you think is worse,” the mogul asked, to no one in particular, “CNN or MSNBC?”
They were taken aback. Did he really want to know their opinions on the relative merits of various TV news channels? But one of the staffers chimed in.
“Well, sir,” he said sheepishly, “I think CNN is worse. MSNBC at least admits that they’re liberal. But CNN claims they play it down the middle, when they’re actually just as bad.”
Trump lit up.
“Totally agree! Totally agree!” he exclaimed, hands raised in characteristic palms-forward gesticulation. He launched into a soliloquy about the misdeeds of what he would soon call the “fake news media,” and CNN in particular. But he quickly turned his ire back to MSNBC, however, specifically to Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the co-hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Longtime Trump friends and acquaintances, Joe and Mika provided him with one of the few non-Fox platforms on cable news during the campaign that occasionally defended him, or at least took his candidacy seriously.
If that had earned them any goodwill with Trump at the time, he wasn’t showing it. He was more interested in gossiping about the two mainstays of the New York media scene. And, ooh boy, did he have some juicy gossip to share with these mid-level campaign staffers whose names he didn’t even know.
“You know,” he said, clearly amused with himself, “nobody else knows about it, but I know about Joe and Mika’s little apartment in the Upper East Side.” At the time, the longtime Morning Joe co-hosts were rumored to be engaged in a long-running affair. They would get married a couple years later, in late 2018. But during the campaign, their relationship was very much not officially public.
“One day, I’ll tell you all about it,” Trump promised his war-room staffers whose names he probably couldn’t remember if you put a gun to his kneecap.
Here was the future president of the United States in his campaign headquarters, quizzing top staffers not on the latest polling data or the campaign’s ad strategies but on the love lives of two pundits.
Days later, Trump took another rare swing through his campaign’s offices. But this time he had a couple of guests in tow.
He was giving a personal tour of his beloved “war room” to none other than... his dear pals Joe and Mika.
Joe and Mika's visit to the war room that day, in fact, was an attempt at a peace summit, one brokered by Jared Kushner, who wanted his dad-in-law and the MSNBC duo to forge a détente after months of a cold silence and hurt feelings. When the cable-news couple met with Trump at the Tower that day, the GOP nominee made his displeasure with them—for comparing his rhetoric and policy prescriptions to fascist Germany, and so forth—known in a private tête-à-tête. Afterwards, however, he couldn't resist showing off his treasured war room to his one-time buddies Joe and Mika. The moment the three of them entered the war room together, there was a brief moment of suspended animation, when a small cluster of campaign staffers noticeably had jaws dropped and laughter suppressed, while thinking, "Why the hell did Trump bring them here, he shit-talks them all the time!"
Kushner, who is now tasked with forging peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, was not ultimately able to repair relations between the MSNBC hosts and The Donald that day.
Multiple people recounted this story to us over the first two years of the Trump White House. For those present, and their campaign colleagues who inevitably heard about it through the unending stream of high-school-cheerleader-esque gossiping that ceaselessly consumes Trumpworld, it simultaneously illustrated a number of idiosyncrasies that, the whole country would soon learn in depressing fashion, define Donald Trump the man and have come to define his presidency.
Trump’s relationship with Joe and Mika, and his larger relationship with the pundit press, are akin to a really bad marriage. Each party despises the other, constantly hurls insults, threatens, demeans, berates, and promises that, goddamn it, this is the last time, I swear I’m going to leave you. But neither of them leaves, because when it comes down to it, they’re in love, and they need each other. Trump needs the media to hang on his every word, and if that means they put on an air of outrage and derision, well, that’s better than being ignored. And the punditocracy needs Trump and his endless stream of slights and outrages. They provide unending fodder for mindless and banal panel discussions, inevitably stacked with Republican strategists and Democratic strategists, titles seemingly devised purely for cable news chyrons with which to banner these reliably unenlightening television shout-fests.
The Joe and Mika episode illustrated another essential Trump characteristic—a feature, not a bug—that dominated his campaign and would go on to do so in his presidential administration. The candidate frequently concerned himself with issues at best tangentially related to matters at hand (in this case, getting himself elected president). He was prone to distraction and consumed by gossip and petty feuds. And he took any criticism as a personal slight against him and went scorched earth in response.
At times, Trump’s vitriol was even darker and more bitter than previously revealed, reported, or publicly flaunted by the shameless whiner himself.
During the constant melees of the Republican presidential primaries, Trump defined himself by his enemies: the Mexicans, the Muslims, the Low-Energy Jebs, the Little Marcos, the Lyin’ Teds, the insufficiently subservient members of the media class.
One of these enemies who was especially adept at getting on Trump’s nerves was the NBC News correspondent Katy Tur, who would go on to write a memoir of her time covering the campaign and land an MSNBC anchor gig during a prime daytime slot. In early July 2015, three weeks after the candidate’s Mexican-rapist launch at Trump Tower, he sat down with Tur for a one-on-one interview at his eponymous tower, a 30-minute taped conversation that quickly devolved into the Republican presidential candidate getting snippy about Tur’s questions and her personality.
“Oh, give me a break, Katy, go ahead, next question,” Trump said after Tur asked him about civilian casualties in Iraq that his “bomb the hell out of ISIS” foreign policy could cause.
“International diplomacy is a delicate thing. You have to watch what you say, and how can anybody expect that you’re going to be able to get into the White House and watch your mouth when you were so widely panned for these... Mexico comments? How are you going to be able to hold your tongue and not piss off other countries?” Tur asked, presciently.
“Do you want to change the word, are you allowed to use that word on television?” he responded.
When Trump resumed demagoguing his fake immigrant crime statistics and Tur pushed back, Trump told her she was being a “very naive person.” When she seemed to lose her train of thought for a moment, a visibly annoyed Trump yapped, “Come on, try getting it out, try getting it out. I mean, I don’t know if you’re going to put this on television, but you don’t even know what you’re talking about. Try getting it out, go ahead.”
This animosity continued well into the following year, and Trump clearly wasn’t inclined to let it go. The following December, Trump called “Little Katy” a “third-rate journalist” in the middle of a campaign rally, prompting Trump supporters to look her way and lustily boo her. During the same event, Trump lumped her in the category of media “scum.”
At a press conference in July 2016, Tur asked Trump if he had “any qualms about asking a foreign government” to “hack into the system of anybody’s in this country,” referring to Trump’s famous public wish that Russian intelligence would find and distribute 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s “30,000 emails that are missing.”
When she attempted to ask a follow-up question, the candidate shot back, “Be quiet, I know you want to, you know, save her... Now, if Russia, or China, or any other country has those emails, I mean to be honest with you, I’d love to see them.”
In her book, Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History, Tur wrote candidly about how Trump routinely made her a prominent object of hatred and about how candidate Trump once planted an abrupt, unwanted kiss upon her cheek, shortly before his appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe in November 2015. “Before I know what’s happening, his hands are on my shoulders and his lips are on my cheek,” she wrote. “My eyes widen. My body freezes. My heart stops.”
In the years since, the hard feelings and animus on Trump’s end have yet to abate. Starting during the campaign, Trump would privately assign her a six-word nickname that was... somewhat unique to the rest of the 2016 traveling press corps.
To friends and advisers, he’d bitterly refer to the NBC News reporter simply as “That bitch with the tranny dad.”
Her biological father is named Zoey Tur (born Robert Albert Tur), a pilot and journalist who garnered plaudits for work covering events such as the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the O.J. Simpson car chase. During the 2016 election, Zoey Tur called Trump a “fascist” and “mentally ill” in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter and referred to Trump campaign stops as “his Nuremberg rallies.”
None of this went unnoticed by said “fascist,” who held all of it against the Tur family.
Two years before Trump launched his presidential bid, Bob Tur started hormone treatment to become Zoey. And ever since the days of the 2016 race, she will forever be known in President Trump’s mind as that “tranny” with the “bitch” kid who annoyed the billionaire demagogue so frequently during his big, loud run for office.
If crossing Trump was an easy way for a pundit to wind up on the butt-end of his crass, tabloid-like media obsession, so too, it turned out, was simply being related to one of his perceived foes. The leader of the free world, it turns out, has come to the conclusion that Meghan M. McCain, the daughter of the president’s late archrival Sen. John McCain, is, to put it in terms he’d likely have to look up in Webster’s, not to his aesthetic or intellectual liking.
During a hectic stretch of days in March 2019, not long before Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s hotly anticipated report was finally delivered to the Department of Justice, President Trump couldn’t or wouldn’t stop picking fights with the late Sen. McCain, despite—or perhaps because of—the near-universal reverence accorded the Senate veteran and Vietnam War hero in the wake of his passing.
The president—on social media, while talking to journalists, and onstage in Ohio—renewed his attacks on McCain as a backstabber, a Trump hater, a deep state enabler, and a classroom dunce at Annapolis.
Meghan McCain responded from her perch hosting The View on ABC by calling the president’s life “pathetic” and small compared with her dad’s. “I don’t expect decency from the Trump family,” she said during the March 21, 2019, episode.
When the notoriously media-obsessed president caught wind of Meghan’s comments, he picked up the phone at the White House and began calling longtime friends to see if they’d join in on his cathartic minutes of hate against the McCain daughter and other enemies real and perceived.
“She’s been getting fatter?” Trump asked, before launching into a harangue about how she is somehow “dumber” than her father. One confidant to whom the president vented his grievances about the McCain family described a diatribe that lasted at least a minute and a half during which the president spoke without interruption. This person at one point put the phone on mute, hit the speakerphone button, and allowed others present to hear President Trump bash Meghan McCain’s cheeks and, to the president’s eye (ever attuned to the basest aspects of entertainment and cable news), her waistline.
During the conversations, he aggressively fixated on what an awful TV host she was, both on The View and during her time as a Fox News contributor. He wondered why anyone would want to hire her. He rambled on and on about how nobody would care about who she was or what she had to say, if not for the genetic proximity to Sen. McCain.
This was said without a hint of self-awareness, given the forty-fifth president’s last name, the cushy White House jobs afforded to his daughter and son-in-law, the interventions on their behalves when they were unable to secure government security clearances, and the nepotism undergirding Trump’s own rise in New York real estate, to say nothing of the well-maintained fortunes of Tiffany, Eric, Don Jr., and so forth.
It also offered a window into how the president prioritizes his time, his energy, and his grievance-mongering. That week, Trump had just announced he was nixing the long-standing American policy on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, declaring “it is time” for the United States to “fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty” over the area.
Shortly thereafter, he was back working the phones, bitching about Meghan McCain’s weight to fellow members of a Trump-era ruling class.
And it wasn’t the first time he’d maligned the appearance of a television news host. It wasn’t even the first time he’d done so for one of the women on The View.
“She’s a slob, she talks like a truck driver,” Trump, then in his reality-TV phase, told The Insider during a 2006 interview at his office, speaking of Rosie O’Donnell toward the end of the George W. Bush era. This was during “Rosie’s” brief stint as a controversial, Bush-loathing View co-host, when Trump and O’Donnell began feuding publicly, replete with Trump’s prolific legal threats.
“How does she even get on television?... If I were running The View, I’d fire Rosie. I mean, I’d look her right in that fat, ugly face of hers, and say, ‘Rosie, you’re fired,’” he continued in his rant to The Insider. It would alarmingly mirror his broadsides made more than a decade later against, for example, world leaders and diplomats. “We’re all a little chubby, but Rosie’s just worse than most of us. But it’s not the chubbiness; Rosie is a very unattractive person, both inside and out. Rosie’s a person that’s very lucky to have her girlfriend. And she better be careful, or I’ll send one of my friends to pick up her girlfriend. Why would she stay with Rosie if she had another choice?
“She’s trying to use ABC and The View to get even with me. But with me, we fight back,” Trump said. “I’ll probably sue Rosie… It would be fun. I’d like to take some money out of her fat-ass pockets.”
Trump dramatically concluded, “Rosie… is a loser.”
Everything you need to know about Trump, the president and the celebrity and the lump of flesh, is contained in that Rosie clip. It’s a decoder ring just waiting to be picked up and utilized by every establishment-media dipshit who ever earnestly asked himself or herself, “Isn’t this beneath the dignity of the Oval Office?” It sure is! This is Trump when the cameras turn off, when staff depart the Oval Office and he’s left to work the phones with friends and allies and muse about the losers and haters polluting his airwaves, and the ugly faces and large waistlines that he can’t believe are on television but nonetheless can’t stop talking about.
Years later, The View co-host Abby Huntsman, a former Fox News anchor and the daughter of the former Republican presidential contender Jon Huntsman, also caught President Trump’s eye for physical detail and examination. Though this case was markedly more lustful and less scornful than his assessment of the McCain daughter.
On June 1, 2018, Kim Yong Chol, a senior North Korean official and confidant of the totalitarian ruler and Trump’s buddy Kim Jong Un, was in town to visit the U.S. president at the White House as the two governments continued down the path of ostensible negotiations on the future of nukes on the Korea Peninsula. During his high-profile swing through Washington, D.C., the official conversed with Trump for hours and delivered a personal letter to the president from the North Korean dictator himself. In remarks to reporters on the White House South Lawn following that meeting, Trump was buoyant, lauding the “very nice letter.”
To mark the occasion of this visit and diplomatic love letter, the White House invited some of the administration’s top brass to powwow and socialize with the excitable Donald that same week. The elder Huntsman, one of the GOP old guard’s many Civility Preachers and by this point Trump’s ambassador to Russia, was one of those dignitaries invited by the White House to shake his new boss’s hand and kiss the ring for good measure.
Jon Huntsman made the mistake of bringing along a plus-one: his spouse.
As Huntsman and Trump glad-handed in the West Wing, the ambassador’s wife captivated Trump’s attention. For a moment, Trump locked eyes with Mary Kaye, a blond, gorgeous, self-possessed, and Kennedy-esque-looking force in the room. He glanced her up and down.
“Now I know how Abby lost all her baby weight so fast!” a smirking Trump said to compliment the proud grandparents.
For a split second, the Huntsmans didn’t know exactly what to make of the president’s passive lechery and his comment about their daughter Abby or her appearance.
Soon enough, though, they put two and two together. In one short sentence, the president had managed to ogle both the daughter and the wife of one of his most important diplomats.
In this job a reporter has to absorb shit like this on a daily basis—like a distended, politically dead-inside Nintendo Kirby—so it is important to savor the little things. It’s important to keep in mind the factors that stop matters from spiraling into a ranker stupidity. One saving grace, or apocalypse-forestalling fluke, of the era is that the 45th president of the United States is continuing to conduct his personal interactions and political day-job under the influence of… sobriety.
“I'm not a drinker. I can honestly say I never had a beer in my life. It's one of my only good traits," he told the press in the Rose Garden in late 2018. “I never had a glass of alcohol… Can you imagine if I had? What a mess I would be. I would be the world's worst.”
As 30-something reporters covering the age of Trump, we couldn’t have agreed more readily.
If you enjoyed (however perversely…) reading this, CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE the rest of this book.
From SINKING IN THE SWAMP by Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng, to be published on February 11, 2020 by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright (C) 2020 by by Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng.