Scaramucci: I couldn't improve Trump's relations with press because 'the fish does stink from the head down'

Michael Isikoff
Chief Investigative Correspondent
Yahoo News photo Illustration; photos: AP, Getty

President Trump’s former communications director Anthony Scaramucci said his attempts last year to improve White House’s relations with the press failed because “the fish does stink from the head down.”

“I strongly disagree with the president’s approach here,” Scaramucci told the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery” when asked about Trump’s incessant attacks on the media and whether they contributed to a culture of violence in the country.

“The president would be in the mid 50s, possibly higher, on his approval rating if he dialed back some of the rhetoric and he returned to his gregarious self circa 2005, when he started ‘The Apprentice,’” Scaramucci said.

But despite personally urging Trump to curb those attacks and drawing up a White House communications plan last year designed to “dial down the tension,” Scaramucci acknowledged that his efforts went nowhere because of the tone set at the very top.

“But one problem that happens — because the fish does stink from the head down — the president doesn’t like the press,” Scaramucci said. “The people [in the White House] that want to prove their loyalty to him run around inside the place and don’t like the press. That’s where the cultural issue is that needs to change.”

Scaramucci flamed out as communications director after about 10 days in July 2016, following a New Yorker story quoting from an obscenity-laced tirade in which he lashed out about two of his White House colleagues: chief of staff Reince Priebus and senior adviser Steve Bannon. Convinced that both men were leaking negative information about him, Scaramucci told then New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza that Priebus was a “f***ing paranoid schizophrenic” and that Bannon was seeking to perform an unnatural sex act on himself. He was fired a few days later amid a White House shake-up that also saw Priebus and Bannon depart.

Scaramucci is now seeking to capitalize on his White House roller coaster with a new book, “Trump: The Blue-Collar President.” In it, he reaffirms his allegiance to Trump and praises the president’s economic policies but also details how Trump ignored his advice to tone down the media bashing.

Download or subscribe on iTunes: “Skullduggery” from Yahoo News

Scaramucci was grilled in the wake of news that crude pipe bombs were sent to former President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, the CNN newsroom and others — including outspoken critics of the president, such as actor Robert De Niro. There were no injuries as of Friday morning.

Yet, despite bipartisan calls on Trump to stand down from attacking the press, he defiantly fired off another volley on Twitter — blaming the news media for the country’s poisonous atmosphere.


Early Friday morning, Trump went after CNN again.


In Scaramucci’s “Skulluggery” interview, the Wall Street investor also expanded on a scene in his book in which, just after being named communications director, he implored the president to abandon his rhetorical attacks on the media.

“We were in the Oval Office,” he said. “He was sitting at the Resolute desk. I was standing in front of that desk. He looked at me and said, ‘Hey, I had a 45-year great relationship with the media. What the hell happened?'”

“I looked at him and I said, ‘Well, you can’t declare war on the media, for starters,'” Scaramucci recalled. In the book, he writes that he then told the president: “We gotta have an armistice with the media. You might not like them, they might not like you, but we have to stop battling each other.”

Trump, he writes, “looked me straight in the eye” and said, “OK, let’s fix this.” But Scaramucci could tell he “wasn’t 100 percent aboard.”

Scaramucci blames his nemesis Bannon for starting the White House war on the press by declaring the news media “the opposition party” barely a week into Trump’s presidency.

But he acknowledges that Trump himself is as much to blame as Bannon. Scaramucci invoked World War II analogies to make his point, comparing Trump with Japanese Emperor Hirohito and Bannon to Gen. Hideki Tojo, the country’s wartime prime minister.

“Bannon was the general that declared war,” he said. “Trump was the emperor, OK? At the end of the day, Trump followed suit. … I’m not saying it’s all Bannon and it’s not Trump. Of course, it’s Trump, or President Trump. What I am saying is that you can point to that day when the war started.”

Scaramucci then returned to Bannon’s “declaration of war” against the media. “That was the Pearl Harbor. That was the original battle that got things started, the Nazis crossing into Poland. My point is it’s a mistake, because no president in history has won a war with the press.”

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