In early 2018, the American national security apparatus was fixated on reports that North Korea was building nuclear weapons that could reach the U.S. or that Russia was plotting chemical weapons assassinations in Europe. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump was busy targeting his idea of an enemy of the state: late night host Jimmy Kimmel.
The then-president, according to two former Trump administration officials, was so upset by Kimmel’s comedic jabs that he directed his White House staff to call up one of Disney’s top executives in Washington, D.C., to complain and demand action. (ABC, on which Jimmy Kimmel Live! has long aired, is owned by Disney.)
In at least two separate phone calls that occurred around the time Trump was finishing his first year in office, the White House conveyed the severity of his fury with Kimmel to Disney, the ex-officials tell Rolling Stone. Trump’s staff mentioned that the leader of the free world wanted the billion-dollar company to rein in the Trump-trashing ABC host, and that Trump felt that Kimmel had, in the characterization of one former senior administration official, been “very dishonest and doing things that [Trump] would have once sued over.”
The incident was so bizarre that news of it spread around the corridors of power in Washington, D.C. Other administration officials who had nothing to do with the pressure campaign began hearing from their contacts at Disney about how confused they were that the White House kept telling them Trump wanted Kimmel to tone down his anti-Trump humor.
“At least one call was made to Disney [that I know of],” a third former official, who worked in the Trump White House, recalls. Sources spoke to Rolling Stone on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely and to preserve ongoing relationships in Trumpworld and conservative circles. “I do not know to who[m], but it happened. Nobody thought it was going to change anything but DJT was focused on it so we had to do something…It was doing something, mostly, to say to [Trump], ‘Hey, we did this.’”
Rolling Stone was able to identify one target of the White House’s ham-fisted, destined-to-fail pressure campaign: former Disney top lobbyist Richard Bates. The sources say Trump’s staff reached out to Bates to convey the president’s anger regarding Kimmel’s monologues and jabs. Bates, who served as a prominent Disney executive and was a Washington fixture for over 30 years, passed away in December 2020.
The pressure campaign ultimately failed, but the previously unreported effort marked yet another moment in which Trump showed an eagerness to wield the immense powers of his office for personal gain and highly petty reasons. (Indeed, one of Trump’s two impeachments was caused by this very impulse.)
And now, as Trump campaigns for the White House once again, there is no sign that his desire to use federal power in this way has ebbed an inch. In a recent radio interview, the former president said he’s entitled to a “revenge tour” if he wins the presidency in 2024 while claiming he wouldn’t avail himself of the opportunity in the event he’s reelected.
But throughout his presidency, Trump devoted inordinate amounts of time toward threatening late night television shows and celebrities over their jokes about the famously thin-skinned former game show host.
In 2018, Trump’s FCC chairman Ajit Pai announced that the agency would investigate a crass joke from Late Show host Stephen Colbert about Trump’s cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin. Trump fumed at Colbert in an interview and called him a “no-talent” who uses “filthy” language. But despite the president’s irritation and complaints from viewers, the FCC ultimately declined to take action against the late night host. As the matter was being examined, the then-president took enough of an interest in it to repeatedly ask aides for updates on if the FCC had made a decision yet, a source with direct knowledge of the queries says.
The following year, Trump directed his staff and attorneys to see whether the FCC and the Justice Department could retaliate against late night shows critical of him after he was incensed by the jokes about him in an SNL rerun. Trump, sources familiar with the matter said, suggested to lieutenants he believed (wrongly) that shows like Kimmel’s and SNL had violated an obscure federal rule which mandates that broadcasters provide equal time to messages from candidates.
The Trump White House’s attempts to censor critics extended to social media, as well. In 2019, Trump’s White House reached out to Twitter and demanded that the social media company remove a tweet from Chrissy Teigen calling Trump a “pussy ass bitch,” according to recent testimony from a former Twitter trust and safety official.
This content was originally published here.