Trump's Tabloid Ties

Required reading on the president’s cozy relationship with The National Enquirer

Image: F Delventhal

One employee said that Trump was also a frequent source for Enquirer stories. “When there was something going on in New York, David would talk with Trump about it. Trump provided David with stories directly,” the employee said. “And, if Donald didn’t want a story to run, it wouldn’t run. You can put that in stone.” Indeed, early in the 2016 campaign Pecker simply turned over the pages of the Enquirer to Trump, allowing the candidate to write columns under his own byline.

Now that I’m a civilian, two whole weeks will pass where I won’t read a single story from the latest New Yorker magazine. Here’s one I just revisited that you probably still have on your coffee table: Jeff Toobin on Donald Trump’s good friend and chief executive of American Media, Inc., David Pecker. The piece is newly relevant this morning as we enter Day Two of the Mika and Joe media-controversy-slash-Twitter-feud with the president (Mike and Joe are now claiming they were blackmailed by Trump). The ironies here regarding “fake news” are so thick you could braid them (Guess who exerts control over stories! Guess where AMI’s board meetings are held!), but suffice it to say that Pecker has been openly eyeing Time Inc. for some time now, which should raise the eyebrows of anyone who still works there and is not exactly itching to serve the interests of the Trump administration.

The National Enquirer doesn’t have many subscribers or advertisers at all, and most of its sales come from checkout lines at grocery stores, especially chains like Walmart and Krogers. Pecker is a rigorous student of sales data, and he knows that what sells is not investigations, but rumors and misleading statements—that gray area right before libel that comprises most tabloids’ bread and butter. As Toobin writes, the founding philosophy of the Enquirer, apocryphal though it may be, was to capture the attention of the rubberneckers:

As Pope later told the tale, he had an epiphany one day when he found himself gazing at a particularly gruesome traffic accident, and noticed how many other people had also stopped to stare. “It suddenly hit me,” Pope recalled. “That’s what people want to see. That’s what I’ll give them, blood and gore.”

When it comes to stories, Trump is sort of a one-man tabloid—he’ll advance anything, whether it’s theory or rumor or outright lie, because he knows it will sell.

I was always under the impression that the word tabloid came from the word “tablet” meaning a slab bearing some inscription plus the Greek suffix “oid” meaning “having the form or likeness,” and referred to the physical from of a printed broadsheet, but I was wrong. It comes (via trademark) from the word tablet meaning pill or drug:

Originally the proprietary name of a medicine sold in tablets, the term came to denote any small medicinal tablet; the current sense reflects the notion of “concentrated, easily assimilable.”

Houston, we have more drug problems than we thought.