TRUMP TAKES CHARGE! CLINTON’S RIGGED TRUMP INVESTIGATION! TRUMP’S PLAN FOR WORLD PEACE! TRUMP MUST BUILD THE WALL! HOW TRUMP WILL CRUSH OUR 8 ENEMIES! WINNING PEACE WITH RUSSIA!
All of these words could easily be a tweet from the president or a White House press release or the sounds of Sarah Huckabee Sanders having a seizure—but they’re not. They are, instead, an assortment of coverlines from the National Enquirer, which, in recent years, has become a screaming, print-based presidential id that exists solely to stare you down in the checkout aisle. This is a far cry from the tabloid’s heyday as the premier chronicler of alien encounters, celebrity sex lives, and miracle back pain cure-alls.
Many have attributed the Enquirer’s blatant pro-Trump slant to the fact that Trump’s dear friend, David Pecker, has been the CEO of American Media, Inc. (AMI), the tabloid’s parent company, since 1999. In an interview with Bloomberg, Enquirer editor-in-chief Dyland Howard denied this connection, claiming that the tabloid’s recent leanings are the result of “an extensive poll of its readers’ political preferences.” This may be true.
But Howard also said that “nobody influences the editorial decision-making process at the National Enquirer other than myself and our editors. We have not been told, at any point, to go easy on Mr. Trump.” This is almost certainly not true. In a New Yorker piece last year, Jeffrey Toobin detailed how, at a meeting in which someone suggested a story on Melania Trump quickly slapping away her husband’s hand, Pecker claimed that he “didn’t see that.” According to Toobin, “The half-dozen or so men in the room exchanged looks. One then noted that the footage of Melania’s slap had received a good deal of attention. ‘I didn’t see that,’ Pecker repeated, and the subject was dropped.”
It’s hard to believe that the National Enquirer’s general audience wouldn’t be interested in a story about Donald and Melania’s marriage woes. Salacious drama always sells, and it’s what the Enquirer built its readership on. But that type of titillating intrigue used to be in service of something far more light-hearted, a print-based soap opera with incredibly low stakes. The tabloid does still serve as a temporary escape from reality, it’s just that, now, that escape’s not for us.
Because just as Hannity and Fox & Friends have oriented themselves around the interests of one lonely geriatric who delights in raging against the fictions fed to him by the people inside his TV, so has the Enquirer oriented itself around the whims of that very same hysterical crank, who just happens to have access to our nuclear arsenal. But where Fox News exists to agitate and inflame, the Enquirer has become a sort of salve, something to soothe the open wound that exists in the space where our president’s brain would otherwise be.
That the Enquirer cares deeply about pleasing Donald Trump has been obvious to anyone with eyes since before the campaign (“NEW POLL: DONALD TRUMP’S THE ONE!,” read a National Enquirer headline from February of 2015). Last month, The Washington Post reported that, throughout the campaign, Enquirer execs would send Trump- and Trump opponent-related pieces to his attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, for approval prior to publication. Richard Hasen, a UC Irvine law professor, told the Washington Post that if a media company submits to a candidate’s instructions, “that could amount to a violation of federal election laws.” AMI denied having done anything of the sort.
Still, whether it happened via direct order or mere imitation, the fact remains that the National Enquirer’s pages have become infected with the idiosyncratic voice of our idiot president. In these pages, no issue exists unless it can serve as a foil to our nation’s rightful God Emperor King, Donald Trump. But the Enquirer of today wouldn’t be possible without the Enquirer of the 1970s, when the tabloid hit its peak circulation and built the populist framework that now props up the sort of cartoonish corruption it once railed against.
When the Enquirer made its shift away from blood and gore crime coverage in the late 1960s, the paper’s founder, Generoso Pope Jr., said, “Every publication starts out by being sensational. I intended to make it a quality paper all along.” The Enquirer still differentiated itself with particularly invasive reporters and a willingness to pay for stories, but the information it provided was generally true, if occasionally embellished and often sensational. It wasn’t worried about a specific narrative as much as eliciting some sort of emotional response from its readers. It’s why it went so hard after the Monica Lewinsky scandal and O.J. Simpson trial and why it did everything in its power to snag that photo of Elvis’ (alleged!) corpse.
In guiding today’s incarnation of this “quality paper” David Pecker follows a different mandate, particularly where the Enquirer’s politics coverage is concerned. To understand just how far we’ve come, we must take a journey back to the Enquirer’s politics of old. Here’s a story the Enquirer ran in January of 1973 about tax dollars being wasted on unnecessary job training.
And here’s another—still about wasted taxpayer money, this time from October of 1978.
Knucklehead bureaucrats! Government waste! All issues that were easy for everyday Americans to rage over. These stories were typical of this era of Enquirer history. It was, after all, a newspaper for the people. Today’s Enquirer takes a slightly different tack where federal spending is concerned. For instance, in April of 2017 we were met with demands that the President’s security be doubled, for reasons that remain unclear, by the same agencies supposedly plotting his downfall.
And in December of 2016, the Enquirer attempted to rally readers on behalf of the president’s border wall.
In the piece, the Enquirer writes that the tabloid’s investigators “witnessed 143 illegals successfully cross the border in one night—but were unable to prevent the crime or call law enforcement due to the remote, rugged Arizona terrain.” What, exactly, a group of alleged tabloid reporters would have done had the terrain been less rugged also remains unclear. Perhaps they might have been able to move fast enough to body slam each immigrant one by one. Maybe they all have dust allergies. Regardless, cogency, of course, is not the point. After all, the Enquirer tells us itself that it’s reached an “indisputable conclusion.” They have PROVED our borders are ineffectual and, quick, there’s no time to think—save American jobs and stop immigration now!
Speaking of illegal immigrants, here’s a story put out by the Enquirer in February of 1973.
As much as the Enquirer might have leaned on fear to sell copies, it indulged heavily in the sort of feel-good narratives that have been largely tossed aside in recent years.
Lawmakers, too, regularly made use of the Enquirer’s pages in Pope’s era. In April of 1973, for instance, democratic congressman Les Aspin lamented an overreach in military spending.
Meanwhile, April of 2017 saw the Enquirer applauding President Trump for deciding to rid the world of all conceivable evil—a noble pursuit, to be sure.
With phrases like “a top-secret Pentagon plan to rid the earth of ALL military madmen who murder and enslave their own people for power and profit” in mind, it’s difficult to imagine an Enquirer that acknowledges anything even approaching moderation. But pretty much any politically-oriented piece from the Enquirer of the 70s seems judicious and restrained in comparison, like this article exploring a spate of outlandish prison sentences in January of 1973,
Now, here’s an assessment of Donald Trump’s performance from the Enquirer’s political commentator, Dick Morris.
Again, even from their appointed columnist, nothing is explained, little is coherent, and much of it is explicitly untrue. Trump did not, for instance, order the investigation into Russian meddling in our elections—a fact that many Trump supporters would happily acknowledge. But like much of the content in today’s Enquirer, this appears to have been written without the expectation of it ever being read. The president, after all, is a noted non-reader.
A marked contrast from this Enquirer piece from 1972, which boasts both cogent sentences and traceable information.
Today’s Enquirer isn’t always totally vague about the provenance of its reporting, though. Take, for instance, this Enquirer exclusive on Donald Trump’s psychological profile.
Their investigation revealed that Donald Trump’s bad qualities are not actually bad at all. Instead, it would appear, they are good.
Trump’s narcissism? Not only is it warranted (the Enquirer tells us he “has a staggering IQ of 163, making him the second smartest president in history”), but it gives him the confidence he needs to do his job. A tendency towards delusions? He’s just thinking outside the box! Now, watch and learn from a true alpha as he tenderly strokes the hands of world leaders.
Now, how did the Enquirer learn all this carefully guarded information? A quick glance at the corner of the page tells you all you need to know.
Illegible, official documents.
All of this is not to say that the Enquirer of yore was an entirely noble publication—its attempts to position Henry Kissinger as a sex symbol being a particularly upsetting example. Twice in 1973, the Enquirer asked us to consider the love life of the soon-to-be war criminal. First in January:
And later in February.
No one should ever be made to consider Henry Kissinger’s dick.
Of course, all these stories of wasted tax dollars and sex-having mass murderers were interspersed with stories of surefire cancer cures and psychic predictions, but at least in discussing governance, the tabloid remained mostly rooted in what was real. Today’s Enquirer, on the other hand, gives us this.
It’s on top of this legacy that David Pecker has built a funhouse reflection of what readers once understood the Enquirer to be. His job now, at least as far as the National Enquirer is concerned, isn’t to sell magazines—AMI reported a circulation of just 250,000 in late 2017, down from over 6 million at its peak. It’s to sell the presidency, mostly to the president himself. In which case, the Enquirer has never been a bigger success.