With Trump on foreign soil attacking the free and independent press (CNN “has been faking news for a long time,” while NBC “is equally bad”), I’m recommending that you read The New Yorker’s richly-detailed article about The National Enquirer. It’s a cautionary primer on how Trump thinks the press should cover him, and how press lords should behave toward him.
I’ll give you the short version: David Pecker, the top man at the trashy supermarket tabloid, and chief executive of the parent company that is ambitious to expand its media reach, is the quintessential Trump lickspittle bent on expanding the Trump brand.
Nary a negative syllable about Trump is ever permitted in its pages. As a former Enquirer staffer recalls, “David thought Donald walked on water. Donald treated David like a little puppy. Donald liked being flattered and David thought Donald was the king. Both have similar management styles, similar attitudes, starting with absolute superiority over everybody else.”
A former senior executive says that David and Donald “have an agreement where David would not write anything that damages Donald.” Another says that “if Donald didn’t want a story to run, it wouldn’t run. You can put that in stone.” Indeed, as the article points out, “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” - and attacking Trump’s rivals, most notably Ted Cruz, who was slimed as a philanderer and whose father was supposedly outed for supposedly helping to assassinate JFK.
All told, “We used to go after newsmakers no matter what side they were on,” another former Enquirer staffer points out, “and Trump is a guy who was running for president with a closet full of baggage. He’s the ultimate target-rich environment. The Enquirer had a golden opportunity, and they completely looked the other way.”
The timing of this New Yorker article couldn’t be better. Remember last week, when Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski said that the Enquirer recently ginned up a trashy story about them, and that the White House promised to get the story killed if Joe and Mika apologized for their critical remarks about Trump? The White House denied the blackmail allegation, but it rang a bell when I read the new article. Ten years ago, the Enquirer was preparing to run a sex tryst story about Tiger Woods, but it agreed to kill the story after Woods agreed to pose for the cover of Men’s Fitness, another magazine owned by Pecker’s company.
By this point, you might be wondering why we should bother to care about the Enquirer.
Roughly 100,000,000 people are exposed to the Enquirer each week at 200,000 checkout lines, and its pro-Trump attitude reinforces its readers’ support for Trump (according to Pecker, “They voted for Trump, and 96 percent want him re-elected today. These are white working people...They know him from 14 seasons of ‘The Apprentice’”). Pecker also owns sister tabloids, like The Globe, whose readers are typically in their sixties, and who, according to Pecker, “love to read the worst possible horrible things you could read about Hillary.”
But most importantly, Pecker is reportedly in play to potentially buy the financially ailing Time Inc. magazines - Time, People, and Fortune.
In other words, Pecker may be poised to give Trump what he wants most: obsequious coverage on a far broader scale. As the New Yorker article points out, “That’s what happened when Pecker bought US Weekly, which has heretofore largely been apolitical in its orientation. In one of the early issues of US Weekly under Pecker’s leadership, the magazine ran a fawning cover story about Ivanka Trump. ‘Balancing her personal ideals with love and loyalty to her father,’ the cover said, ‘the president’s daughter will always fight for what she believes in.’”
This is Trump’s blueprint for the American press, for a First Amendment stripped of its accountability ethos and replaced by Putinesque servitude. And now he’s overseas, trashing the free and independent press. Feel free to ponder the irony that the National Enquirer, with its fake-news heritage, is Trump’s idea of “objectivity.”
George Orwell just spun again.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Pennsylvania. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.