More than a month after the election, the news industry is still at a loss for how to cover Donald Trump as he transitions into power. Fact checks have proven ineffective, press conferences have virtually gone extinct, and Trump’s supporters couldn’t care in the slightest about what reporters are uncovering.
Already, several journalists and news organizations are acquiescing to Trump’s authoritarian demands of the media, accepting off-the-record invitations to his Palm Springs compound or striking deals to provide more favorable coverage in exchange for greater access.
But the question remains: with news outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post often pilloried by Trump for such transgressions as reporting accurately and fact checking Trump’s fabrications, what will a Trump White House press room look like?
If the transition period is any indication, it might well look a lot like your neighborhood supermarket check-out line. The National Enquirer—publisher of such exclusives as Michelle Obama’s 2014 divorce from President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s six month death sentence fifteen months ago—has been among Donald Trump’s most visible boosters since the election.
— National Enquirer (@NatEnquirer) November 23, 2016
Trump’s adoration of the National Enquirer is not new. He has a longstanding friendship with CEO David Pecker, defended the publication as unimpeachable, and has even written articles for the tabloid. The admiration is mutual, too: in August, the Wall Street Journal reported the Enquirer paid $150,000 to prevent a story about Trump’s affair with a former Playboy model from being released, and they were one of the only publications to endorse him.
Since election day, the Enquirer has trumpeted the president-elect’s controversial decision to hire white nationalist figures like Steve Bannon, his economically untenable and largely falsified plan to save a few jobs from leaving Indiana, and his bold leadership in convincing Apple to move 4.5 million jobs to the United States (no such plan exists).
Many shoppers afford the National Enquirer and its sensationalist headlines little more than a casual, bemused glance while waiting in line to pay for groceries. But the sheer reach of the publication—the Alliance for Audited Media puts their circulation at roughly 350,000 in the first six months of 2016, on par with publications like Scientific American and many times larger than The Nation or Harpers—gives them a megaphone.
It remains to be seen if the National Enquirer’s current standing as a disreputable rag changes in a Trump administration. For years, the paper has tried to build its credibility as more than a peddler of gossip and fiction, most recently in 2008 when they were the first to break the story about John Edwards’ long history of affairs. Though their reporting lacked basic journalistic standards, subsequent reporting by actual journalists lent weight to the Enquirer’s story.
But there is some evidence that the Enquirer will have a powerful ally and a captive audience working in the West Wing. It was the Enquirer that first pushed a fake story about Ted Cruz’s father being seen with Lee Harvey Oswald months before the assassination of JFK. Within hours, Donald Trump himself was sharing the story to his millions of followers on social media, citing the Enquirer – “They actually have a very good record of being right,” he said at the time – in the way most people cite the New York Times.
Of course, Donald Trump is no stranger to fake news. Functionally, his entire campaign apparatus was a replica of the National Enquirer editorial staff: spending the better part of the last 18 months sharing blatantly false articles with reckless abandon, knowing their audience had a high tolerance for half-truths and whole lies.