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Analysis: Trump has dropped hints about his close relationship with the National Enquirer

The Washington Post logoThe Washington Post 6/22/2018 Philip Bump
a man wearing a suit and tie: President Trump salutes at U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C. © Provided by WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post President Trump salutes at U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C.

There’s certainly a cynical element to President Trump’s excoriations of the media as “fake.” He knows better than most how much of the reporting about him is true and accurate, but he then disparages negative coverage as fake specifically, he reportedly told CBS’s Lesley Stahl, to undercut the media’s credibility.

But there’s also probably part of Trump that believes mainstream media publications work the same way as gossipy tabloids like the New York Post’s Page Six and the National Enquirer or, more recently, obsequious pro-Trump outlets. The Associated Press reported in April that the Enquirer, published by his friend David Pecker, had killed several stories that might cast Trump in a negative light.

“Stories attacking Trump rivals or promoting Trump’s campaign often bypassed the paper’s normal fact-checking process,” the AP reported, citing two people familiar with the magazine’s operations during 2016.

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If that’s your experience with a media outlet, no wonder you’d be skeptical of those like The Washington Post that operate from a position of objectivity.

Speaking of The Post! On Thursday, our Sarah Ellison broke the story that the relationship went deeper than that: Trump’s then-attorney Michael Cohen was given veto power over Trump stories during that period.

“Once Enquirer editors sent a story or cover image, sometimes a request for changes came back, according to two of the people with knowledge of the relationship,” Ellison wrote. “Stories about Trump were positive in nature, and changes related to the stories were not dramatic, according to one person with knowledge of the matter, who said most of the changes in stories sent to Cohen resulted in more flattering cover photos or changes to cover headlines.”

“Trump suggested stories to Pecker on a regular basis, one of these people said, and had access to certain pieces — including one about Hillary Clinton’s health — before publication,” Ellison reported. Among the stories about Clinton’s health run by the magazine was one from October 2015 declaring that her “White House dream is over” because, sources told the Enquirer, she would be dead in six months. The Post can report that this was inaccurate.

Representatives for the magazine pushed back on Ellison’s story. Nonetheless, there are reasons to think that the report is accurate.

Take, for example, this tweet from a year ago.

Now why would Joe Scarborough — once quite close to Trump — think that Trump had the power to influence the National Enquirer?

Or there’s this Facebook post from Trump, deleted shortly after it was published in March 2017.

a screenshot of a cell phone © Provided by WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post

The story at issue was a cover story alleging that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) had engaged in multiple extramarital affairs. A few days prior, Trump had threatened to “spill the beans” on Cruz’s wife after a PAC supporting Cruz criticized Melania Trump.

Cruz’s team, then vying for the Republican nomination with Trump, accused Trump and his longtime associate Roger Stone of sharing the story. The statement above was meant to be a response to Cruz’s accusation.

We know, though, that it’s untrue that Trump “[has] nothing to do with the National Enquirer,” and it was known then. As early as October 2015 — the same month as the Clinton-is-on-death’s-door story — media reporter Gabriel Sherman noted Trump’s close ties to Pecker and the Enquirer. Trump’s direct denials, we’ve seen repeatedly, are often of things that turn out to be true.

The line in that statement about how the Enquirer didn’t get its due credit for breaking the story about former North Carolina senator John Edwards is one that Trump repeated regularly. In July 2016, Trump wondered aloud during a news conference why the Enquirer didn’t win a Pulitzer for that coverage. (Here’s why.) The goal, of course, was the opposite of his goal in disparaging the fake news: To build up as trustworthy a media outlet over which he has considerable sway while tearing down those that might consider him and his comments more objectively.

It’s worth noting that the Enquirer’s reach is relatively small. The paper’s data sheet for advertisers boasts that it reaches more than 7 million adults a week, but data from the Alliance for Audited Media indicates that, during 2017, only about 80,000 people actually subscribed, with another 190,000 buying single copies at supermarket checkouts.

The most popular issue of the magazine last year, that data shows, was published Jan. 9. It included, at the top of the front cover, an assertion that it had new proof that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States.

The main article was about how Angelina Jolie was on death’s door. The Post can report that this was inaccurate.

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