New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg thinks the National Enquirer could be the “most powerful print publication in the United States,” and that the supermarket tabloid’s explosive pro-Trump coverage during the 2016 election was critical to the billionaire’s success in taking the Oval Office.
“It was the real-world embodiment of the fantasy online world of trolls — Russian and domestic — who polluted the political discourse,” Rutenberg said of the paper in his latest Mediator column. “From its perches at Publix and Safeway, it was often doing the same job as Alex Jones, of the conspiracy site Infowars, and the more strident Trump campaign surrogates on Twitter and Facebook.”
The Times critic also cited the Enquirer’s recent admission that it worked directly with Trump in 2016 to pay off porn star Karen McDougal and kill a story about her having an extramarital affair with the real estate developer (something Trump has denied.)
But the tabloid and its current chief, David Pecker, are now paying a steep price for their embrace of Trump, narrowly averting campaign finance related fraud charges by agreeing to a deal to cooperate with federal prosecutors in the special counsel probe of the Trump campaign.
During the election, the Enquirer was regularly used by Team Trump to float wild conspiracies about his GOP primary opponents — like this piece linking Ted Cruz’s father to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. During the campaign against Hillary Clinton, the tabloid reported that she was suffering from brain cancer and had just months to live. The false stories added fuel to worries about her health which reached a peak after she was filmed fainting at a 9/11 memorial ceremony in September.