Donald Trump is the perfect tabloid president: He was literally made famous, in his early years, by the New York tabloids, and has ridden that all the way to the White House, where he keeps on manufacturing tabloid stories.
This article was originally published at Salon
Trump didn’t attract the national spotlight and have shocking success in politics because he knew what ailed America, and had a plan to address the multitude of economic, social and political injustices that plagued the country. He screamed that everything was terrible, and enough people agreed with him that he won the election, despite losing the popular vote by a few million.
So of course people are now talking about a completely unverified and likely untrue report that Trump had a love child born sometime in the 1980s, rather than the systemic pattern of journalistic abuse that has turned the National Enquirer into a tool of Trump’s political agenda and a slave to his whims.
The company that owns and operates the National Enquirer, American Media, Inc., went to great lengths to silence someone who was peddling something that was highly suspect, as Ronan Farrow reports in the New Yorker:
A.M.I.’s thirty-thousand-dollar payment to Sajudin [a onetime Trump Tower doorman] appears to be the third instance of Trump associates paying to suppress embarrassing stories about the candidate during the 2016 Presidential race. In August, 2016, A.M.I. paid Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, a hundred and fifty thousand dollars for her story about a nine-month affair with Trump, and then never published an article about it. (A.M.I. said her story was not credible.) In October, 2016, Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, paid Stephanie Clifford, an adult-film actress who performs under the name Stormy Daniels, a hundred and thirty thousand dollars to keep her account of an affair with Trump secret. (Clifford’s agreement was distinct from McDougal’s in that it was arranged directly with Cohen. A.M.I. was not party to the contracts between Cohen and Clifford that have been released.)
Two of the former A.M.I. employees said they believed that Cohen was in close contact with A.M.I. executives while the company’s reporters were looking into Sajudin’s story, as Cohen had been during other investigations related to Trump. “Cohen was kept up to date on a regular basis,” one source said. Contacted by telephone on Wednesday, Cohen said that he was not available to talk. Subsequent efforts to reach him were unsuccessful. On Monday, F.B.I. agents raided Cohen’s hotel and office. The Times reported that the agents were looking for records related to the payments to McDougal and Clifford, as well as correspondence between Cohen, Pecker, and Dylan Howard, A.M.I.’s chief content officer.
It isn’t just that the National Enquirer apparently went to extraordinary lengths to conceal what was likely a tall tale about Trump. The publication also tried to silence women who came forward with allegations against him. During the Republican primary campaign of 2016, the Enquirer served as an outlet to publish disreputable stories against Trump’s opponents, most notably Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. On one occasion, the Enquirer published an article alleging that Cruz had “five different mistresses.” (Which the senator vigorously denied.)
In response to the story, Trump went on the morning news shows, where he was able to capitalize on a story he likely colluded with the Enquirer to promote — and used the Enquirer story to attack his political rival even more.
Railing against the Enquirer in 2016, Cruz accused the outlet — correctly, in retrospect — of being in the bag for Trump.
“What is striking is Donald’s henchman Roger Stone had for months been foreshadowing that this attack was coming. It’s not surprising that Donald Trump’s tweet occurs the day before the attack comes out,” he said at the time. Cruz was referring to this tweet from Trump:
Lyin' Ted Cruz just used a picture of Melania from a G.Q. shoot in his ad. Be careful, Lyin' Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2016
What may have looked at the time like a one-off piece of especially scurrilous tabloid reporting now seems like a sign of a much larger trend. Since Trump can’t keep his mouth shut, either on Twitter or in real life, he often gives away information that he shouldn’t. Recall the infamous June 2016 press conference in which Trump stood in front of reporters and issued the famous line: “Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
That came at a time when Trump may already have known that Russian hackers had made attempts to gain access to Hillary Clinton’s emails. It was after Donald Trump Jr.’s now-famous Trump Tower meeting with a group of Russians who had promised“information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very helpful” to the Trump campaign.
At the core of Farrow’s report on the National Enquirer, it has nothing to do with a highly dubious tale about a love child (something that the Trump campaign tried to attach to Bill Clinton in 2016). It’s really about whether a media outlet was paying tens of thousands of dollars to do Donald Trump’s dirty work, in probable violation of campaign finance law.
As the New Yorker article makes clear, one big unanswered question is what Donald Trump or his campaign may have promised the Enquirer in exchange for its efforts to kill all these stories about Trump’s private life. Similarly, the payoff agreement with adult film actress Stormy Daniels isn’t about whether or not Trump ever slept with a porn star. It’s about whether, in the days leading up to the presidential election, Trump consigliere Michael Cohen was ordered to write her a big fat check, perhaps on the orders of the candidate or his campaign. If Trump is ever forced to testify about these events under oath, the consequences could be devastating: The cover-up is almost always bigger than the crime.