You may not be convinced that President Donald Trump colluded with the Russian government in order to win the 2016 presidential election, but one thing is clear: There are increasing reports that Trump colluded with one of America's most ubiquitous supermarket tabloids, the "National Enquirer," both during and after he was elected.
This article was originally published at Salon
The opening paragraphs from The Washington Post story that broke the story deserve to be read in full:
During the presidential campaign, National Enquirer executives sent digital copies of the tabloid’s articles and cover images related to Donald Trump and his political opponents to Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen in advance of publication, according to three people with knowledge of the matter — an unusual practice that speaks to the close relationship between Trump and David Pecker, chief executive of American Media Inc., the Enquirer’s parent company.
Although the company strongly denies ever sharing such material before publication, these three individuals say the sharing of material continued after Trump took office.
“Since Trump’s become president and even before, [Pecker] openly just has been willing to turn the magazine and the cover over to the Trump machine,” said one of the people with knowledge of the practice.
During the campaign, “if it was a story specifically about Trump, then it was sent over to Michael, and as long as there were no objections from him, the story could be published,” this person added.
It is hardly news that the "National Enquirer" has a distinct pro-Trump bias. Anyone who wandered through a supermarket check-out line would have noticed that the paper seemed to either promote Trump or bash his political opponents on a regular basis, a fact that Politico observed as far back as January 2017.
As a business move, the tabloids’ Trumpian turn appears to have worked: Pecker says the “pro-Trump and anti-Hillary” covers do 23 percent better on the newsstand for the Enquirer.
As a journalistic move—and yes, you can call the Enquirer journalism—there’s something bigger going on. Overtly partisan coverage is hardly noteworthy in 2016. What is noteworthy is the kind of partisanship the tabloids have exhibited. Their attacks on Trump’s opponents have been, no other word for it, propagandistic in their approach: They’ve followed his lead in constructing blatantly false or half-true assertions and circulating them in banner headlines.
This is hardly the first occasion when Trump's lawyer has found himself in an unflattering headline. Indeed, the president's former fixer has become a staple of the news cycle as the Trump-Russia scandal and Stormy Daniels scandal have gained traction, with the attorney even having his office raided by law enforcement in order to acquire information about his involvement in potentially criminal activities.
There are also ongoing concerns within the Trump White House that Cohen will flip on Trump, with one former White House official arguing that "Trump should be super worried about Michael Cohen. If anyone can blow up Trump, it’s him." This concern has become acuter as Cohen himself has begun privately fretting over the possibility that he will soon be arrested.
Yet as The New York Times noted, Trump believed he has to handle Cohen very gingerly. If he alienates his longtime lawyer, he could inadvertently provide him with even more of an incentive to flip:
Mr. Trump himself has told people he is angry at Mr. Cohen over the messiness of the situation — especially those aspects involving Ms. Clifford. But the president has also indicated to allies that he is worried that if he pushes Mr. Cohen away too hard, it could increase the likelihood that Mr. Cohen will offer information to the government.
Cohen also has a reputation for being a less-than-stellar attorney. In addition to being the subject of ethical complaints during the time he has represented Trump, he became a national figure in 2015 after he incorrectly told a reporter that someone can't rape their spouse after he learned that a reporter was covering a rape claim made by Trump's first wife Ivana.
As Time Magazine covered at the time:
“You’re talking about the frontrunner for the GOP, presidential candidate, as well as a private individual who never raped anybody,” Michael Cohen, Trump’s special counsel and a longtime aide, reportedly told the Daily Beast in response to its reporting on allegations in the early 1990s that Trump raped his then wife Ivana Trump. “And, of course, understand that by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse.”
“It is true,” Cohen added. “You cannot rape your spouse. And there’s very clear case law.”
Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for the porn star Stormy Daniels who claims she had an affair with Trump, made it clear in an exclusive interview with Salon last week that Cohen's prowess as a lawyer is not held in high regard: (emphasis added)
I think Mr. Trump also knows that he participated in the cover-up relating to this $130,000 payment. He picked the wrong fixer to handle it. He picked the guy in Michael Cohen, who is not that tough and is a moron.
Michael Cohen, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have laughed at that, but it was a . . . I take it you would not consider Michael Cohen to be your professional equal?
Hardly, nor [would] I consider him to be the Socrates of our time.
Not even Aristotle? You won't go Aristotle for him?
I won't go to Socrates, Aristotle or Plato.
In the end, is this story as big a deal as that of Trump's alleged collusion with the Russian government? For that matter, it is as big a deal as the indications that Trump has a weird feedback loop with Fox News, where he not only gets favorable coverage from the sympathetic network but seems to develop his policies based on what they say?
Most likely not. The National Enquirer isn't nearly as influential as Fox News and, in its own right, there is nothing illegal about a sympathetic media outlet working with a candidate who they wish to support. At the same time, this does demonstrate that the same man who regularly complains about "fake news" has no qualms about colluding with a publication that literally publishes fake news if it can help his political career.
This hypocrisy, though not the biggest news story out there, should not go unnoticed.