Media reporter Jim Rutenberg’s column in Monday’s New York Times went after the National Enquirer for supposedly installing Donald Trump in the White House by withholding scandal dirt on him while throwing it at his opponents: “2016 Put Full Might Of a Tabloid On Display.”
Curiously, Rutenberg didn’t come out against tabloid journalism per se, just its target; he would have preferred it to be directed toward hurting Donald Trump. The text box: “The Enquirer hid a story that seemed tailored to its mission” (click “expand”):
The most powerful print publication in America might just be The National Enquirer. It functioned as a dirty-tricks shop for Donald J. Trump in 2016, which would have been the stuff of farce -- the ultimate tabloid backs the ultimate tabloid candidate -- if it hadn’t accomplished its goal.
The Enquirer’s racks, under the current chief, David J. Pecker, were given over to the Trump campaign. This was a political gift even more valuable than the $150,000 that The Enquirer paid in a “catch-and-kill” deal with the former Playboy model Karen McDougal for her story of an affair with Mr. Trump.
With the news last week that The Enquirer had admitted to federal prosecutors that it made the catch-and-kill payment to influence the election, it’s worth stepping back and appreciating the unlikely role played by the supermarket tabloid and its parent company, American Media Inc., in electing the 45th president of the United States.
The Enquirer spread false stories about Hillary Clinton -- illnesses concealed, child prostitution, bribery, treason. Each cover trumpeting these tales was arguably more powerful than a tweet from an account with millions of followers.
It’s a shame it went this route, because The Enquirer was built to cover Mr. Trump’s wild ride. If it had only stuck with its original mission -- digging up dirt on the rich and famous, without a care for the rules of traditional journalism -- it would have had the tabloid story of a lifetime.
Before making her its main target, the machine chewed up Senator Ted Cruz. It ran unsubstantiated allegations of extramarital affairs against him at a time when he was proving himself Mr. Trump’s most stubborn Republican challenger.
Rutenberg's noted that candidate Trump using the National Enquirer’s vicious and false attacks on his last remaining viable primary opponent, Sen. Ted Cruz. But that balance was dampened by a look at the paper’s contemporaneous coverage of the phony scandals.
A quick nytimes.com search suggests the paper never used the term “unsubstantiated” to refer to the attacks on Cruz from the Enquirer during the 2016 campaign when it may have made a difference for Cruz. Yet the paper wasn’t shy about using the word as a danger signal toward the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth allegations against 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
And The Times wasn’t exactly condemnatory of the Enquirer’s false anti-Cruz stories from Campaign 2016, in which the Enquirer “reported” that Cruz’s father was in league with Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, and also that Cruz had five mistresses.
Cruz-hostile Matt Flegenheimer’s story on the "affairs" was distinctly non-condemnatory. Maggie Haberman didn’t flinch upon hearing from Trump of Cruz’s father’s alleged association with Oswald, while Jennifer Steinhauer at least found the accusation of affairs to be “baseless” – while still hurting the Cruz campaign by giving the charges circulation in the first place.
Rutenberg cowrote a similar investigative story in July on the tabloid company American Media Inc., which publishes the Enquirer, saying it “at times acted more as a political supporter than as a news organization, according to people briefed on the investigation.”
Yet as Newsbusters noted then, The New York Times itself has spent decades working on behalf of the left and the Democratic Party and against conservatives and Republicans. Not to mention that Rutenberg himself wrote “The Challenge Trump Poses to Objectivity” on the front page of the paper during the heat of the electoral race in August 2016, asking reporters to become political activists against the Trump threat.
One could speculate that The Times (and the larger media) rehashed and failed to strongly criticize the anti-Cruz Enquirer stories in 2016 in order to both hurt a conservative Republican it disliked (Cruz) and to pump up the prospects of the leading Republican (Trump) that seemed doomed to lose to Democrat Hillary Clinton in the general election.