Despite the complete lack of any evidence, and only unequivocal denials from women named in the story, a story based on what even the National Enquirer itself labeled only as “rumors” against GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz found its way onto both the ABC and NBC evening newscasts on Friday.
For its part, the CBS Evening News responsibly noted only that Cruz had accused Trump’s campaign of being behind a “smear” about “private lives,” but did not relay the specific charges for which no on-the-record source or any other sort of confirmation exists. [UPDATE, 3/26: On Saturday, CBS This Morning joined ABC and NBC in saying Cruz was accused by the supermarket tabloid of "cheating on his wife."]
Neither ABC nor NBC embraced the charges. NBC Nightly News correspondent Hallie Jackson did a good job of explaining the utter lack of credibility for this story: “Two women who have been subject to speculation also strongly denying any truth to the story — one, a Trump spokesperson and former Cruz ally, tweeting, ‘the story is 100% false.’ The tabloid provided no evidence to back up its claims. The only person quoted: Roger Stone, a controversial former Trump adviser who left the campaign last year, telling NBC he’s not the source of the story.”
On ABC’s World News Tonight, correspondent Jonathan Karl offered less detail, but also poured cold water on the story’s reliability: “The Enquirer cited rumors that Cruz had engaged in multiple marital infidelities. It quoted former Trump advisor Roger Stone, saying the story could hurt Cruz with evangelical voters, but Stone told ABC News he was not the source of the story. Cruz isn’t buying it.”
Karl then showed a clip from Cruz’s mid-afternoon press conference Friday: “Let me be clear, this National Enquirer story is garbage. It is a smear that has come from Donald Trump and his henchmen.”
Cruz’s public refutation of the charges came a few hours after a pro-Trump journalist, Adriana Cohen, hijacked a CNN interview to demand that ex-Cruz staffer Amanda Carpenter respond to allegations that she was one of the women referenced in the Enquirer story. Carpenter absolutely denied it, and CNN anchor Kate Bolduan scolded Cohen, but did not end the interview.
As the CBS Evening News showed, it was possible to mention the back-and-forth between Cruz and Trump without regurgitating details that would not otherwise be fit to broadcast. Fill-in anchor Charlie Rose included this tease at the top of the broadcast:
CHARLIE ROSE: Also tonight, Cruz accuses Trump of a smear campaign.
Clip of TED CRUZ: How low will Donald go? Is there any level to which he is unwilling the stoop?
Much later in the broadcast, Rose read this vague introduction to a campaign report: “Donald Trump and Ted Cruz exchanged more fire today over their wives and personal lives. Cruz said Trump seems to have a real issue with strong women. The question for the GOP this fall may be, do women voters have a problem with Trump?”
The subsequent story by correspondent Chip Reid made no mention of the Enquirer story, focusing instead on Trump’s low approval among women voters.
Here’s how both ABC and NBC covered the story Friday night:
ABC’s World News Tonight
March 25, 2016
6:30pm top of the newscast tease:
DAVID MUIR: Also developing: the race for the White House and the tabloid turn. The new article on rumored infidelities. Ted Cruz firing back tonight, calling it a smear by Donald Trump.
DAVID MUIR: But we do move on this evening to the other major headline at this hour and the race for the White House — a disturbing new chapter in the Republican battle, many saying this is the lowest point of this race, yet. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in a bitter war of words after a tabloid newspaper article on rumored infidelities. The new article comes after this image of the candidates’ wives side-by-side was re-tweeted by Donald Trump. Tonight, Ted Cruz lashing out, saying the article is part of a smear effort by Trump, which, tonight, Trump denies. Here’s ABC’s Jonathan Karl now.
JONATHAN KARL: Just when you thought this campaign couldn’t get any nastier, Senator Ted Cruz today lashed out at Donald Trump, accusing him of using the National Enquirer to smear him.
SENATOR TED CRUZ: He should not be surprised to see people calling him ‘Sleazy Donald.’
KARL: The Enquirer cited rumors that Cruz had engaged in multiple marital infidelities. It quoted former Trump advisor Roger Stone, saying the story could hurt Cruz with evangelical voters, but Stone told ABC News he was not the source of the story. Cruz isn’t buying it.
CRUZ: Let me be clear, this National Enquirer story is garbage. It is a smear that has come from Donald Trump and his henchmen.
KARL: Tonight, Trump himself denied any involvement in the story, saying, quote, “Cruz’s problem with the National Enquirer is his and his alone, and while they were right about O.J. Simpson, John Edwards and many others, I certainly hope they are not right about Lyin’ Ted Cruz.”
The war of words between Cruz and Trump entered nasty new territory this week when Trump blamed Cruz for a SuperPAC ad featured an image of his wife Melania from her modeling days. Trump tweeted, “Be careful, lyin’ Ted, or I’ll spill the beans on your wife.” He later re-tweeted this unflattering photograph of Heidi Cruz next to a glamour shot of Melania.
CRUZ: Donald, you’re a sniveling coward. Leave Heidi the hell alone.
KARL: Cruz said Trump has a problem with women, an allegation that has dogged him throughout his campaign.
CLIP FROM ANTI-TRUMP AD: Bimbo. Dog.
KARL: This SuperPAC ad featuring women repeated things Donald Trump has actually said.
CLIP FROM ANTI-TRUMP AD: Just look at that face.
KARL: For his part, Trump has adamantly denied all charges of sexism.
DONALD TRUMP: I do cherish women. I love women. Nobody respects women more than Donald Trump. You want to be respected, you want to be loved, you want to be cherished, you want to be everything. I think, am I right, women or wrong?
MUIR: And Jonathan Karl joins us tonight, and Jon, a lot of voters, I would gather, will be uncomfortable where this has all gone. Talk of the wives and not the issues in this race.
KARL: David, we have never seen a presidential campaign get so nasty or so personal. Ted Cruz has always said that he would support Donald Trump if Trump wins the Republican nomination, but today he said, quote, “I don’t make a habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my family.” David?
NBC Nightly News
March 25, 2016
7:00pm top of the newscast tease:
Fill-in anchor THOMAS ROBERTS: Complete and utter lies. Ted Cruz slams a tabloid report calling allegations of infidelity garbage, blasting Donald Trump for stoking false rumors — what Donald Trump is saying tonight.
THOMAS ROBERTS: Meanwhile back in this country, the talk on the campaign trail took yet another nasty turn today after a tabloid report of alleged infidelity by Ted Cruz, and Cruz came before the cameras to angrily blast the allegations as complete and utter lies and took aim at Donald Trump, accusing Trump of pushing the story. And as NBC’s Hallie Jackson reports, Trump is now firing back.
HALLIE JACKSON: A visibly angry Ted Cruz lashing out at Donald Trump.
SENATOR TED CRUZ: With this pattern he should not be surprised to see people calling him “Sleazy Donald.”
JACKSON: Standing in a Wisconsin factory, the backdrop, a Republican race that’s become remarkably personal after Trump re-tweeted a photo of his wife side by side with Cruz’s. Now Cruz accusing trump of planting a story in the National Enquirer about extramarital affairs Cruz denies.
CRUZ: Let me be clear. This National Enquirer story is garbage. It is complete and utter lies. It is a tabloid smear, and it is a smear that has come from Donald Trump and his henchmen.
JACKSON: Two women whom have been subject to speculation also strongly denying any truth to the story, one a Trump spokesperson and former Cruz ally tweeting the story is 100% false. The tabloid provided no evidence to back up its claims. The only person quoted: Roger Stone, a controversial former Trump adviser who left the campaign last year, telling NBC he’s not the source of the story.
Trump today saying he himself had absolutely nothing to do with it and did not know about it. One of his high-profile supporters, radio host Michael Savage, now calling on the candidate to disavow the story all together. The Enquirer previously endorsed Trump, who wrote an op-ed for it this campaign cycle.
Cruz today campaigning with his wife in Wisconsin, looking to prove he’s uniting the “Stop Trump” movement behind him, taking his toughest tone yet against the front-runner he hopes to defeat. [to Cruz] So, yes or no, will you vote for him?
CRUZ: I don’t make a habit out of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my family, and Donald Trump is not going to be the Republican nominee.
JACKSON: And all of this in a race that looks likely to go on another four months until the convention. With Wisconsin the next battleground state, what happens here in Green Bay and beyond could be key in determining how that convention unfolds. Thomas.