Donald Trump’s relationship with the reporters who cover him has often been testy. But not all the news coverage of the president-elect has been contentious or critical of late. Take, example, this splashy recent headline: “Tiger Woods: Donald Trump Crushed It at Golf.”
All three stories came from the same source: TMZ.com, the popular celebrity-gossip website. TMZ normally specializes in scoops about people named Kardashian, but for several weeks, it has been a reliably Trump-friendly zone. Its stories have ranged from Woods’s favorable assessment of the president-elect’s tee shots to glowing reports about Trump’s plans for inaugural parties.
The website’s founder, Harvey Levin, also interviewed Trump for a one-hour special on Fox News in November. The program consisted of Levin and Trump walking around his Trump Tower apartment, with Trump describing the stories behind various objects. One reviewer called it “the puff piece to end all puff pieces.”
There’s a bit of that going around.
For all his complaints about the news media, Trump has been able to count on the support of at least one segment of it: the tabloids. Old-school tabs like the National Enquirer as well as newfangled ones like TMZ, RadarOnline and DailyMail.com have offered a news diet rich in Trump calories. The tabloids have played both offense and defense on behalf of their man: When they aren’t fawning over his wealth and family, they’re defending him in his many scrapes and controversies.
The approach might be a good business strategy; almost half the country voted for Trump, after all, and many might be looking for some Trump positivity. But the tabloids’ embrace of Trump may also reflect their mutual outsider status, says Larry Hackett, a former editor of People magazine and the New York Daily News.
“TMZ was founded as a sharp stick in the eye to the Hollywood establishment,” said Hackett, now a media consultant in New York. “Trump is a sharp stick in the eye to the political establishment. I think there’s some common ground there.”
The Enquirer — whose stories helped end the political careers of John Edwards and Gary Hart — has had perhaps the most torrid and flagrant affair with Trump. The relationship purportedly stems from Trump’s long friendship with David Pecker, the chief executive of the Enquirer’s publisher, American Media Inc. (AMI).
During the campaign, the Enquirer was a reliable source of unreliable stories about Trump’s political opponents. Most infamously, it published a story about Ted Cruz’s alleged extramarital affairs during the latter weeks of the primaries. It also reported in October 2015 that Hillary Clinton had six months to live and that President Obama and Michelle Obama were on the brink of divorce. (As of this writing, she’s still alive, and they’re still married.)
The Enquirer later became the first large newspaper to endorse Trump (“Trump Must Be Prez!,” it demanded). It was also one of the few newspapers in America that did so.
Trump himself has written (or had written for him) several self-laudatory articles for the paper. In 2013, before he was a candidate, Trump tweeted that Time Inc. should name Pecker as its “top guy.” Time Inc. didn’t take the suggestion.
AMI didn’t return calls seeking comment for this article. But in a statement to the Daily Beast about its Trump-tastic tendencies, Pecker wrote last year that the Enquirer’s coverage “reflects what its six million readers want, and expect, from the publication which has shown no hesitation in presenting an unvarnished look at past or current candidates for president.”
The Enquirer’s weekly print circulation is actually much smaller than Pecker suggests — 342,071, according to the Alliance for Audited Media — but its influence can be much larger. Some of its more ludicrous political stories have been picked up by other media, creating a pro-Trump wave of coverage. Trump himself went on Fox News last year to promote the Enquirer’s unverified claim that Cruz’s father was involved in President Kennedy’s assassination.
Not surprisingly, AMI’s other tabloid publications — RadarOnline, the Globe and Ok! magazine — have been in the president-elect’s corner, too.
RadarOnline, for example, was quick to trash a dossier of memos alleging that Russian officials had compromising information about Trump; it declared the memos a “Forgery!” within a few hours of their appearance on BuzzFeed. Meanwhile, the big news this week in the Globe — the supermarket tabloid equivalent of RC Cola to the National Enquirer’s Coca-Cola — is that “Crooked Hillary” will “die in jail! — after backstabbing Bill sells her out!”
Nothing so fevered or florid colors the DailyMail.com, the U.S.-based digital outpost of the venerable British newspaper. But the Mail — which claims to be the most-read newspaper website in the English-speaking world, with 240 million visitors per month — has been Trump-receptive, too.
The website has been a consistent skeptic of reports about Russian election hacking. At the same time, it has been an enthusiastic chronicler of Clinton’s email issues. “More Hillary Clinton emails surface — and show how anti-gay Sharia law ruler shunned by celebrities treated Bill ‘like part of his family,’ ” it reported last week.
Martin Clarke, the DailyMail.com’s publisher and editor in chief, said in an interview that his website takes a different editorial tack from its British parent, which is overtly center-right.
“We’re not in the tank for anyone,” he said. “We have to appeal to all readers. We realized we couldn’t make a living if we didn’t provide a broad church” that skews neither left nor right.
In fact, the Mail has been sued by Melania Trump for reprinting rumors that she worked as an escort in the 1990s before meeting her future husband.
On the other hand, the Mail’s American political editor, David Martosko, was deemed so friendly by the Trump camp that he was interviewed for a communications job in his administration last month. (He wasn’t hired.) During the campaign, Martosko sometimes flew on Trump’s private plane and at one point received permission to bring his daughter along. A former executive editor of the conservative Daily Caller, Martosko frequently makes his political opinions apparent on Twitter. (Martosko did not return requests for comment, but Clarke defended him: “All of my reporters are professionals who do not let their personal views cloud honest reporting.”)
Added Clarke, “I’d characterize our coverage of Trump as fair. I don’t think you have to be paranoid to say that some of the mainstream media [favored] Hillary. We don’t have an agenda. I’d describe us as popular. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”