Nigel Farage, the longtime leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, praised Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's campaign during a rally in Jackson, Miss. (The Washington Post)

Perhaps you've heard that incriminating documents linking Hillary Clinton to the 1993 death of White House attorney Vince Foster have mysteriously "vanished" from the National Archives.

You might have learned about this dubious claim from the Drudge Report, Newsmax, Radar, Infowars or the National Enquirer. You might have even read about it here at The Fix or in Esquire, where it was covered with a healthy dose of skepticism.

But the first place to report that these damning files — which may or may not exist — had disappeared wasn't an American publication — it was the Daily Mail, a British tabloid.

Twenty-four years ago, during Bill Clinton's initial White House bid, the Daily Mail was first to report that the then-governor of Arkansas had an affair with Gennifer Flowers. That turned out to be true, as Clinton acknowledged under oath years later, but the Daily Mail's article relied on a single source: Larry Nichols, a disgruntled former aide known for peddling Clinton conspiracy theories that don't always check out. Nichols's word alone probably would not have made print in mainstream American publications. But it was good enough for the Daily Mail.

Flowers soon came forward with a tell-all interview in the Star, the U.S. tabloid, and from there the mainstream press felt compelled to pursue the story, which for a time threatened to end Clinton's campaign early in the 1992 Democratic primary.

As Esquire's Charlie Pierce reminded readers this week, Clinton strategist James Carville had a name for this process of pushing gossip from the fringe to the masses: He called it the "puke funnel."

"This was his way of describing how fanciful tales of Arkansas criminality would begin life as items buried in the wild kingdom of the British tabloids," Pierce explained. "This enabled American tabloids to quote the British tabloids, which would enable more respectable outfits to 'cover the controversy,' at which point everyone was off to the races."

Carville's extremely detailed, 24-page memo on the puke funnel theory can be found in the Clinton Presidential Library.

Anyway, the influence of British tabloids is not confined to breaking news. It includes framing news, too. Matt Drudge often populates his highly trafficked website with links to the Daily Mail and others, as he did Thursday afternoon.


The latest development in the Hillary Clinton email saga was hardly a scoop, but the Daily Mail's account of her "lot of smoke ... no fire" defense was — in classic, British tabloid fashion — more sensational than what could be found in, say, the New York Times.

"Hillary Clinton KNEW her aides were working with family foundation despite her pledge not to — and she even hosted dinner at her home for the charity when in office," the tabloid's headline blared.

Compare that to the Times's headline: "Clinton defends foundation, says it has been transparent."

For a conservative news site that has lined up behind Donald Trump, the choice of which article to promote is obvious.

And for sites that aggregate some or all of their content, there is a practical reason to cite British tabloids, too: the time differences between the United Kingdom and United States. BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti described in 2013 how Breitbart News founder Andrew Breitbart, a Drudge protege, encouraged monitoring of British tabs when Peretti, Breitbart, Kenneth Lerer and Arianna Huffington were launching the Huffington Post in the mid-2000s.

"He taught us a lot of things early on," Peretti said. "He explained about looking at the British newspapers late at night because they would sometimes break news before the U.S. papers."

There is a bit of irony in pro-Trump sites such as Drudge and Breitbart leaning on foreign news outlets, given that the Republican presidential nominee espouses an "America first" worldview. But Trump doesn't seem to mind the British invasion; after all, he campaigned Wednesday night with Brexit icon Nigel Farage.