David Pecker, chief executive of the National Enquirer's parent company, delivered a stunningly candid appraisal of his audience in an interview for the latest issue of the New Yorker.
“These are people that live their life failing, so they want to read negative things about people who have gone up and then come down,” Pecker told Jeffrey Toobin.
Pecker basically called his readers a bunch of sadistic losers, which would seem like an imprudent thing to do — if he thought there were any risk of said readers encountering the highbrow New Yorker in the course of their “failing” lives.
The truly gutsy move, it would appear, is for Pecker to ignore the desires of his audience and to continue the National Enquirer's fawning coverage of President Trump. If Enquirer readers love to see rich, powerful celebrities humbled and humiliated, what better target could possibly exist than a billionaire president who was famous before he entered politics?
Yet the reality — which surprises even Pecker — is that National Enquirer readers want to see Trump built up more than they want to see him torn down.
“They voted for Trump,” Pecker told the New Yorker. “And 96 percent want him reelected today. That’s the correlation. These are white working people, who love to see takedowns of celebrities, and they want to see — which is unusual, who would think these people would love a billionaire? — the billionaire’s pulpit. They know him from 14 seasons on ‘The Apprentice’ as the boss, and they loved it when he fired those people and ridiculed them.”
National Enquirer readers love Trump; therefore the National Enquirer loves Trump, which is convenient because Pecker and the president have been friends for a long time.
In his New Yorker piece, Toobin chronicled the ways, big and small, that Pecker has used his position to protect Trump. There is the previously reported instance of killing a story about a former Playboy Playmate who claimed to have had an extramarital affair with Trump. And there is this account of a recent editorial meeting that Toobin sat in on:
Someone suggested a story about a video from Donald and Melania Trump’s first overseas trip. The video, which had just gone viral, showed the couple walking down a red carpet on the airport tarmac in Israel. When Donald reached for Melania’s hand, she slapped it away with a sharp flick of her wrist.
“I didn’t see that,” Pecker said, on the speakerphone.
The half-dozen or so men in the room exchanged looks. One then noted that the footage of Melania’s slap had received a good deal of attention.
“I didn’t see that,” Pecker repeated, and the subject was dropped.
It was a telling moment.
What's the big deal, you might ask, if this publisher of tabloid trash kisses up to Trump? It's not like voters are counting on the National Enquirer for strong accountability journalism, anyway.
The big deal is that the company Pecker leads, American Media Inc., could make a play to acquire Time Inc. — as in the publisher of Time magazine, on which voters do depend for serious reporting.
“I think that there’s a huge opportunity,” Pecker told Toobin, who noted that American Media would need a partner to help finance such a hefty acquisition.
Even with Pecker in charge, Time presumably would not start running the same kinds of zany headlines that appear in the National Enquirer. Changes need not be so obvious to be problematic, however.
In the New Yorker, Pecker recounted the way he quashed a story about one of Tiger Woods's extramarital affairs in exchange for Woods's appearance on the cover of another American Media publication — way back in 2007, before the golfer's serial infidelities became public.
These kinds of arrangements are highly unethical, by traditional journalistic standards, but might never be known if Pecker were to implement them at a magazine such as Time.
The alarming thought is that the National Enquirer's brand of journalism could spread.