It would be unfair to say that People magazine has been totally soft on President Trump. Recall that it was People that published the first-person account of its former reporter, Natasha Stoynoff, who wrote in October that Trump pushed her against a wall and kissed her without consent 11 years earlier. Trump denied Stoynoff's claim.
Yet when Trump won the presidential election in November, less than a month after Stoynoff went public, People ran a cover that quite literally depicted the victorious billionaire in a glowing light. As Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan put it at the time, “it was a pretty glam treatment.”
Now, however, People is out with a much tougher cover that accuses the Trump family of “SECRETS & LIES.” The contrast between the cover of the new issue and one that featured the future first family in October 2015 (AT HOME WITH THE TRUMPS!) is truly striking.
The latest cover also takes a very different tone from that of an April 2016 issue, which suggested that the “real” Trump might be kinder and gentler than his coarse exterior would indicate.
An accompanying article captured some of Trump's poorer qualities — he commented on a female reporter's physical appearance, for example — but the cover made him look pretty good.
Thus, People's decision to hit Trump on the front of the mag marks a notable shift. Its use of the word “lie” is particularly significant because the term has been a subject of journalistic debate.
The New York Times has decided it is appropriate, in some cases, to characterize false statements made by the president as lies. Similarly, Post articles sometimes describe false statements by Trump as lies when it is clear that he knows the claims are untrue.
The Wall Street Journal, however, maintains that the word is generally not appropriate because it is difficult to know for sure whether the cause of a false statement is deception or an honest mistake. The Post describes false statements by Trump as lies when it is clear that he knows the claims are untrue.
By attaching the word “lie” to Trump on its cover, People is siding with news outlets that have taken the bolder approach of calling out claims that are not true. That is a sharp turn from the magazine's prior coverage.