Dec. 7, 2005, was a busy day of self-promotion for Donald Trump. He appeared on Howard Stern’s radio show to plug the finale of “The Apprentice,” season four. He gave an interview to CNN Headline News in which he talked about his plan to film a subsequent season in Los Angeles.
And at Trump Tower in New York, the future president of the United States hosted an event for In Touch, the gossip magazine that this week published a porn star’s claim that the two had sex in July 2006.
At the event, Trump picked the winner of In Touch’s “Win a Million Dollars Sweepstakes” and presented an oversize check against a backdrop featuring the “Apprentice” and In Touch logos.
The White House has dismissed the alleged encounter between Trump and adult-film actress Stormy Daniels as tabloid trash. But Trump’s denial is complicated by his history of associating with publications such as In Touch and lending credence to their work.
“I’ve always said, ‘Why didn't the National Enquirer get the Pulitzer Prize for Edwards?’ ” Trump said on the campaign trail in 2016. He was referring to the Enquirer’s revelation that John Edwards, the former senator from North Carolina and 2008 presidential candidate, had an affair and fathered a child with a campaign aide.
Trump told a crowd in Ohio that the National Enquirer “should be very respected,” as a way of defending his decision, in an earlier interview, to cite an unsubstantiated article about the father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).
The Enquirer’s top editor during the Edwards investigation, David Perel, was editorial director of In Touch during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The founding editor of In Touch was Richard Spencer (not to be confused with the white nationalist by the same name). Spencer left in 2010 to launch a new magazine called Reality Weekly at the National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc. The debut issue of Reality Weekly featured a guest column written by Trump, according to a news release.
Spencer and American Media also hired Omarosa Manigault, a contestant on “The Apprentice” who would later work in Trump’s White House, as Reality Weekly’s West Coast editor.
Trump’s friendship with American Media chief executive David Pecker is well documented. Trump has suggested in tweets that Pecker ought to be in charge of Time magazine. And Pecker admitted to the New Yorker last year that in 2016 he squashed a potentially damaging story about a former Playboy model who claimed to have had an affair with Trump in 2006.
Here’s an excerpt from Jeffrey Toobin’s report:
“When her people contacted me that she had a story on Trump, everybody was contacting her,” [Pecker] said. “At the same time, she was launching her own beauty-and-fragrance line, and I said that I’d be very interested in having her in one of my magazines, now that she’s so famous.” But Pecker had a condition for hiring her: “Once she’s part of the company, then on the outside she can’t be bashing Trump and American Media.”
I pointed out that bashing Trump was not the same as bashing American Media.
“To me it is,” Pecker replied. “The guy’s a personal friend of mine.”
The Wall Street Journal reported shortly before Election Day in 2016 that American Media had paid the former model, Karen McDougal, $150,000.
Last week, the Journal reported that Daniels similarly accepted $130,000 from Trump attorney Michael Cohen to keep quiet during the race. Daniels denied the report. At least four other news outlets pursued reports about a sexual encounter between Trump and Daniels, but the Journal was first to publish.
The Journal even beat In Touch to print, though In Touch had interviewed Daniels in 2011. The new editorial director of In Touch, James Heidenry, told The Washington Post that he does not know why the magazine sat on the interview for seven years.
“I’ve only been here since November,” Heidenry told The Post’s Paul Farhi. “I can’t speak to decisions that were made before then.”
Heidenry came to In Touch from American Media, which has Pecker’s don't-bash-Trump rule.
Long before Trump had a political career to protect — even before he starred on “The Apprentice” — he was a fixture in the New York tabloids, as former Page Six editor Susan Mulcahy recalled in a Politico Magazine piece in 2016:
If you worked for a newspaper in New York in the 1980s, you had to write about Trump. As editor of the New York Post’s Page Six, and later as a columnist for New York Newsday, I needed to fill a lot of space, ideally with juicy stories of the rich and powerful, and Trump more than obliged. I wrote about his real estate deals. I wrote about his wife, his yacht, his parties, his houses. At times, I would let several months go by without a single column mention of The Donald; this doubtless upset him, as he loves Page Six and used to have it brought to him the moment it arrived in his office.
Trump even made a bid for the New York Post in 1988 — after previously bidding for the New York Daily News in 1982.
In short, the president loves tabloid gossip, which makes it harder for him to just brush it off now, when he is the subject of it.