Russian interference. Piss-tape kompromat. Montenegrin fake news factories. Shadowy billionaires on both sides of the political divide trying to ignite a culture war. There’s been one hell of an elaborate backstory contrived to explain the shock result of the 2016 US election, but a look through the lens of the National Enquirer suggests that some of it may have been a little more straightforward.
The criminal underworld of New York, the closed corridors of Washington, the magazine industry of Florida. They’re all very interesting – no question about that – but these aren’t regular people we’ve been talking about here. For the National Enquirer to cut any sway with millions of average American Joes, things would have to change. They’d have to go corporate. Which is where American Media, Inc. comes into play.
While mob boss Frank Costello gave the National Enquirer a connection to the less-reputable elements of society, in order to become a truly powerful publication it would need someone to introduce the Enquirer to the established corridors of power. Someone with the ear of a senator, an attorney general, a president. Which is exactly what it had in the rather lumpy shape of Roy Cohn.
Our story starts with American Media Inc’s oldest and most notorious title: the National Enquirer. As the industry’s most sensational scandal rag, the Enquirer is often blamed for setting the grim tone of modern celebrity reporting – but how did it become so influential? And, more importantly, how did the Enquirer’s ties to a botched Mafia hit-job in 1950s New York end up causing a tabloid boom in 1970s small-town Florida?
In the year since he was elected president, Donald Trump has suffered an absolutely astonishing amount of setbacks and scandals, yet nothing seems to have landed a critical blow. But there is one incident that might still cause the whole thing to collapse. It was barely perceptible at the time, but as soon as you start tugging at the thread, a huge story starts to unravel. One that’s been sixty years in the making and deals with one of the strangest forces in US politics today: the story of American Media, Inc.