Mark Landsman’s excellent documentary makes for depressing viewing . As he details the rise and fall of the scandal rag The National Enquirer he reminds us how the obnoxious self-serving Trump was one of the main instigators of the whole ‘fake news’ syndrome decades before he squirmed his way into The White House.
The story of The National Enquirer starts back in the 1950’s when with a hefty loan from the Mafia to Generoso Pope, Jr (allegedly one of their own) a very scary individual who ran the Tabloid with an iron rod. At the beginning he recruited most of his journalists from Britain as they were much more ruthless than their American counterparts and were used to playing so dirty to get a story at any cost.
Pope’ s first major editorial decision was having the Enquirer focus on gory blood stories with front-page images of bodies destroyed in car accidents or by bullets. Then when he perceived that families were moving to the suburbs where there were no corner newsstands, he negotiated a deal to have the Enquirer placed at the cash register of every grocery store.
For this he had to change his editorial tack as no-one would want to see all that gore when shopping for food, so he focused on suburban wives, sleazy celebrity stories, and ridiculous UFOs, but it paid off big time as circulation soared.
Pope was happy to pay out extortionate sums of money to get the best stories and the ex-journalists interviewed for the film testified about the ridiculous unlimited expenses they had, and the seemingly endless funds to pay out to the whole web of informers that they cultivated.
Some didn’t need paying , as in even in the 1980’s Trump would phone in stories about himself, often a few times a day. Sometimes he would try and disguise his voice and other times he didn’t even bother. He was rewarded for this when The National Enquirer was later owned by American Media and its CEO the-desperate-to-be-a-celebrity David Pecker who bought up scandalous stories about Trump and then buried them.
In fairness to Pecker, this practice had been going on at The Enquirer for years when they reached agreements with the likes of Bob Hope and Bill Cosby to suppress confirmed stories of their sexual infidelities in return for unfettered access to them for exclusive ‘happier’ interviews.
Pecker however when one step further by having the paper actually endorse Trump for the President, the first time in its history that it backed a Candidate . Not content with doing that he also ran inflammatory negative stories about Trump’s opponents like Ted Cruz , which were too bizarre to be believed by most people, but as both Trump and Pecker had realised, his supporters would believe anything.
If there is a single bright side to the all the scandals of the Enquirer it has to be their excessive campaign to investigate the OJ Simpson case and they did actually uncover vital evidence that the Police had overlooked. This proved to be enough for the Family to win their Civil Case against Simpson. But asides from that there is nothing that can justify the actions of all these members of the media that were happy to take fat paychecks from an employer that showed them even less respect than the people that they pillared each week
The Tabloids decline can be pinpointed to the outpouring of vitriol aimed at the paparazzi after some of its members had killed Princess Diana. The Enquirer wasn’t involved in any way but they start bearing the brunt of the public;s anger at how they carelessly ruin lives without a moment’s thought.
For those of us (including this reviewer) who have always just laughed at the ridiculous headlights that greet us in at the cash register and never even peeked inside, this film is a dispiriting eye-opener. The filmmakers were so right to bring it to all our attention, but the story has left such a bitter taste in our mouths that will take some time to get rid off. Hopefully getting rid of Trump will be quicker.