Politico staff writer Jack Shafer has another novel excuse for Hillary Clinton’s November loss: the National Enquirer and other tabloids subliminally altering voters’ perceptions at the grocery checkout line.
From Politico Magazine:
The tabs had covered politicians before, sure: Back in 1987, the Enquirer helped scuttle Gary Hart’s presidential ambitions when it published a cover photo of Donna Rice sitting on his lap, and in a 2008 series, it threw a saddle on John Edwards’ presidential bid and rode it into the ground. But the tabloids’ thrust had almost always been pure scandal. Politics was only the backdrop. That changed this time, as the tabloids—especially the Enquirer—fixated on the presidential campaign, sometimes in oddly substantive ways. Trump, Clinton or one of the other presidential candidates appeared on the Enquirer cover more than 20 times in 2016, an editorial trajectory that shows no sign of ending with 2017. “How Trump Will Fix Spy Showdown” heralds a cover line in the January 16 issue. The tab routinely depicted Clinton as crazed, diseased, near death, an ISIS-supporting traitor, a liar, a blackmailer, corrupt and a member of a crime family. The Enquirer’s sister tabloid, the Globe, contributed its own anti-Hillary salvos, claiming she was hooked on pills, crippled with multiple sclerosis, relying on a body double to conceal her illness and had suffered a “shocking crackup.”
As 2016 began, the tabloids celebrated favorite son Trump at every turn. The Enquirer endorsed him in March 2016—one of vanishingly few publications anywhere to do so—and stacked its pages with praise. In its February 29, 2016, issue, the tabloid toted up the shameful secrets the candidates were hiding. His secret? “[H]e has greater support and popularity than even he’s admitted to!” the Enquirer reported. During the campaign, Trump returned the affection by saying the Enquirer ought to be “respected” and asking why it didn’t win a Pulitzer Prize for its Edwards stories. The Globe likewise pushed the Trump candidacy. It puffed him up with a story titled, “Don’t Mess With Donald Trump!”—and it threw spitballs at the Vatican on his behalf in “Donald Trump Schools the Pope on Vital American Security.” This open embrace of a candidate was new, and people noticed, with pieces appearing in New York magazine, the Washington Post, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, the Daily Beast and elsewhere.
It’s easy to imagine that tabloids don’t matter; the Enquirer is a relatively small voice in the media kingdom, with a weekly circulation of only 342,071, down from the 5.9 million it commanded in the 1970s. But that misses the importance of the constant cultural background noise it adds to American life: There are 37,000 supermarkets in America, with an average of about 10 checkout stands each, and many stands feature a wire rack displaying the Enquirer, the Globe, often the company’s other tab, the National Examiner, and celebrity magazines. According to an industry study, American households make an average of 1.5 trips to the supermarket each week. Every customer passes by the checkout stand, which means that even people who never purchase a tabloid still absorb the ambient headlines, and those headlines can shape their view of the world.
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