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How The National Enquirer Covered Trump In The ’90s

Journalism is an ephemeral, churning thing. Tabloid journalism even more so. But libraries are good about counteracting that. In the marble halls of the New York Public Library, a short walk south from Trump Tower, I recently received a 3-foot-high stack of crisp archival envelopes on a library cart. Inside were hundreds of crinkled, ripped and crumbling issues of the National Enquirer. Each stack was tied with tidy bows of twine. The sacred and the profane.

It is well-known that the National Enquirer supported President Trump’s election campaign. The Enquirer “embraced Trump with sycophantic fervor,” Jeffrey Toobin wrote in The New Yorker. Trump and David Pecker, the chief executive of American Media Inc., the Enquirer’s parent company, are close friends. AMI’s board meetings have been held at Mar-a-Lago. Pecker was reportedly granted immunity last summer by federal prosecutors as part of an investigation into payments made during the presidential campaign to two women who say they had affairs with Trump — payments in which AMI admitted that it was involved.

But what about before — before Pecker and “The Apprentice” and MAGA? How did the Enquirer cover Trump then? There is, as Slate pointed out, no online archive of the infamous tabloid. The New York Times wrote that many “older National Enquirer stories are often not accessible through Google or databases like Nexis.” In fact, the magazine’s physical archive was destroyed after it was contaminated by an anthrax attack in the fall of 2001 that killed an AMI employee.

But there is the New York Public Library, which maintains an Enquirer collection that begins in 1957, stops abruptly in 1973 and picks up again in 1993.1 In the midst of the Jeff-Bezos-versus-Enquirer-blog-post fallout, I went to comb those stacks. From 1993 to the start of the Pecker era, in early 1999, I found seven cover stories related to Trump, along with a smattering of articles that weren’t featured on the cover.

These earlier Enquirer stories portray Trump as another of the publication’s society and celebrity fascinations. But even then, there were whispers of political ambition coming from Trump Tower. And when Trump’s friend Pecker took over, these whispers turned to shouts in the pages of the magazine, often with exclamation points at the end.

Let’s start by going back to the cover story from the April 27, 1993, edition: “Trump to Wed Pregnant Marla.” Trump “hopes to make $20 million off his casino wedding by inviting hundreds of big-stakes gamblers,” a detail the Enquirer said it uncovered.

Alas, come May 1993, the wedding to Marla Maples was off! There was a clash over the prenuptial agreement, the Enquirer reported. “It was a sliding payoff — like [Trump] was trying to rent me for a few years,” Maples reportedly told “a source.”

Of course, we can’t vouch for the truth of any of the Enquirer’s “reporting,” but let’s pause for a brief interlude of other Enquirer headlines from around that time:

“Beware: Your Alarm Clock Can Kill You”

“Dying Man’s Last Words Are Winning Lottery Numbers”

“Mel Gibson: My Life As A Rabbit”

November 1993 brought a cover proclaiming “Donald & Marla’s Baby — Photo Exclusive.” Tiffany was 7 pounds, 7.5 ounces. Trump, after some hesitation, is said to have cut the umbilical cord. “She has Marla’s legs and my lips,” Trump reportedly told his “friend.”

In December 1993, the Enquirer reported that Trump was in his office watching television when he learned about a mass shooting on the Long Island Rail Road. It was at that moment, apparently, when he realized that life was short and he should stop wasting time and marry Maples. “Did this beautiful little baby push you over the edge?” Maples is reported to have asked. “No, honey. When I saw what happened on that train, I figured life is short and I want to do this now,” Trump reportedly replied.

The Jan. 4, 1994, issue of the National Enquirer in my pile had its cover nearly torn off, but I could still read its headline: “Donald & Marla’s Wedding Album.” Susan Lucci, Howard Stern, New York City Mayor David Dinkins, O.J. Simpson, Don King and Rosie O’Donnell were there. His children from his first marriage — “Donny,” Ivanka and Eric — were not. The Enquirer reported that lobster, roast beef, lamb, squab, ham, pheasant, duck and a dozen pasta dishes were served. Trump called it the “biggest, classiest wedding New York has seen in decades!”

An article that was featured on an April 1994 cover detailed how Maples took baby Tiffany Trump to a chiropractor for spinal alignments to treat the baby’s colic. “The constant crying of Tiffany had Marla and Donald worn out from loss of sleep,” said “a close friend of Marla.” “Shocked docs claim it’s crazy,” an Enquirer banner reads. Maples, for her part, is said to have embraced crystals, incense and cranberry juice as a detoxification routine, an approach that Maple’s mother said Trump “respects.”

The marital bliss was not to last. In May 1997, the Enquirer blamed Trump’s split from Maples on the Belgian supermodel Ingrid Seynhaeve. Trump became “fixated” on Seynhaeve, the winner of a modeling agency contest, when she was 18, according to an “insider.” “When Donald’s not with her, he watches a sizzling video of her over and over,” that person is said to have said.

Again, before you put too much stock in this, the adjacent headlines around this time:

“You Really Can Die From A Broken Heart”

“Reading In The Bathroom Is Bad For Your Health”

“Al Gore’s Diet Is Making Him Stupid”

But perhaps all of those are more believable than this, from July 1997: Tiffany, then age 3, “imperiously ordered a piano player to move over so she could sing with him at a Nantucket restaurant.” She also ordered caviar in such great quantities that she took some home “in a doggie bag.”

Life and tabloids are fickle. That same summer, an August 1997 article wondered whether Donald Trump was due to become the “first lady” of Venezuela. The Enquirer reported that Trump was in a “red-hot romance” with Irene Sáez, who was “on the fast track to becoming the next president of Venezuela!” (Sáez had indeed been leading in the polls, but her campaign tanked alongside the country’s economy. Hugo Chávez was elected in a landslide.) The match only made sense. As an “insider” told the tabloid, “Donald has always harbored secret political ambitions.” Sources told the Enquirer that if Sáez won, Trump had no intention of leaving New York, so she’d have to lead her country from Trump Tower.

In March 1999, Pecker took over AMI and the Enquirer.

And on Nov. 9, 1999, Trump’s own byline appeared in the tabloid — a practice that would continue with a column during the 2016 election — above a photo of the White House. The headline reads: “Why I Should Be President.”

“Maybe the voters would find it refreshing,” Trump wrote nearly 20 years ago. “I guarantee you one thing, they’d find it interesting.”


From ABC News:


Footnotes

  1. One librarian I spoke with suggested that a funding lapse may have contributed to the gap.

Oliver Roeder was a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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