In Touch’s Stormy Daniels interview: The rare unflattering tabloid story for President Trump

Posted at 8:18 PM, Jan 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-20 20:18:48-05

When In Touch Weekly published an interview this week with a porn actress who claimed to have had a sexual relationship with Donald Trump, it created another firestorm for the White House to put out.

The story also opened a new front in the gossip wars surrounding this president.

That’s because In Touch’s interview with the actress — Stephanie Clifford, whose stage name is Stormy Daniels — ran in stark contrast to other tabloid coverage of this presidency. The National Enquirer has been firmly in Trump’s corner. So has TMZ.

The Enquirer is owned by American Media Inc., a publisher of several supermarket tabloids including Star. American Media’s chairman, David Pecker, is a longtime personal friend of Trump’s.

“Pecker does have the power through his media properties to influence public opinion,” said Stu Zakim, a public relations executive who worked at AMI for three years. “Donald being the media manipulator that he is — it’s a perfect friendship.”

AMI did not respond to CNNMoney’s request for comment.

There’s a similar dynamic at work at TMZ, whose founder and managing editor, Harvey Levin, is also tight with Trump. And those relationships have seemingly shaped the way the National Enquirer and TMZ have approached this presidency.

Veterans of the tabloid scene say that In Touch, which is owned by Bauer Publishing, is governed by different principles. Bauer bills itself as the “#1 seller of magazines at retail in the country,” and its portfolio includes Life&Style and Woman’s World.

“Bauer is the antithesis of AMI,” said Zakim. “Bauer has always been much quieter. They’re a German company. They don’t have a real preference here. They just put out magazines. They were never about celebrity editors. There’s no political agenda. They’re just there to make money.”

In a statement to CNN, a spokeswoman for Bauer said, “We can’t speak to other outlets’ decisions on how and if they cover President Trump, but In Touch’s reporting is guided by facts, wherever they may lead.”

The company can likely expect a windfall from its latest issue. In Touch suddenly found itself in possession of a premium exclusive after the Wall Street Journal reported last week that Trump’s lawyer had paid Clifford $130,000 prior to the 2016 election to keep her from speaking publicly about her alleged relationship with the president. (Both Trump and Daniels have denied “any such occurrence” in a statement Cohen made to CNN.)

But In Touch had already spoken to Clifford in 2011. With the publication of the interview this week, there has been intense interest in why the tabloid did not publish their interview in 2011. The Associated Press reported Friday that Trump’s personal lawyer had threatened to sue the tabloid if they published the interview, according to four sources who used to work for In Touch. The sources could not speak on the record because they were not authorized to discuss In Touch’s editorial policies. Neither Trump nor his lawyer have responded to CNN’s requests for comment.

The years-old interview is now one of the most talked-about stories in the country. It is also decidedly different from what has appeared in the Enquirer and other AMI properties.

“If the Clintons were in office and Pecker had the same type of story that In Touch is publishing, he would have put it on all of his magazines,” Zakim said.

In fact, the Enquirer reportedly buried one similar story about Trump. The Journal reported in 2016 that the Enquirer forked over $150,000 to a former Playboy playmate for the rights to her story about her alleged affair with Trump, but that the Enquirer never published the story. The Enquirer, the Journal suggested, had done something “known in the tabloid world as ‘catch and kill'” — paying for a story so that it would not run.

The Wall Street Journal reported that they said the payment was for Clifford to “write fitness columns and appear on magazine covers.”

In recent years, the Enquirer has run stories favorable to Trump, and attacking his perceived enemies.

Last year, MSNBC co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski claimed that the White House threatened to run a hit piece on them in the Enquirer. In June of 2017, the Enquirer did run a negative story about the pair, though the top editor said the publication had “no knowledge of any discussions between the White House and Joe and Mika about our story, and absolutely no involvement in those discussions.”

On Twitter, Trump called the story “FAKE NEWS.”

Trump has cited the National Enquirer to help bolster his arguments, like he did during the 2016 Republican primaries when he alluded to a widely-discredited story in the tabloid that linked Ted Cruz’s father to John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

And Trump has long been an admirer of TMZ’s Levin, who reportedly met with the president in the Oval Office last year. Levin couldn’t be reached for comment after multiple attempts. Like CNN, TMZ’s parent company is Time Warner.

Last year, after the comedian Kathy Griffin participated in a photo shoot that included a decapitated head fashioned to look like Trump, TMZ cited “family sources” who said the president’s son, Barron Trump, initially thought that the graphic images were real.

On Friday, TMZ ran a story under the headline: “Porn Star Stormy Daniels Keeps Cashing in on Trump Scandal.” The National Enquirer, meanwhile, has appeared to ignore the story altogether — although that could change soon.

“I’d anticipate the Enquirer will come out and trash Stormy Daniels eventually,” Zakim said.