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STEPHEN COHEN: Fake news

So what do we make of someone who supposedly (according to him) invented the concept of fake news and then created it for his own benefit?

This column is sort of like shooting fish in a barrel, but it is too wonderful an opportunity to pass up.

Perhaps my favorite Trumpism is that any reporting which shows him in a bad light is “fake news.” It is a mantra that he sort of invented, and which he attaches to everything he disagrees with from government investigations to Wall Street Journal articles and to virtually everything written in the “failing” New York Times and CNN.

That is why it is particularly fascinating to hear the testimony at his criminal trial in New York of the subpoenaed David Pecker, the ex board chair, president, and CEO of American Media (AMI) and the publisher of the New York Enquirer. (I sort of apologize for this, but Mr. Pecker’s name is remarkably funny considering two of the stories he killed about Trump’s dalliances.)

From 1999 to 2020, Mr. Pecker, a self-described friend of Mr. Trump, in collusion with Trump or his employees or agents, had the National Enquirer create false news and/or had the paper buy and kill stories from individuals that he and Trump felt were damaging to the Trump image or presidential campaign. Now, why anyone would believe anything in the National Enquirer, a weekly tabloid supermarket that seems to specialize in first hand reports of alien abductions, is beyond me; however, buying up salacious stories so they wouldn’t see the light of day was deemed crucial to Trump’s first election campaign, especially after his 2016 tape was released where our hero described assaulting women and grabbing their genitalia.

Mr. Pecker readily acknowledged that his paper engaged in “checkbook journalism,” in that it paid for stories and would either report them or keep them hidden depending upon the arrangement it had with Trump. While this method of reporting is probably not taught in journalism schools, it is not a crime. Sleazy yes, deceitful without a doubt, and a good example of managing the media for the gain of individuals and the paper (it got tips and stories from the individuals they protected).

The paper was also perfectly willing to run stories, factual or not, demeaning opponents in the presidential primaries. Remember the one about Ted Cruz’s father having dinner with Lee Harvey Oswald based on a photo run by the National Enquirer and supposidly validated by an “expert” who later said he never could identify if it was Cruz’s father? Trump played that for all it was worth, even after he became the nominee. It seems that if my father was accused of doing such a thing, I would sue for libel—Cruz passed.

Now, managing the news of a candidate for office, including paying off ex-mistresses or paramours, is also not a crime, (unless it is an illegal campaign contribution, which AMI acknowledged), and you could argue that this is just stopping real news. It can also be used to bolster a candidate’s image and reenforce his beliefs to the public. An example is where Trump was wrongly accused during his first campaign of fathering an out-of-wedlock child by an Hispanic woman. Michael Cohen called the Enquirer’s editor, after they paid the tipster doorman $30,000, and said his client was outraged over the false claim and would take a blood test to prove he was not the father. This was probably particularly upsetting because of Trump’s long-held position on how horrible non-white immigrants were, just recently referring in a speech, effectively quoting Hitler, about non-whites polluting America’s “blood lines. (It sort of sounds like his comments about why he would never have raped E. Jean Carrol because she “wasn’t his type,” although he was unwilling to testify at his two civil trials which resulted in an $85 million verdict against him.)

Pecker’s testimony is a template for how to create fictitious news with the help of a national newspaper. Trump couldn’t wait to do it, and Pecker was glad to join with him. In 2015, Cohen, Pecker, and Trump met at Trump Tower and agreed that the National Enquirer would be Trump’s vehicle to buy the rights to negative stories from whomever they deemed open to such a monitory arrangement and to make sure those stories never saw the light of day. Nicknamed by the conspirators “catch and kill.” Pecker also agreed to publish negative articles about Trump’s adversaries, to bolster Trump’s image and reputation through various puff pieces, and to be the “eyes and ears” of the election campaign.

So what do we make of someone who supposedly (according to him) invented the concept of fake news and then created it for his own benefit? I guess there is no rabid Trump supporter who cares that he lies like a rug, does the exact opposite of what he condemns, and then asks you to believe that any negative comments about him or his policies are.

The Washington Post counted over 30,000 lies by Trump over the four years of his presidency. Now we know that he also conspired to hide negative news and create fictitious stories for his benefit. He is the father and chief proponent of what he decries, and it is terrifying that anyone could vote for such a person, and even more astounding that we could elect him as president, again.

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