In the fall of 2016, not long before the presidential election, I received an email out of the blue from Dylan Howard, a senior bigwig and now Chief Content Officer of American Media, Inc.(AMI), which owns and operates most of the nation’s supermarket tabloids and gossip magazines, including the National Enquirer, Us Weekly, OK!, Star and other publications. Howard asked me if I’d be interested in the job of Washington bureau chief for the Enquirer.
Naturally, I was highly interested. First off, I love the Enquirer, despite, or because of, its eccentricities and curious politics. When I go to the supermarket I have little desire to buy Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, Time, Newsweek or whatever other rags might be available, but it’s 50-50 that I’ll blow my hard earned cash on the Enquirer, especially if there’s a good Martian Landing story on the cover. I even keep a wonderful old red-and-yellow hardback edition of Enquirer photographs — there are a lot of Bill and Monica shots — on a bedside table.
Secondly, it’s virtually impossible to make a living in journalism these days and, I figured, why not? It would be fun and different and I’d see if I could mix gossip with serious journalism, much as I was already doing at Washington Babylon, which I’d launched a few months earlier (to great acclaim, with a debut story by Sydney Leathers about Anthony Weiner that rocked the presidential campaign.) Plus, get health care benefits.
Thirdly, I don’t think there could be a job more fun in journalism than being DC bureau chief of the Enquirer, other than being editor-in-chief of Washington Babylon. I figured if it didn’t work out I’d have a great year or two and would come away with plenty of material for a memoir.
To make a long story short, Howard and I exchanged a few emails and talked on the phone. He told me the Enquirer had decided to go legit in terms of news coverage, especially investigations, and that’s why he was interested in hiring me. I’d done a tiny bit of stringing for the Enquirer previously, feeding tips to a reporter there on the presidential primaries, which Howard liked as well.
I fell hard for the Enquirer — very hard. I told Howard that I wanted the job and that if he hired me, I wouldn’t run from the Enquirer brand, I’d embrace it. I distinctly recall saying, “I’ll Wear It Proudly,” because that’s one of my favorite Elvis Costello songs.
On November 16, I emailed Howard to say:
Not to be immodest, though that’s pretty much the whole point in these situations, but I’d be perfect for this job. I’ve lived in DC since 1993 and know it as well as anyone, but I’m an outsider by choice and independent when it comes to politics. I’d love to go after our clueless, corrupt political and media elites, who’ve just been exposed so badly during the presidential election.
This is a great moment for the Enquirer to jump into Washington and I truly think I can make a mark for us in DC in a hurry.
A few months ago, I sent a pitch to funders for Washington Babylon that described what I want to do and why the publication was needed. I wrote:
The state of journalism has never been worse. There are a few scattered reporters doing great work, but the vast majority are in the tank for one party or the other…Like me, you’re tired of reading political drivel and propaganda that makes Pravda under Stalin look honest in comparison. Would you prefer something written to high reporting standards but that treats politicians, the media and the entire political class with total contempt? How fun would it be to have an online tabloid that mixes highbrow investigations with the sleaziest (but truest) Washington political gossip?
I was being a little bit sarcastic but I think that’s a pretty good model for political journalism. Working for the Enquirer would allow me to put it into practice.
As noted above, Howard didn’t hire me, which in the end turned out to be a good thing, because I’ve been able to devote more time to Washington Babylon, and do here what I wanted to also do for the Enquirer. I don’t know who, if anyone, Howard decided to hire, but the Enquirer doesn’t seem to have gotten serious about its investigative journalism, based on what I see of it at supermarkets and from periodically checking online.
Recent “political” stories include, “READER SURVEY! The Fake News Trophy — Vote For The Most Biased Political Reporting,” and “Megyn Kelly Shipped To North Korea Border By NBC; It’s off to a war zone after sinking “Today” ratings!” It’s good stuff, I lap up every delicious drop, but it’s not exactly hard-hitting material.
Why didn’t Howard decide to hire me? Your guess is as good as mine, but I expect it had something to do with Donald Trump unexpectedly winning the election. If Hillary Clinton had won, the Enquirer would probably have wanted a mix of serious and unserious investigative reporting about her administration.
But Trump is beloved by David Pecker, American Media, Inc.’s CEO, and the tabloid has gone Full Metal Donald after the election, as discussed in a typically dull July New Yorker story, “The National Enquirer’s Fervor for Trump; The tabloid is defined by its predatory spirit. Why has it embraced the President with such sycophantic zeal?” With Trump in power, the Enquirer lost interest in serious DC investigations, especially into his regime.
That’s my theory, anyway. It may just be that Howard decided to hire somebody with a different skill set.
Why am I revealing my exclusive story now? Simple. I’ve got interviews all day and don’t have much time to write, and this seems like potential click bait.
Also, I planned to ages ago, forgot about it, and was reminded about it because the great Oliver Bateman — a journalist, lawyer, historian and competitive powerlifter from Southwestern Pennsylvania who has also written for VICE, Al-Jazeera, VQR, Teen Vogue and The Awl, among others — will soon be writing his debut story for Washington Babylon.
Oliver’s piece will look at the politics of the Enquirer and tabloids in general. Look for it on fine newsstands soon.