(CBS Local)– The National Enquirer has been a part of American culture for almost 100 years.
While the tabloid started out as something you’d see at the grocery store, it has quickly turned into a much more partisan publication. New York based director Mark Landsman explores the evolution of the tabloid newspaper in a new documentary called “Scandolous: The Untold Stories Of The National Enquirer.” Politics first came into the picture for The National Enquirer when the Gary Hart story rocked the nation in 1987.
“Gary Hart was the first moment when a political figure was treated like a celebrity,” said Landsman in an interview with CBS Local’s DJ Sixsmith. “The Gary Hart moment is when the privacy firewall between the press and politicians disintegrated. The Gary Hart sold like gangbusters and then politicians were on the menu. I was really fascinated to learn that the term catch and kill is a really contemporary term. 100% of the time it’s for a powerful man to protect his image and that’s what happened with the Trump candidacy. Like a lot of us in 2015 and 2016, I was having these bizarre out of body experiences at the grocery store in the checkout line looking at all these headlines of Hillary [Clinton] hooked on narcotics and the flip side of that was apparently Donald Trump was the second coming.”
“How did this paper that was obsessed with celebrities and psychic phenomenon, miracle diets and fads morph into a very powerful, highly visible piece of political propaganda? And so that’s the story that we tell. We sort of trace the trajectory of that. Because we wanted to know like how did we get here, in this moment?”
Landsman says the film is meant to connect dots and leave conclusions up to the viewer in regards to President Trump’s relationship to the National Enquirer. While the tabloid has a history of paying for stories and exaggerating facts, it also did key investigative work in the 1990s during the OJ Simpson trial.
“The editor of the Enquirer at the time was really interested in proving to world that there was some serious journalism going on there,” said Landsman. “In fact, there was and in fact, OJ Simpson was wearing the Bruno Magli shoes, which was a key piece of evidence in the civil trial for the Goldman family. They got that information because they were very well poised. They provided that photograph and that was key evidence. You have to wonder what would’ve happened if that evidence was presented in the criminal trial.”
“Then you have the current regime of the Enquirer and everything changes. The agenda changes, the editorial changes, the content changes. And you start to see a paper that is using the idea of acquiring information and burying it for the benefit of powerful people. That’s not journalism, that’s something else, and that’s frightening.”
One of the big questions from this film is the role of The National Enquirer in our society today. Landsman says the film is supposed to leave more questions than answers.
“We’re still asking a lot of questions to this day — as impeachment hearings are unfolding, as people question what a fact is in our culture. How can we be at a situation right now where we just don’t agree on the basic idea of what is a fact? It’s wild. But we understand that there are facts, we don’t live in some kind of altered Star Trek universe where somebody presses a button and you forget the fact that there’s reality. So hopefully the film will encourage people to look at the media they’re consuming [and ask] where is it coming from? Is it coming from a place that has a track record for credible fact-based journalism or is it an echo chamber that is just reflecting back to them their own views? Is it propaganda?”
“Scandalous: The Untold Stories Of The National Enquirer” is in theaters now in select cities.