By Matt Laslo
President Trump’s got secrets, and he’s slowly realizing it’s hard — if not impossible — for even the most powerful man in the world to keep a secret for long. But Wednesday’s revelation that for years, even during his presidential campaign, he’s been working with the owners of the sleaze-ridden National Enquirer to bury those secrets under piles of cash should be a wake-up call to more than just him. It should cause those who’ve been giving him the shadow of the doubt to view every word he says with suspicion.
Trump has masterfully placed “fake news” in the international lexicon, but it seems he’s been fighting a mythical monster of his own creation using the National Inquirer — the publication known for making millions off peddling many truly fake stories in supermarket check-out lines — to do his bidding.
The revelation that the parent company of the National Inquirer, American Media Inc., struck a non-prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors over the hush money they dropped at the behest of now-President Trump's campaign and his former, and soon-to-be incarcerated personal attorney Michael Cohen seems damning.
"At the meeting, [AMI chairman David] Pecker offered to help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate's relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided," the agreement read.
If the allegations prove true — and federal prosecutors in New York surely believe them and they don’t go to court without tangible evidence — this latest revelation about America’s commander in chief shows that he cares more about burying the truth than allowing the public to ever know him as he truly is.
It also shows that the president views himself as a puppet master who is willing to use any means at his disposal to distort reality. The sad thing is he already seems to control the vast conservative media empire without having to spend a dime (that we know of) — though his current communications director is a former senior executive from Fox News, the previous communications director is now head of public relations for Fox News' parent company and his prior senior counsel had been and (briefly) returned to being the executive chairman of the right-wing website Breitbart.
But we now know at least one publication went so far as to explicitly team up with his campaign to bury real news; it was the same publication that also devoted close to a dozen reporters to expose once-promising pretty boy Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards as a philanderer who conceived a child with his mistress while paying her as a campaign consultant.
Fake news is a myth, but real media outlets focusing on mythical stories, blackmailing critics by threatening to run unflattering stories or burying actual newsworthy stories is a threat to any nation that made the freedom of speech a cornerstone of its constitution.
It’s worrisome to see many of the nation’s growing number of partisan outlets playing politics with news, but it’s their First Amendment right to be political hacks of the worst order. Having bias is fine, but using the vast resources at the disposal of places like Fox to help powerful people like Trump kill bombshell stories or plant myths is dangerous.
So as the nation and world await the findings of Special Counsel Robert Muller as to whether Trump knowingly worked with Russian officials to tilt the election there are certain things we do know.
For one, there are some secrets President Trump has been hiding — like that many American journalists are good at what they do. But also, that he’s been colluding with some of the nation’s conservative media owners to control information since even before he locked up the GOP primary in 2016.
Secrets are fine — we all have them — but smokescreens, falsehoods and outright lies are unacceptable from the American president. We’re no longer in an election and this isn’t a call for impeachment. This is a plea for the president to be honest with the American public, and for anyone who has his ear to make that case directly to him.
Until he does so, none of us should take a thing he says at face value, because he’s proven that he can’t be trusted and will go out of his way to bury real news.
This isn’t an easy conclusion to reach — that a sitting U.S. president can’t be trusted — because the presidency itself, whether the office is currently occupied by member of your party or not, should be sacred to all of us who call this great American experiment home. But it’s time to realize that almost every adamant defense offered by Trump to alleged wrongdoing during his 2016 campaign now looks to be a lie.
That’s not my hot take. That’s the cold, dark and ominous take of stone-faced federal prosecutors.
Matt Laslo is a reporter who has written for NPR, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, The Guardian and VICE News, among others. He's also an adjunct professor teaching regularly at The Johns Hopkins University and has taught at Boston University and The University of Maryland.
This article was first published on NBC News' Think. Opinions expressed in View articles are solely those of the author.