It’s easy to dismiss today’s National Enquirer story about the alleged secret, highly active extramarital sex life of Ted Cruz, because, hey, it’s just some crappy tabloid that makes up all of its stories, right? And it’s true: They’ve printed a lot of fantasy and nonsense. But on some stories—including some huge ones—the Enquirer has been very right.
It’s entirely possible the magazine’s claim that candidate Cruz has had five separate affairs while married to his wife Heidi is completely false. Maybe they were fabricated by an agenda-toting third party and fed to the Enquirer as true (although fragments of the story have been circulating online for awhile, now). There are innumerable people who will take great pleasure in just seeing this headline reverberate across Twitter, to Cruz’s immense embarrassment, and any number of them would be capable of spearheading a smear campaign.
But it’s also possible that the Enquirer’s story, or parts of it at least, are accurate, making Ted Cruz a “family values” fraud and hypocrite. The tabloid is operated in part by a team of real reporters that have launched bombshells before. Their news-gathering process, as documented by Gawker in 2012, is highly unorthodox, and wouldn’t pass muster at any newspaper (or even here!), but it does involve traditional reporting and fact-checking—even when it’s done only to cover their ass legally.
Perhaps the Enquirer’s greatest feat to date was breaking the 2008 story of charming presidential hopeful John Edwards’ secret child with a mistress, a triumph of snooping, gossiping, and reporting that immediately ended his existence as an American political entity. The story included actual photos of Edwards in a hotel room, holding the baby whose existence he wouldn’t acknowledge while his wife battled cancer. It was a story “respectable” media outlets would’ve crawled over each other to get a piece of, and it appeared in a supermarket checkout rag those same outlets still consider a punchline.
The National Enquirer is responsible for breaking two notable stories during and after the O.J. Simpson murder saga. In the 1990s, the mag obtained and published a photograph of Simpson wearing a pair of Bruno Magli shoes that matched bloody prints left at the scene of the killing—the same kind that’d earlier prompted Simpson say he “would have never worn those ugly-ass shoes.” When confronted with a photograph of himself wearing said ugly ass shoes, Simpson simply denied that they were his. A decade later, the Enquirer was the first outlet to reveal Simpson had penned a manuscript about carrying out the murders he was accused of committing, the infamous If I Did It.
The founder and CEO of Apple went out of his way to conceal his dire health situation—and the fact that he was recklessly avoiding legitimate medical treatment—from the public and Apple shareholders. One of the only outlets to puncture the immense, otherwise-impregnable Apple spin and black ops PR machine was the National Enquirer, which reported in February 2011 that Jobs had “six weeks to live,” citing rapidly deteriorating health and photographs that depicted him looking extremely, disturbingly frail. They had the timeline wrong—Jobs died over six months later, in October of 2011—but they were absolutely right that Steve Jobs was dying when no one in the legitimate “business press” would dare touch the truth.
None of this is to say that the National Enquirer doesn’t blow it, and blow it a lot, because it does. The paper infamously whiffed on a report that Barack Obama was “caught in a DC hotel with a former campaign aide,” a report they partially retracted soon after publishing. It’s also home to a regular rotation of baseless stories that are patently, stupidly wrong, and never amount to anything. For example, this one:
And that’s the frustrating thing about the Enquirer, which maintains a confounding ratio of fearless reporting and unflappable tip-chasing to pure bullshit. There was no way to predict that the Edwards scoop was in fact a scoop and not a tall tale until the magazine had Edwards nailed dead-to-rights with a photo, and so far there’s no way to verify anything in the stomach-turning vagueness the Enquirer has alleged about Ted Cruz’s penis, either.
But don’t count them out based solely on some snobbish journalism oath. The National Enquirer is always extremely wrong and full of shit until they’re extremely right.