Imagine! Trying to “Influence”!

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As Donald Trump sits in a Manhattan courtroom charged with falsifying business records to cover up hush money payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels, he isn’t the only one on trial; through carefully chosen language, the freedom of the press is also being challenged, particularly in the way the testimony of witness David Pecker has been presented.

One of the accusations being implied in the courtroom and in the press is that Pecker, then publisher of the National Enquirer, sought to “influence” the 2016 election by suppressing a story about Trump’s affair with Stormy Daniels. The word “influence” in connection with elections has taken on sinister connotations in the past eight years, as though influencing an election is somehow illegal. But isn’t that what campaigning is all about? I might talk to my neighbors, wear a hat or button or t-shirt, attach bumper stickers to my car, or plant campaign signs in my yard to influence my friends and neighbors to vote my way. Candidates purchase advertising spots on TV, radio, social media, and in print to influence voters, and I might donate money to their campaigns to help pay for those ads, in order to widen my area of influence. Purchasing influence is only illegal after the campaign, when constituents might try to pay (i.e., bribe) an elected official to vote a certain way that will be beneficial to the constituent but not in the best interest of the community at large. But influencing an election is what campaigning is all about.

Connected to this corruption-sounding accusation of “influencing the election” is the horror of “buying stories” in order to suppress them, thereby preventing potential voters from hearing a salacious or unflattering tale. In fact, Pecker admitted during questioning that he frequently purchased stories with such an intent, and it wasn’t just during the 2016 election to protect candidate Trump. According to a Reuters article on April 26, “Pecker said the Enquirer paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to obtain stories from women who came forward during Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2003 run for California governor to say they had affairs with him.”

The word “influence” in connection with elections has taken on sinister connotations, as though influencing an election is somehow illegal. But isn’t that what campaigning is all about?


The practice is called “catch and kill,” and it’s actually very common. The news agency simply purchases the exclusive right to the story, and then chooses not to print it. Since they own the rights, the story can’t be resold anywhere else. Killing a story doesn’t even have to cost any money — the editorial staff simply decides which stories to print, which stories not to print, and most importantly how to slant the headlines that appear above the stories. The New York Times’ screaming headline April 21 on the eve of the trial: “Will a Mountain of Evidence Be Enough to Convict Trump?” is a classic example — intended to influence not only voters but jurors, before the molehill of evidence had even been presented. CNN, MSNBC, and the New York Times do it every day when they choose not to print an article about Joe Biden’s latest mental gaffe or Kamala Harris’ latest laugh fest. The fact is, newspapers have always influenced elections. They endorse candidates openly. It’s one reason that communities traditionally have more than one newspaper.

Of course, the person whose story is purchased might not know that it’s about to be buried. As my husband and I were researching our recent book There Were Giants in the Land: Episodes in the Life of Cleon Skousen (Ensign Publishing, 2023, 544 pages, available from, we came across a catch-and-kill story that turned out to be a catch-and-kill-and-resurrect story. Cleon was a staunch supporter of constitutional principles and an avid anticommunist. He was a friend of Leonard Read, founder of the libertarian Foundation for Economic Education, and started the Freemen Institute to teach constitutional seminars and help other countries create constitutions based on limited government and individual rights. He also wrote dozens of books. His first multimillion bestseller was The Naked Communist, which he initially self-published, while his agent shopped it around. He was delighted when a New York distributor, World Publishers, offered to purchase all copies of the book and become his sole distributor. But then nothing happened — no books were sold. This is what he wrote about the deal:

My agent in New York told me he thought the president of World Publishers was very pro-communist and had bought the distribution rights in order to bury the book. I called their warehouse in San Francisco and also New York and was told, “The book is out of print and will not be republished.”


The next time I was in New York, I went to their main office and talked to the vice president who had signed the distribution contract. He was very drunk but friendly. When I accused him of trying to bury this book he said, “Yeah, the old man doesn’t like that book.”


I then said, “Well, I would like to have the books available for friends and those who hear my lectures, so why don’t you let me buy the books back and tear up the contract.” To my amazement, he agreed and had all the books shipped to Salt Lake. His boss was in Europe at the time, and as soon as he got back and found out what had happened, he fired the vice president. (159–60)

Just as the “mountain of evidence” against Trump is likely to prove more of a molehill, accusations of “influencing the election” and “buying stories” should be greeted with a “Duh!” rather than a “Doh!” Influencing an election is what campaigners do. Buying stories and then deciding whether to print them is what publishers do. Endorsing particular candidates and criticizing others is what editors do. And bringing trumped up charges against a popular candidate in the midst of a presidential election is evidently what supporters of doddering, elderly, incumbent candidates now do.

Biden opined in 2016 that he would like to “take Trump out behind the gym,” implying that he would like to beat him up. Instead, Biden’s Justice Department has tied Trump up in a court room and issued a one-way gag order. I’d prefer to see Biden take Trump into the front of that gym, where they could duke it out in the traditional way: in a series of debates about the issues Americans face and how they would resolve our many problems, whichever of them is elected to serve a second term. Neither of them is best qualified to lead the world, in my opinion, but let’s at least hear what they plan to do in an honest and open debate and stop this courtroom charade.

*There Were Giants in the Land: Episodes in the Life of W. Cleon Skousen, compiled and edited by Jo Ann and Mark Skousen, Ensign Publishing, 2023, 544 pages. Available from

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