Donald Trump Knows Tabloids Matter, and So Should We
On November 11, 2016, the Black gossip news website MediaTakeOut.com published Donald Trump’s “New Deal for Black America,” after, according to the online tabloid, Trump reached out to them directly. The 10 point “New Deal” is vague and sinister, a thinly disguised document of white supremacy. It might seem extreme to say, but the document itself might not be the most frightening part of all of this.
Strange, isn’t it, that a President-elect would choose to publish his agenda in the same place that runs stories like “BACK TO BRUCE!! Caitlyn Jenner Is Allegedly . . . RE-TRANSITIONING . . . They Say That He’s Going ‘BACK TO BRUCE AGAIN’!!! (PICS)”. Out of touch, one might think. But contrary to what Vox suggests, Trump was not publishing on MediaTakeOut.com as a way of “intentionally mocking the concerns of Black people” — although the Trump “New Deal” is a mockery. Rather, he was effectively and intentionally manipulating celebrity-driven media to spread propaganda through channels that are already wide open to him.
MediaTakeOut.com presented Trump’s 10 point “New Deal” plan with a question ( (Do You ACCEPT IT . . . Or NAH??) in its headline, without any other commentary or critique besides what readers posted in its comments section.
By posting on MediaTakeOut.com, Trump’s message was available to anyone who would read it, broadcasted in his simple language that manages to say nothing and everything at the same time. It is the same language as the tabloid media: bare bones, predictable, accessible.
Those who are working to dismantle capitalism and white supremacy need to start analyzing tactics like Trump’s and figuring out how to apply them. If artists, writers, and other activists want to find ways to reach the political fringes, the tabloid media is one area to start studying.
According to itself, MediaTakeOut.com is the most highly trafficked African American gossip site in the world. A 2013 New York Times article written about the site referenced how, in specifically reporting on Black celebrities, it speaks to a population that is routinely passed over by People and Us. In the past, the blog has boasted a higher monthly readership than Essence, Ebony, or Jet. After Buzzfeed, it is the second highest video content publisher on Facebook. In September 2009, it was the sixth most visited entertainment website in the US, ahead of Perez Hilton, E! Online, Access Hollywood, Entertainment Weekly, and Us Magazine.
The very language of the tabloids is revelatory of why they matter as a media platform. As Leroy Ashby writes in the book With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture Since 1830, tabloids articulate the “hopes and fears of people who stood on society’s margins because of their class, race, age, sexual preference, or educational limitations.” Tabloids give voice to society’s underbelly. They validate the possibility of multiple truths. They challenge what is accepted as the “norm.” They also give readers a false sense of agency and voice. MediaTakeOut.com was one of the first blogs to introduce a comments section, giving its Black readership the perception of a place where they could speak freely and be heard.
And tabloids, as one MediaTakeOut.com reader expressed in 2007, provide “release from everyday life. These people are living a life that I’m not living. So it kind of takes me away.”
MediaTakeOut.com was launched in 2006 by Ivy league educated “Facts Only” Fred Mwangaguhunga. The son of Ugandan immigrants, Mwangaguhunga holds an MBA and a law degree from Columbia University. He practiced corporate tax law on Wall Street for four years. As a teen, he knew he wanted to run his own business. Since the age of 14 he worked with a small photography and videography company that shot the weddings of Eddie Murphy and — get this — Donald Trump. Eventually Mwangaguhunga left Wall Street and opened up a laundry business before launching the gossip magazine.
In an interview with LinkedIn, Mwangaguhunga spoke about the leap from laundry business to gossip magazine:
“My experience with The Laundry Spa showed me the power of celebrity in being able to grow a brand and build a product. Celebrities can bring brand value and can help you grow quickly. When I started MediaTakeOut (MTO), I understood the value of entertainers. When I decided to start a blog, I just knew it would focus on them.”
When you take a look at MediaTakeOut.com, you might find it interesting that an Ivy league educated lawyer would launch a magazine that is seemingly riddled with typos and errors, unusual ellipses and exclamation points. There are many possible reasons for this. One might be that a Wall Street corporate tax lawyer saw the profit in capitalizing upon a dialect that is not represented in mainstream media, while also tapping into the enormous profits of celebrity culture. What drives MediaTakeOut.com, and what drives the presidency now, is user experience:
“The amazing part is that you touch all these people’s lives and that they’re waking up every morning and they’re like, ‘Oh, I wanna see what’s on MTO;” you’re a part of their life, you’re part of what they do. That’s the amazing part, if you can build a business around that that’s incredible.”
What Mwangaguhunga knows and what Trump knows is that we are a country of very, very different people — but we share our celebrities. The fact that Trump, ever the reality TV businessman, is effectively using this commonality to reach a readership on the political fringes should be extremely frightening. The fact that former corporate lawyer Fred Mwangaguhunga is giving him this platform should also be very frightening, and I would be interested to find out whether there is another link to Trump within Mwangaguhunga’s financing streams.
P.S.: Check out this episode of The Black Joy Mixtape, a podcast by Black feminist activists Amber J. Phillips and Jazmine Walker, which was where I learned about Trump’s deliberately manipulative decision to share content on MediaTakeOut.com in the first place.