“I was looking at those papers at the checkout counter last night,” Mrs. Bowman was saying. “I really don’t know how they get away with making stuff up about the president like that.”
“I don’t think it’s right to say they make stuff up,” Mr. Magundi replied. “Supermarket tabloids, at least when they touch on politics, deal in metaphor. Their target readers are—to be uncharitable but strictly accurate—sort of stupid. They have strong feelings, but they can’t articulate reasons for them. So the supermarket tabloids give them a metaphor that describes perfectly what they feel.
“In the waning days of the previous administration, the tabloid readers were sick of President Bush. They couldn’t say why, but they knew they were very angry with him. So the supermarket tabloids were full of stories about his marriage. His wife was going to divorce him within days of leaving the White House, because he had been unfaithful with a string of tawdry mistresses. It wasn’t, strictly speaking, true, but it was a metaphor that perfectly described the dissatisfaction of the tabloid readers: George W. Bush had been an unfaithful husband to America.
“Now the tabloid readers are dissatisfied with President Obama, so the tabloids give them a metaphor to describe how they feel: he’s not a real American at all, and he’s not a Christian—he’s a dirty foreign infidel who wants to sell our country to the terrorists. Once again, the facts are false, but as a metaphor the story perfectly describes what the tabloid readers are feeling. There’s a lot more truth in those crazy tabloids than we usually give them credit for—not truth about politics, but truth about the mind of Middle America.”