The Tabloid Myths of Jennifer Aniston and Donald Trump

In a depressing news cycle, the cover of In Touch Weekly’s Jan. 21 issue was a beautiful sight.

It was a blast from a less complicated past, with its vintage photograph of a beaming Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt staring out at readers from above the bold headline: “We’re Having a Girl!”

For some who saw it in the racks, me included, the cover of this supermarket tabloid provided a double dose of joy. Not only was the It Couple of the late 1990s and early aughts back together — they were about to be parents.

But wait a minute.

The story rang a bell, and when I looked into it, I found that In Touch had devoted its cover to a similar piece of news back in October, with a story headlined “Brad & Jen Baby Announcement! ‘Our Dream Finally Came True!’” That one included the persuasive-seeming detail that the father-to-be was “designing the nursery in their new home.”

And what about that other time Ms. Aniston was pregnant? In July, the In Touch cover promised, “Bombshell Pregnancy News!” — and that was just the icing atop the wedding cake of the headline “Brad & Jen: Just Married! Inside the Backyard Ceremony.”

Before that, in May, OK! magazine, which shares an owner with In Touch, American Media Inc., ran a cover photo of a happy Ms. Aniston and Mr. Pitt with the headline: “Yes, I’m Pregnant — With Brad’s Baby!”

Going by the tabloid reports, I found that Ms. Aniston should have given birth to some two dozen babies in the last few years. According to OK! alone, she has acquired up to 15 kids since 2013, having been pregnant nine times — twice with twins! — while also adopting a third set of twins.

Mr. Trump ran his campaign and at times runs his White House with a reliance on the same mix of fantasy and truthiness typical of supermarket tabloids and reality TV. Just as a large group of people can’t get enough of the tales about Ms. Aniston, a large constituency seems eager to believe a reality-show narrative about the 45th president.

On “The Apprentice,” he was a straight-shooting, street-smart businessman. To rally-goers during his campaign, he was the outsider who sought to smash a calcified ruling elite. As president, he has been the man willing to fight off resistance from “the deep state” to do what’s right, even if it means shutting down the government.

In this scenario, the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III plays the role filled by Ms. Jolie in the Aniston saga — the foil who thrives on thwarting our protagonist.

Just as I have found myself tempted to believe the Pregnant Jen story line, the president’s fans seem more than willing to embrace this version of reality — a story line that has been fleshed out by The National Enquirer, his unignorable Twitter feed, his Fox News cheering section (Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, the gang at “Fox & Friends”), his radio boosters (Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin), and his longtime adviser Roger Stone, who fed a new “deep state” theory to Infowars a week before his arrest on Friday.

The desire to believe helps explain polls like the one from Quinnipiac late last year reporting that 83 percent of Republicans view Mr. Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt,” despite the string of indictments, convictions and guilty pleas that preceded the charges against Mr. Stone.

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