Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that American Media, the publisher of the National Enquirer, had been subpoenaed for records related to its payment of $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, as part of the criminal investigation into former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. A new Washington Post report indicates that the Enquirer gave Cohen—and by extension, Trump—the final say over whether or not something got published.
Before the election, according to the Post, the Enquirer “sent digital copies of the tabloid’s articles and cover images related to Donald Trump and his political opponents” to Cohen prior to their publication, and has continued to do so while also working with “new intermediaries.” Per the Post (emphasis mine):
Although the company strongly denies ever sharing such material before publication, these three individuals say the sharing of material continued after Trump took office.
“Since Trump’s become president and even before, [Pecker] openly just has been willing to turn the magazine and the cover over to the Trump machine,” said one of the people with knowledge of the practice.
During the campaign, “if it was a story specifically about Trump, then it was sent over to Michael, and as long as there were no objections from him, the story could be published,” this person added.
One such story, about a “secret medical file” related to Hillary Clinton’s health, was sent to Cohen in advance. The Post also says that in addition to Cohen, former Trump communications advisor Hope Hicks and even Trump himself would call Pecker to “suggest stories.”
American Media CEO David Pecker and Trump have been friends for years and have never been afraid to shill for each other, as evidenced by the multiple tweets he sent over a four-month period in 2013 trying to get Time to hire Pecker as their CEO.
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In April, the New Yorker reported that Pecker had personally intervened and told reporters to stop reporting a tip about an alleged secret child that Trump had, a tip for which the Enquirer had paid a former Trump Tower doorman $30,000. “There’s no question it was done as a favor to continue to protect Trump from these potential secrets,” one of the employees involved in the incident told the New Yorker. “That’s black-and-white.”
The Enquirer endorsed Trump in 2016. According to a particularly pathetic anecdote relayed to the Post from one of Pecker’s current associates, Pecker reportedly now likes to announce to people that he “just got off the phone with the president.” (The rich are so damn corny.)
Enquirer chief content officer Dylan Howard denied the allegations. “We made a very public endorsement of Trump, so it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for me to commission stories on his opponents given that we had endorsed Donald Trump. And that’s what I did,” Howard told the Post. “We do not run or kill stories on the behest of politicians, even if they are the president of the United States.”
The Post story also features a cameo from our old friend Sam Nunberg, who essentially compared the tabloid to free advertising for the Trump campaign:
According to Sam Nunberg, an early Trump campaign adviser, the Enquirer was Cohen’s “account,” and the relationship with the Enquirer was “a big commodity” in Trump’s circle.
The tabloid “was such a help to Trump during the primary and even the general,” said Nunberg, who compared the weekly to a campaign mailer. Mailers are expensive to produce and send to prospective voters, only a small percentage of whom actually open them.
However, “If you get something on the cover of the National Enquirer,” Nunberg said, “it’s a publication that people pay attention to in the grocery store. You are conveying a message, and it’s free media.”
As the Post notes, former editor of the Enquirer Iain Calder wrote that Trump “loves publicity, but only if he controls it.”
“Donald loved having a pipeline into the biggest weekly in America,” Calder wrote. “He loved thinking he could manipulate us, and he knew that, because of our relationship, we would never run a major story without calling him first.”