This past week, The Washington Post exposed an unsettling—yet all too foreseeable—revelation: that during and after the 2016 presidential race, the National Enquirer provided drafts of its stories to the Trump camp for pre-publication approval.
And the arbiter of taste on behalf of “Mr. Trump” was none other than Michael Cohen, the president’s longtime attorney/fixer who orchestrated his six-figure hush payments to mistresses Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, and is said to be on the brink of cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller.
“Since Trump’s become president and even before, [AMI publisher David Pecker] openly just has been willing to turn the magazine and the cover over to the Trump machine,” an insider told the Post. “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.” (Pecker denies this.)
The Post investigation further revealed that the Enquirer would then receive requests for story changes from team Trump—from photos that made him look slimmer to tweaked headlines—and that Trump would even pitch story ideas to the Enquirer “on a regular basis” via Cohen or his former communications adviser Hope Hicks. Trump would also get to review stories about his opponent, Hillary Clinton, prior to publication, with sources claiming that he was particularly aroused by pieces (unsubstantiated, of course) concerning her declining health. If you recall, during the campaign the Enquirer ran bogus cover stories declaring that Hillary had “6 months to live” and was “going to jail,” as well as this splashy “exclusive” on Trump’s Republican rival: “TED CRUZ FATHER LINKED TO JFK ASSASSINATION!”
You might be asking, why should I give a damn about the National Enquirer? It’s a tacky, largely fact-free supermarket tabloid—celebrity gossip for the Infowars-adjacent. Well, on June 15, Enquirer publisher American Media Inc. (AMI) announced that it had purchased a number of celebrity magazines from the German publisher Bauer: In Touch, Life & Style and Closer. Having already acquired Us Weekly in 2017—and OK! and Star previously—it now controls every single celebrity weekly not named People (it tried to obtain People before Time Inc.’s sale to Meredith), granting it a near-monopoly on tabloid-magazine “news.” Pre-Bauer deal, AMI boasted that it had a combined total circulation of over 5.3 million, reaching 51 million people each month (and 61 million unique visitors monthly online).
That means David Pecker, a good pal of Trump’s who’s reportedly granted him story approval and allowed him to commission hit pieces on his rivals, is now presiding over this tabloid fleet, which can be weaponized against Trump’s foes—or, in the case of Us Weekly’s exclusive Ivanka Trump cover story in October, normalize and sanitize those in the Trump orbit.
These periodicals—in particular Us Weekly, OK! and In Touch—subsist on celebrity collaboration. They rely on insider tips from Hollywood publicists and managers, as well as puffy interviews and pictorials with image-conscious celebs, for much of their content. Many of those celebrities and hangers-on will then, in the very next breath, tweet their outrage at the Trump administration’s latest cruel policy or diplomatic snafu, from its unctuous summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to those horrifying child concentration camps at the U.S.-Mexico border. Given AMI’s status as an unofficial publicity arm of Trump’s, it’s all so wildly hypocritical.
Or maybe those same “woke” celebs who deliver various items to AMI will voice their disgust with Harvey Weinstein, a man accused of sexually assaulting many of the women in their very industry. In December, The New York Times ran a bombshell story about the lengths AMI went to to help protect Weinstein and discredit his accusers.
The Times reported that Dylan Howard, the editor of the Enquirer and chief content officer of AMI, regularly engaged in “catch and kill”—or “acquiring exclusive rights to damaging stories and not publishing them.” It’s a strategy he employed to protect Trump when the Enquirer paid Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal $150,000 during the 2016 presidential campaign for the rights to her story about an extramarital affair she says she and Trump had between 2006-07, shortly after the birth of his son Barron (the adult actress Stormy Daniels was paid off by Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, to cover up an alleged affair during the same time period). The story never ran, and she was effectively silenced.
With Weinstein, AMI not only “struck a business deal,” but attempted to pay for the silence of Ambra Battilana, an actress and model who’d accused the movie mogul of sexual assault in 2015; according to documents reviewed by the Times, however, she shot them down. Later, when the actresses Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan alluded to sexual misconduct perpetrated against them by Weinstein, The Weinstein Company told Howard to “pursue” damaging stories on the women. AMI subsequently sent a reporter at Coleman-Rayner, an AMI entertainment-news subsidiary, “to collect hostile commentary about Ms. McGowan,” reported the Times. The reporter contacted Elizabeth Avellan, the ex-wife of filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (Rodriguez left Avellan for McGowan) and, according to The New Yorker, pressed her for “unflattering statements about McGowan.” Avellan maintains that the reporter agreed their conversation was off the record, but he still is said to have recorded the call and given the audio to Howard.
“This is killer. Especially if my fingerprints r not on this,” Weinstein wrote to Howard, reported The New Yorker. Howard then replied, “They are not. And the conversation… is RECORDED.” (AMI acknowledged to the Times that they collected and provided information to Weinstein about his accusers.)
In fact, as the Times discovered: “[Weinstein] was so close to David J. Pecker, the chief executive of American Media Inc., which owns The Enquirer, that he was known in the tabloid industry as an untouchable ‘F.O.P.,’ or ‘friend of Pecker.’ That status was shared by a chosen few, including President Trump.”
On top of carrying water for the president they claim to despise and the monster accused of violating many of the women in their industry, AMI also performed a modified “catch and kill” to cover for serial rapist Bill Cosby.
As I reported in 2014, according to a 2006 complaint filed by Cosby victim Andrea Constand against the National Enquirer and Cosby’s high-powered attorney, Marty Singer, she alleges that Cosby granted an exclusive interview to the Enquirer in 2005 “knowing it would injure Plaintiff, and to deprive her of her good name, credit and reputation.” In the interview, Cosby said that Constand “asked Cosby for money” before going to the police in a “classic shakedown” attempt (there is no evidence of this occurring). In exchange for the interview, the Enquirer killed a story they were planning to run on Beth Ferrier, a woman who alleged she was drugged and raped by Cosby; Ferrier had conducted a tell-all interview with Enquirer reporter Robin Mizrahi, and passed a lie-detector test arranged by Mizrahi.
It will be interesting in the coming months and years to see which Hollywood stars who publicly profess ties to The Resistance continue to grant interviews or slip items to AMI’s stable of weeklies; to see if they’re willing to sacrifice their moral compasses in exchange for some nice PR. The ones that do should be branded Vichy celebrities, complicit in both the culture of silence surrounding sexual misconduct as well as the Trump administration’s reign of terror.