Reverse Payola in the World of Biceps ‘n Butt Cheeks

There’s been some talk over the last few months about a new trend in celebrity journalism — the practice of paying stars for interviews in magazines. OK! magazine, launched last week in its U.S. incarnation, is taking the lead in this form of paying to play. (British tabloids have long paid for news, but until now, no mainstream American publication has done so as explicit policy.) And while the whole idea is pretty distasteful on the face of it, if a celebrity rag wants to pay Nicole Richie for an interview, we figure, so be it — the institution of journalism will likely survive.

But today, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times, comes a new wrinkle in the story. The National Enquirer — that bastion of objectivity — has apparently paid someone not to talk, but to shut up. Magazine conglomerate American Media (owner of the Enquirer) bought exclusive rights to the stories of two women who apparently had some dirt on California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger — who writes a column for two of its muscle magazines — and then deep-sixed the stories.

By way of some background, American Media inked an agreement with Schwarzenegger back on November 15, 2003 — just two days before he was sworn in as governor — whereby he would act as a consultant and part-time contributor to the two muscle magazines. According to the Times, the deal offered “at least $8 million over five years and no less than $5 million.” Arnold backed out of the contract last month, after details of the agreement were revealed by the Times and the Sacramento Bee. Despite this, the Gubernator says that he still plans to keep writing a monthly column for the two magazines.

Now the Times details this cute little number: On August 8, 2003 (two days after Arnold announced his candidacy for governor of California), American Media signed a $20,000 deal with Gigi Goyette, which provides that she can disclose information about her “interactions” with Schwarzenegger — it’s long been alleged the two had an affair — only to an AM publication. The company also gave one of her friends $1,000 for the same deal. (Ironically, the Enquirer had actually run a story a few years earlier describing a rumored seven-year affair between Goyette and Schwarzenegger alleged to have occurred after Arnold married his current wife, Maria Shriver.)

So what’s the deal here? Did AM plan to run another story on the purported extramarital affair? Or was it buying the silence of a woman who could tarnish the image of the governor — who, given his high profile, undoubtedly raised the subscription base and ad rates of the fitness magazines he wrote for?

If so, then it looks like AM might have taken celebrity journalism in a whole new direction: instead of paying celebs for their stories, the conglomerate paid sources to keep their mouths shut about a celebrity — in this case, a celebrity who was on their payroll.

Paul McLeary

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.