During the 2016 campaign and into early months of the new administration, you would have been hard pressed to find a media outlet more supportive of Donald Trump than the National Enquirer. The Enquirer propped up Trump’s candidacy, attacked his rivals, and bought the silence of those who threatened him. But as Robert Mueller’s investigation circles closer to the president, the Enquirer’s leaders have tossed their Trump loyalties.
The Wall Street Journal’s Nicole Hong and Lukas I. Alpert report that David Pecker, CEO of American Media Inc, which publishes the Enquirer, “was granted immunity by federal prosecutors for providing information about Michael Cohen and President Trump in the criminal investigation into hush-money payments for two women during the 2016 presidential campaign.” Pecker and Trump have long enjoyed a mutually beneficial friendship, and the about face is a troubling development for the president. Dylan Howard, the chief content officer of AMI, was also granted immunity for his cooperation with investigators.
Lately, its seems, once-reliable sycophants—everyone from Omarosa Manigault Newman to Michael Cohen—are deciding that they are best served by sharing what they know about the president’s behavior in and out of office. Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman reports that Trump and Pecker haven’t spoken in eight months, and a friend of Trump’s told Sherman that Pecker’s decision to work with Mueller was shocking: “Holy shit, I thought Pecker would be the last one to turn.”
The Enquirer’s purchase of stories only to bury them, a practice known as “catch and kill,” was used to keep claims by Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal out of the news, but the squashing of stories has not been limited to helping Trump. The AP’s Jeff Horwitz reports that the Enquirer kept its documents on hush money payments locked in a safe, and that “the Trump records were stored alongside similar documents pertaining to other celebrities’ catch-and-kill deals, in which exclusive rights to stories were bought with no intention of publishing to keep them out of the news. By keeping celebrities’ embarrassing secrets, the company was able to ingratiate itself with them and ask for favors in return.”
The Enquirer has broken important news—including that John Edwards, a candidate for president, had an affair with a member of his campaign staff—but no one has held it up as a beacon of journalistic integrity. Knowing what we do now about the lengths to which its leadership would go to protect powerful people, though, it makes you wonder: What else is sitting in that safe?
Below, more on Pecker, Trump, and a shady corner of the media world.
- Why it matters: From Hong and Alpert’s scoop: “With Mr. Pecker’s testimony, prosecutors now have statements from at least two people—Mr. Pecker and Mr. Cohen—that Trump was aware of the payments to the women.”
- Fallout: The New York Times’s William K. Rashbaum reports that the Manhattan DA’s office is “considering pursuing criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two senior company officials in connection with Michael D. Cohen’s hush money payment to an adult film actress.”
- Timeline: The Washington Post’s Sarah Ellison, Beth Reinhard, and Carol D. Leonnig lay out the way “David Pecker and Michael Cohen hatched a plan to help a mutual friend in need.”
- On Trump’s lies: CNN’s Chris Cuomo sparred with Kellyanne Conway, who refused to admit that the president had not been truthful when he claimed he didn’t know about payments to Daniels and McDougal. “You should admit he’s lying, and you don’t, and that’s why people don’t trust you,” Cuomo said to her.
- Anatomy of a catch and kill: Earlier this year, The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow dug deep into the Enquirer’s handling of Karen McDougal, who sold her story of an affair with Trump to the tabloid days before the 2016 election.
- A First Amendment defense?: Usually, when a media company gets caught up in an investigation like this, First Amendment concerns are raised. But the NYT reported last month that federal prosecutors believed AMI “at times acted more as a political supporter than as a news organization.”
Other notable stories
- Reality Winner, a former government contractor who pleaded guilty to leaking classified information on Russian hacking to the press, was sentenced Thursday to 63 months in prison, the longest sentence ever imposed in federal court for releasing information to the media. Freedom of the Press Foundation Executive Director Trevor Timm blasted the sentence in a statement: “Reality Winner is a whistleblower who alerted the public about a critical threat to election security. It is a travesty that the Justice Department continues to prosecute sources of journalists under the Espionage Act, a statute meant for spies that doesn’t allow for a public interest defense.”
- Fox News’s Ainsley Earhardt received some criticism for lobbing softball questions in her sit-down with President Trump, but The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple argues that the Fox & Friends co-host “nailed” the interview. “CNN, MSNBC and other outlets are feasting on Earhardt’s interview with the president, analyzing the comments about flipping, about impeachment and about his knowledge of the hush money,” Wemple writes. “The headline bounty is proof that Trump is either too clueless or too reckless to understand the implications of his own words.”
- For CJR, Darrell Frost offers a designer’s defense of the new New York Times homepage, which has been criticized by journalists for stripping bylines from articles.
- The Wall Street Journal’s Benjamin Mullin reports that Phillip Picardi is leaving Teen Vogue and will be the next editor in chief of Out. Picardi was recently called “the prince of Condé Nast” by The New York Times.
- After a Trump tweet drew attention to Tucker Carlson’s parroting of white nationalist talking points, the Fox News host defended his segment on the murder of farmers in South Africa. The Independent’s Joe Sommerlad offered a primer on the situation in South Africa, explaining why the topic has become a focal point for the far right.
- CJR’s Alexandria Neason descends into the tunnels of the New York City subway to profile Aaron Gordon, who covers the MTA in a popular weekly newsletter, “Signal Problems.” Neason explores how a freelance gig became an obsession for Gordon, whose newsletter “toggles between the practical and the philosophical, analyzing policy changes and putting daily delays into historical context.”