The National Enquirer, the once mighty supermarket tabloid that went through various incarnations only to have become a virtual propaganda sheet for Donald Trump in the 2016 campaign and run into a buzz-saw of legal and ethical problems, is expected to soon be sold. It’s parent company American Media, Inc, whose CEO, David Pecker, is reportedly a best bud of Trump’s, is putting it up for sale because, The Washington Post reports, “the hedge fund manager whose firm controls American Media became “disgusted” with the Enquirer’s reporting tactics, according to one of these people.”
American Media Inc. is actively seeking to sell off the National Enquirer, according to three people familiar with the process who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
The decision to sell came after the hedge fund manager whose firm controls American Media became “disgusted” with the Enquirer’s reporting tactics, according to one of these people.
American Media has been under intense pressure because of the Enquirer’s efforts to tilt the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald Trump, who is a longtime friend of American Media’s president and CEO, David Pecker. Pecker and his supermarket tabloid have also been embroiled in recent months in an unusually public feud with Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post.
In August, just as AMI and two of its top officers were finalizing a non-prosecution agreement with federal investigators, the company’s board of directors started looking for ways to unload the tabloid business “because they didn’t want to deal with hassles like this anymore,” another person said.
The company was also facing financial difficulty as it sought to refinance more than $400 million in debt earlier this year and as the Enquirer’s circulation continued to decline, along with broader newsstand trends. The paper sold an average of 516,000 copies per issue in 2014, but that number fell to 218,000 in December, according to data compiled by the Alliance for Audited Media.
American Media was “very, very leveraged” and repeatedly found itself “on the brink,” Pecker told the Toronto Star in 2016. Pecker managed the company’s financial straits by broadening American Media’s portfolio in recent years, buying magazines such as Us Weekly and In Touch. He has also relied on the support of Anthony Melchiorre, who controls the $4 billion hedge fund Chatham Asset Management, which holds an 80 percent stake in the Enquirer’s parent company.
The decision to sell the tabloid resulted in part from pressure applied by Melchiorre, according to two of the people familiar with the discussions. He was motivated partly by the financial difficulties of the tabloid business, but also by his distaste for the Enquirer’s tactics. A representative from Chatham declined to comment, and Melchiorre did not respond to a call seeking comment.
The Post details the publication’s controversial history over the years.
I actually have read The National Enquirer since I was kid growing up in Connecticut. It was once a shocking sensationalist weekly. Then it became dominated by celebrity stories, sensationalist stories, and after 1963 the go-to place for psychic predictions, starting with its articles about and by psychic/astrologer Jean Dixon, who predicted JFK’s assassination. Other tabloids then started running psychic predictions (most of predictions incredibly silly and turning out wrong). But that’s when the Enquirer had no Pecker:
The tabloid has long been known for its questionable methods; in 1977, it published a photo of Elvis Presley’s corpse on its cover and sold close to 7 million copies. In 2007, in possibly its highest journalistic achievement, it broke the news of then-presidential candidate John Edwards’s extramarital affair with Rielle Hunter, partly by having its reporters hide in the bushes to gather evidence.
Longtime owner Generoso Pope Jr.’s family sold the paper to Pecker in 1999. The tabloid represents a corner of the media landscape virtually ignored by coastal elites, and it has long provided fervently positive coverage of Donald Trump, along with other celebrities known inside the Enquirer newsroom as “friends of Pecker.”
So it then went to becoming a place — briefly — for investigative political journalism, even though its techniques for info gathering were controversial. The Pecker era erased all that. Plus: the tabloid has run into major legal trouble.
Last year, American Media acknowledged paying $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who alleged an affair with Trump, to prevent her allegation “from influencing the election.” The admission came as federal prosecutors announced that they would not prosecute the company for its role in the scheme to favor Trump in the presidential race.
…Last year, American Media acknowledged paying $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who alleged an affair with Trump, to prevent her allegation “from influencing the election.” The admission came as federal prosecutors announced that they would not prosecute the company for its role in the scheme to favor Trump in the presidential race.
Then, in January, Pecker and the Enquirer devoted the cover and 12 pages of its Jan. 28 edition to an exposé of Bezos’s affair with Lauren Sanchez, former host of Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance.”
Bezos later wrote a blog post accusing AMI of trying to blackmail him by threatening to publish explicit photos of the billionaire if he didn’t publicly state that he had no basis for suggesting that the Enquirer’s exposé was politically motivated. The Bezos story helped seal the Enquirer’s fate, said one person briefed on his thinking.
“The Trump thing was an issue, and [Melchiorre] was really disgusted by the Bezos reporting,” the person said.
The Bezos reporting also threatened to renew legal scrutiny on the company. Federal prosecutors reviewed accusations made by Bezos to determine if American Media may have violated the terms of a non-prosecution agreement, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Daily Beast has this must-read story titled: “Could Jeff Bezos Finally Crush the National Enquirer? It’s a bad day for Trump’s favorite tabloid as American Media Inc. looks to sell the Enquirer and Jeff Bezos reportedly talks to prosecutors about his extortion and hacking claims.” (THIS does describe what has happened recently to the Enquirer).
But here is what happened to me with the Enquirer.
I had followed the tabloid for all of my life — once getting chewed out by a rabbi in Wichita, Kansas (where I worked on the Wichita Eagle-Beacon newspaper) for reading it while in an Italian restaurant. “Carol Burnett,” he said with a half-joking smile on his face while I ate a meatball and read the tabloid. I glared at him and he sheepishly went back to his table. Who was HE to dictate what I read? He was referring to the $1.6 million lawsuit jury-judgement that the comedian won against the tabloid in 1981: “Miss Burnett contended in her lawsuit that The Enquirer had fabricated an item depicting her as intoxicated at an encounter at a Washington restaurant with Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger.”
Yet even though I had gotten my undergrad degree at Colgate University, my masters in journalism at Northwestern’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism and had freelanced for five years in India, Spain and Bangladesh, I still read the Enquirer, not believing all of it but still hooked by it. It had been my guilty pleasure (I love tabloids and am a fan of the New York Daily News and The Daily Mail online.)
It was still my guilty pleasure in 1982 when I joined the San Diego Union as a reporter. One of my colleagues there had worked at the Enquirer under Pope. He told me it was a high-pressure place to work, paid reporters well, and they really did research their stories well. If there were big mistakes, a reporter could go out the door. They were under a lot of pressure to report, develop and work sources and get their stories out — and never do stories that required retractions.
Then came 2016.
The Enquirer became a virtual propaganda sheet for Donald Trump. It wasn’t “fun” anymore. If anything, it almost seemed written by Trump strategists and edited by Alex Jones. It was of little interest to anyone who was a political independent (like me), let alone for a Democrat (Democrats were demonized). I stopped buying it. I decided I had already spent enough on that tabloid and would never spend a cent on it again.
Apparently I wasn’t alone.
In August, the AP reported that although the Enquirer explained its support for Trump as a business decision based on Trump’s popularity, private financial documents and circulation figures obtained by The Associated Press show that the tabloid’s business was declining even as it published stories attacking Trump’s political foes and, prosecutors claim, helped suppress stories about his alleged sexual affairs.
Pope’s turning the Enquirer into Sean Hannity’s Fantasyland didn’t make the situation better.
The National Enquirer seemed blessed by Pope — and screwed by Pecker.
You know who should buy the Enquirer? Michael Moore. Run left–wing exposes and conspiracy theories every week. https://t.co/almkzMUTO1
— Jeff Greenfield (@greenfield64) April 11, 2019
Wouldn't it be great if someone super reputable bought the National Enquirer to employ a lot of top notch writers and then turn it into the most credible, reliable source for news that has ever existed…that would be justice.
— Amee Vanderpool (@girlsreallyrule) April 10, 2019
This story says the National Enquirer's circulation has fallen from 516k copies per issue in 2014 to 218k now. Maybe what disgusts the Enquirer's hedge fund owner about the strategy of becoming a Trump rag is that it's been terrible for business. https://t.co/asAiwK89MC
— Josh Barro (@jbarro) April 10, 2019
— Molly Jong-Fast (@MollyJongFast) April 11, 2019
I wonder if news anchors like Nicholle Wallace of MSNBC, when reporting on David Pecker, ever rehearse saying his name off-air without giggling?
— Randy S. Allar (@rsallar710) April 10, 2019
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.