Meet Trump’s friend and fixer: David Pecker, the tabloid monarch

The National Enquirer owner, whose name has emerged in Robert Muellers Russia inquiry, has had a symbiotic relationship with the president for decades

David Pecker’s reach into US society is unescapable: he owns nearly every supermarket tabloid and gossip sheet in the United States, including the flagship publication National Enquirer.

But before he surfaced as one of the purposes of a federal investigation into the former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, relatively little was known about Pecker, the longtime chief executive of American Media, Inc( AMI) and close Trump confidant.

He took centre stage two months ago when it was reported that he had been depicted into the special attorney Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling during the 2016 election.

And the media mogul appears in the tape recently released by Cohen’s attorney to CNN in which Trump’s former lawyer appears to be discussing how best be paid by Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model with whom Trump had had an affair. That, together with its most recent subpoena in the criminal investigation of Cohen, have thrust him into the national spotlight. Pecker and the National Enquirer are under investigation for an alleged” catch and kill” in relation to the McDougal story- the practice of buying up a narrative and then burying it. Investigators are looking into whether this would constitute an unlawful contribution to the Trump campaign.

The Enquirer editor, Dylan Howard, says the tabloid’s approach to encompassing Trump is strictly business and that any tales it has killed were killed for innocent reasons.

” If AMI was’ helpful’ to the chairman during the campaign it was because the audience of the National Enquirer was one of the most supportive of his candidacy ,” Howard said in an April statement.” We encompassed him for a business reason .”

The Enquirer no longer holds the power, or has the reaching, that it had during its heyday, when it reportedly sold 6m transcripts a week. It now sells fewer than 400,000.

Tabloids have been central to Trump’s myth-building since he emerged on the New York real estate scene. But none have been more helpful to his political ambitions than the Enquirer, which under Pecker has served to construct Trump’s political assaults and storylines more digestible.

” The National Enquirer is even more valuable than awareness-raising campaigns mailer ,” says the former Trump campaign consultant Sam Nunberg.” Why? Because whether people buy it or not, if they’re standing in a line, they’re standing in Walmart, they’re standing in a Costco, they’re waiting in line, they’re bored, they pull out the Enquirer and they look at it. And a lot of those people are primary voters, Republican voters, and election voters .”

AMI’s mission creep

Pecker’s ambitions for a tabloid empire have been apparent since he took over AMI virtually 20 decades ago- among his first moves as the new chairman was to trench a group of prestigious publications to focus on growing ad money and media acquisitions.

And more recently Pecker, who, in addition to the Enquirer, owns Globe, OK !, Star, and Radar Online, all under the AMI umbrella, has discovered remarkable success in empire expansion.

The National Enquirer is at the center of Pecker’s tabloid empire. Photo: Getty Images

In 2003, Pecker bought Wieder Publications, publisher of Men’s Fitness and Shape, for $350 m. In 2017, he extended AMI’s celebrity news portfolio further with the purchase of Us Weekly, a jewel in the celebrity rumor crown. Then in June, Pecker went from being the country’s biggest tabloid publisher to controlling nearly all the grocery checkout rack with the acquisition of 13 new titles from Bauer Media, including In Touch, Life& Style, and several teen magazines.

It’s a bold move for Pecker, bearing in mind the fact that his company’s facing the most intense legal and public scrutiny in its history- and it’s not just the Enquirer’s Trump coverage creating eyebrows.

After allegations brought by the actors Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd sparked journalistic investigations into the sexual conduct of the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, the Enquirer’s editor began gathering information to undercut female accusers on Weinstein’s behalf, according to 2017 reports from the New Yorker and New York Times.( Howard has acknowledged gathering information for Weinstein, but he says he only did it when the producer” was denying any harassment “.)

Now Federal Election Commission officials will determine if AMI contravened campaign finance statutes during the 2016 presidential campaign. At issue is AMI’s purchase of the rights to the McDougal’s Trump affair story, part of a $150,000 deal signing her on as a contributor, but neither the narrative , nor any of McDougal’s commentary, ever materialized.

The McDougal arrangement is also being examined in a separate investigation out of the south district of New York. Federal examiners have asked for all communications between Cohen and Pecker and Howard, one of the purposes of a larger criminal investigation of Cohen. AMI has denied any wrongdoing and Trump has denied any knowledge of pay to McDougal.

Pecker’s love affair with Trump

David Pecker was born the son of a bricklayer in the Bronx and, upon graduating from Pace University, he worked as an accountant at Price Waterhouse.

In 1979, he landed a position in accounting with CBS’s magazine division, and though he chafed against the bureaucracy of the place, he moved deftly up the ranks. When the publication division was sold to the entrepreneur Peter Diamandis, who eventually sold the portfolio to Hachette Filipacchi, Pecker went with him, and in 1990, Pecker was named chairman of Hachette.

Later, as head of AMI, he was known for his awareness of how well different celebrities fared in telephone polls conducted by the Enquirer to test out potential covers. It’s an approach to news creation and consumption that’s in keeping with that of Trump, who’s has been described as ” an aspirational figure “~ ATAGEND for Pecker in every way.

Both humen maintain second estates in Palm Beach, Florida, and their shared sensibilities go well beyond their mutual love of deal-making and obsession with celebrity.” I have never in my entire life ensure a most beautiful female in a bodysuit than Marla Maples ,” a New Yorker piece recollects Pecker remarking of an early trip-up to Mar-a-Lago.” I entail, seriously, out of 10 she was a 15.”

Pecker’s publication Trump Style helped the future chairman polish his image. Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/ AP

When Pecker started up a new limb of Hachette, creating publications with client-determined content and distribution, among his earliest glossies was Trump Style. The publication would help Trump polish his gold-gilded aesthetic and throughout its five-year runtime, the embers of the Trump-Pecker relationship glowed bright. That relationship deepened when, at 47, Pecker became head of AMI.

For Pecker, Trump offered access to power. And for Trump, who came up through tabloid media, Pecker offered a continuation of his mythos. Pecker became a frequent guest at Mar-a-Lago and made use of Trump’s private airplanes.

He has also enjoyed the occasional affectionate tweetstorm from the president, as in 2013, when Trump tweeted repeatedly about how Pecker should be put in charge of Time magazine.

Trump has fostered many warm, fuzzy relationships with media heavyweights, including at Fox News and the Wall street Journal. But none is quite so affectionate as the one with Pecker.

” Pecker would take care of Trump ,” the former National Enquirer executive Stu Zakim said recently on CNN.” You have to understand the basis of the relationship that the two guys have .”

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