The National Enquirer, the scandal-hunting supermarket tabloid that was embroiled for years in its own scandals, was sold Monday to a joint venture involving an executive who has been the subject of a federal indictment.
The Enquirer’s publisher, then known as American Media Inc., admitted in 2018 that it secretly helped Donald Trump’s presidential campaign through a journalistically dubious practice known as “catch and kill.” It acknowledged paying $150,000 to acquire the exclusive rights to Playboy model Karen McDougal’s account of an alleged affair with Trump and then suppressing the story to prevent it from hurting Trump’s quest for office.
The Federal Election Commission eventually fined A360, the successor to AMI, $187,500 for killing the McDougal story, ruling in 2021 that the transaction was a prohibited corporate in-kind contribution designed to boost a candidate. Federal prosecutors declined to charge AMI’s then-chief executive, David Pecker, in exchange for his cooperation.
The Enquirer and Pecker were also allegedly involved in brokering a secret deal days before the 2016 election between Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, and the porn star Stormy Daniels to funnel $130,000 to Daniels to suppress her account of an affair with Trump in 2006. Pecker last week was among the first witnesses to testify before a grand jury in New York that is considering issuing criminal charges against Trump over the matter.
Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos in 2019 accused the Enquirer of attempting to blackmail him about an extramarital affair, including threatening to publish intimate “below-the-belt” photos the publication had acquired from his cellphone.
Amid the mounting scandals, AMI announced in 2019 that it would sell the Enquirer and its other celebrity-gossip titles to business executive James Cohen for $100 million. But the sale was never completed.
VVIP Ventures is a joint venture between Vinco Ventures Inc., a digital media company, and Icon Publishing, whose founder is Ted Farnsworth, the former chairman of the defunct movie-theater subscription company MoviePass.
In November, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted Farnsworth and an associate for their alleged roles in a scheme to artificially inflate the stock price of MoviePass’s parent company “through materially false and misleading representations.” Farnsworth is contesting the charges.
Vinco Ventures, the other buyer, owns the social media app Lomotif and an advertising technology company called AdRizer.
VVIP said in a statement that it would retain the Enquirer’s existing editorial staff and would seek further revenue by licensing the Enquirer’s extensive archive of articles and photos to film, TV and podcast producers.