Media historians take note: A Justice Department announcement on Wednesday cemented the National Enquirer’s place among the top enablers of Donald Trump’s improbable election as president in November 2016. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) issued a release indicating that it had previously reached a non-prosecution agreement with American Media Inc. (AMI), the parent company of the National Enquirer.
What offense did prosecutors agree to not pursue? The payment of $150,000 to Playboy model Karen McDougal, who in 2016 came forth with allegations that she’d had an affair with Trump. “As a part of the agreement, AMI admitted that it made the $150,000 payment in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election. AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election,” noted the SDNY news release.
Previous court filings and media reports outlined precisely what happened. Early in Trump’s presidential campaign, AMI Chairman David Pecker, a good friend of the candidate, agreed to keep Trump lawyer Michael Cohen “apprised” of stories that might reflect negatively on Trump’s past dealings in New York. The idea was “catch and kill,” meaning to buy the rights to the unflattering story and then suppress it for all of eternity. McDougal deployed an attorney to gauge the National Enquirer’s interest in her claims that she’d had an affair with Trump a decade beforehand. The publication informed Cohen of the developments.
“At Cohen’s urging and subject to Cohen’s promise that [AMI] would be reimbursed, [the National Enquirer editor] ultimately began negotiating for the purchase of the story,” reads Cohen’s August plea deal for campaign-finance violations and other crimes. Cohen admitted that the “principal purpose” of the arrangement was to influence the presidential election, a condition necessary for charging a campaign-finance violation. Cohen was sentenced on Wednesday to three years in prison for campaign-finance violations and several other crimes.
AMI, according to the SDNY release, also “admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election.” That concession appropriately contextualizes the work of the outlet as a political actor, and not so much as a media company. Cohen himself paid off another woman who claimed to have had an affair with Trump -- Stormy Daniels, that is -- and was shopping her story to the National Enquirer.
Big-time newspapers and broadcasters have been accused of paving the way to a Trump presidency, thanks to their nonstop investigations of Hillary Clinton’s emails. CNN has been accused of paving the way to a Trump presidency, thanks to its extensive airing of Trump rallies (an offense committed by the other cable networks, too). Fox News has been accused of paving the way to a Trump presidency, thanks to its having given him a free weekly platform on “Fox & Friends” for years prior to his election and its prime-time cheerleading gallery consisting of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, not to mention “Fox & Friends.”
With its admission in the Cohen case, AMI deserves a central spot in this debate -- if, that is, you actually consider it a media outfit.