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'National Enquirer' Publisher Looks To Sell Magazines


This evening, the parent company of the National Enquirer announced its intention to sell the tabloid and several of its sister tabloids. This comes after a series of scandals and controversies that involved the Enquirer's ties to President Trump. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins me now. Welcome.


CHANG: Hey. So what's the company saying about why they're interested in selling all of a sudden? Are they in financial trouble?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, if you believe the official line, they say they're exploring and intend to sell the Enquirer, a couple of the sister tabloids because they want to focus on some of their more upscale lifestyle magazines. In the last year and a half or so, they acquired US Weekly and Men's Journal from Jann Wenner's media outfit. There is a financial cloud hovering over AMI, American Media Inc, the parent company of the National Enquirer. It declared bankruptcy in 2010. It's got a lot of debt. But it's impossible to think about this intended sale without thinking about all the scandals and controversies that have just wrapped themselves around this publication.

CHANG: Yeah. Can you take a moment to walk us through some of those controversies?

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. And they're pretty intense. Think back to what we learned over recent months from federal investigators about the Enquirer's role in the 2016 campaign of Donald Trump. You know, if you looked on the covers, you saw all these stories damaging Hillary Clinton badly, helping Trump, portraying him in tight light. What we didn't know during the campaign was that they had engaged by their own concession in an effort to pay a former Playboy model $150,000. She had said that she had had a significant romantic involvement with President Trump, and they did what they called catch and kill. They promised her a contract to print a column by her in Men's Journal. But actually it was an effort to keep her story of her involvement with President Trump out of the public, particularly before the election. And that was a big one. The editor and the CEO, David Pecker, collaborated with federal prosecutors in order to avoid prosecution themselves for crimes.

CHANG: And then most recently the Enquirer tangled with Jeff Bezos, who owns both Amazon and The Washington Post.

FOLKENFLIK: That's right. He's the controlling owner and one of the richest people on the globe. He is the personal owner of The Washington Post. And that's an important element. The National Enquirer had been intently going over his personal life intending to reveal elements of his extramarital involvement with his girlfriend. And he took to Medium and posted a long thing saying that actually National Enquirer was trying to blackmail him into making a statement saying that they weren't acting in any way out of political motivation and that he felt that they were.

And his people have suggested - he suggested that in fact they were acting on behest of Saudi Arabian interests, an interesting note to strike in part because it appeared as though there was some possible financial involvement of some Saudi investors in American media even if that didn't fully play out. So one of the elements of this of course is Jeff Bezos' Washington Post is one of the chief media antagonists of President Trump.

CHANG: Right.

FOLKENFLIK: It's really attacked the Post for its reporting. And so there seems to be that element at play there as well. The Washington Post is reporting that the hedge fund manager who essentially controls the parent company got fed up with all the scandal after the Jeff Bezos story.

CHANG: So what's next? Are there any potential buyers circling the Enquirer already?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know, it's an incredible brand. It's survived a lot of controversies in the past. In order to talk to you this evening, I ducked out of a Broadway show about Rupert Murdoch and The Sun, a British tabloid. It's had a lot of controversies in the past. It survived. I'd be surprised if the Enquirer didn't live to see another day.

CHANG: That's NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik. Thanks, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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