Business

AMI, Tabloid Giant and Trump Ally, Expands Its Reach

Posted June 15, 2018 9:44 p.m. EDT
Updated June 15, 2018 9:47 p.m. EDT

American Media Inc., the country’s largest tabloid publisher whose chairman is a close ally of President Donald Trump, controls almost the entire supermarket checkout rack after new acquisitions announced Friday.

AMI said it had bought In Touch, Life & Style, Closer and 10 other titles from Bauer Media, expanding a celebrity-news portfolio that already included The National Enquirer, Us Weekly, Globe, OK!, Star and Radar Online.

The move gives the company, led by David J. Pecker, almost full ownership of the print gossip market, leaving People magazine, owned by the Meredith Corp., as one of the only major glossy gossip titles not under Pecker’s umbrella. (TMZ, the dominant gossip player online, has come under the ownership of AT&T with its purchase of Time Warner.)

Pecker is a New York City native and a longtime Trump friend. A former top executive of Trump’s casino business sits on AMI’s four-member board of directors. During the 2016 campaign, its flagship National Enquirer devoted glowing covers to Trump’s triumphs, aggressively attacked his rivals and made its first-ever presidential endorsement.

AMI’s move to buy 13 titles from Bauer Media, including several teen magazines, is particularly bold given that the company is under the most intense public and legal scrutiny it has faced in its history.

Federal Election Commission officials are looking into whether it violated campaign finance laws when it effectively bought the silence during the 2016 campaign of a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, who said she had an affair with Trump years earlier. AMI has desnied any wrongdoing.

Separately, federal investigators with the Southern District of New York are looking into its arrangement with McDougal as part of their broad investigation into the president’s lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, and have asked for Cohen’s communications with Pecker and his lieutenant, Dylan Howard.

Long known for having the power to make and break stars, AMI’s magazines have impacted politicians and their campaigns. It reached its journalistic high point in 2007 when The National Enquirer broke the story that former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., had fathered a child with a woman who had worked for his campaign, then concocted an elaborate ruse in which his top political aide publicly claimed to be the baby’s father.

After actresses Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan made veiled references to misconduct by Weinstein in 2015 and 2016 — which were followed by investigations into him by journalists at New York magazine, The New York Times and The New Yorker — Howard came to the aide of Weinstein, with whom AMI had business ties. His help included dispatching reporters to find information that could undercut Weinstein’s accusers, The Times reported in December. But it has also gone out of its way to protect business partners and those known as “Friends of Pecker,” even when their behavior was textbook fodder for scandal sheet cover stories. AMI’s purchase of the rights to McDougal’s story about Trump — part of a $150,000 deal that also included rights to fitness-related commentaries that would run under her name — was what is known as a “catch and kill” deal, known for the tabloid world practice of buying stories that are damaging to allies only to bury them.

AMI, which also owns lifestyle brands including Men’s Journal, Muscle & Fitness, Hers and Flex, has repeatedly restructured in the past decade. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and reported up to $1 billion in debts at the time. It was acquired four years ago by two private equity funds.