David Pecker made a good living making the lives of the rich and famous the subject of national scandals. Now, he is the subject of his own. Jane Lewis reports.
During the course of a lengthy career as “the bad boy” of US publishing, David Pecker has had his fair share of run-ins. But taking on the world’s richest man may prove a step too far – even for the pugnacious, Bronx-born boss of the National Enquirer.
Jeff Bezos – having made the explosive allegation that the Enquirer, America’s leading “supermarket tabloid”, threatened to publish “intimate” photos of him unless his private investigators backed off the newspaper, is “unlikely to let the matter drop”, says Bloomberg. The Amazon founder says he’d rather stomach the exposure of even “below the belt” selfies than “capitulate to extortion or blackmail”.
Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, had hired investigators to discover how the Enquirer’s journalists got hold of intimate texts between him and his new love interest, Lauren Sanchez.
In a post last week he emphasised the links between Pecker’s publishing firm, America Media Inc (AMI), and both the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia. As Bezos noted, the Post’s “unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi is undoubtedly unpopular in some circles”.
Deep pockets may be Pecker’s downfall
AMI’s lawyers are reportedly keen “to call off the feud”. One can understand why. Should this affair unravel badly for Pecker, “a long-time friend of President Trump”, it isn’t just Bezos’s deep pockets that could hurt him, but the long arm of US law too, says Forbes.
If criminal accusations of blackmail stand up, Pecker might well be judged to have violated a non-prosecution deal he struck with the Feds last summer when he was dramatically granted immunity in the case against Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen. It was claimed then that Pecker and AMI had protected Trump for years from negative sexual stories put about by women in an arrangement known as “catch and kill”. AMI, for instance, allegedly paid Playboy model Karen McDougal some $150,000 in “hush money”.
A scrappy upbringing
Pecker, 67, is the son of a bricklayer, who rose to become one of the most powerful people in the US media. He has long “prided himself on his scrappy Jewish upbringing in the Bronx”, says The Forward. But young David was always destined to shrug off the blue collar. After graduating from Pace University, his first job was as an accountant at Price Waterhouse.
He found his way into publishing after joining the finance department of CBS’s magazine department, eventually becoming CEO of Hachette Fillipacchi when the companies merged. In 1999, he moved on to America Media Inc.
He came to earn a grudging respect. Under his tenure, the Enquirer – long “the butt of jokes” as “perhaps our nation’s least-respected news source” – even forayed into serious journalism, says Salon. In 2010 it gained a Pulitzer Prize nomination for the scoop that presidential candidate John Edwards had fathered a child out of wedlock.
Pecker’s admiration for Trump dates from the 1990s when he published Trump Style magazine, pandering to Trump’s “gold-plated sensibilities”, says the Financial Times. He later supported Trump’s political ambitions. Enquirer stories during the 2016 presidential campaign linked Trump’s Republican rival Ted Cruz to the assassination of John F Kennedy; another favoured target, Hillary Clinton, was described as “a sociopath” with “six months to live”. For decades, Pecker “had the power to make or break US public figures”. Now “he may end up doing time” for “trying to please Trump”, a former editor told the Daily Mail. There may be some poetic justice in that.