American journalism is in a precarious position. Our president, for example, publicly decries our most treasured news sources as “fake” when they do any actual reporting, then gives White House press passes to outlets that sell bogus supplements and tell grieving parents that, no, their children actually weren’t killed at Sandy Hook. And then there’s billionaire Peter Thiel, who bankrolled a lawsuit for Hulk Hogan in order to bankrupt a media company that said some things he didn’t like. It’s all chronicled in Nobody Speak: Trials Of The Free Press, a new documentary that’s one of the scariest films to come out this year.
And now there’s David Pecker. At first glance, he may not seem like a threat. As chief executive of American Media, Inc., he owns a fleet of tabloids and gossip magazines, including the National Enquirer, which is perhaps most famous for bringing Bat Boy into the world. The Enquirer’s never been a paragon of journalistic value, so it probably won’t surprise you to know that, as a personal friend of President Donald Trump, Pecker has refused to publish anything derogatory about the man. During the run-up to the election, you might’ve seen headlines about Ted Cruz’s “philandering” or Hillary Clinton’s “poor health” gracing its cover.
What should concern you is that Pecker may be on the verge of owning several more magazines, ones that actually carry a little more weight. As the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin writes in his new story, “The National Enquirer’s Fervor For Trump”:
Pecker is now considering expanding his business: he may bid to take over the financially strapped magazines of Time, Inc., which include Time, People, and Fortune. Based on his stewardship of his own publications, Pecker would almost certainly direct those magazines, and the journalists who work for them, to advance the interests of the President and to damage those of his opponents—which makes the story of the Enquirer and its chief executive a little more important and a little less funny.
“Pecker is eager to use his media empire to help his friends, especially Trump, and unabashedly boasts about doing so,” Toobin writes. Later, he says that early in the 2016 campaign, Pecker “simply turned over the pages of the Enquirer to Trump, allowing the candidate to write columns under his own byline.
He’s already started buying up other publications. While it’s not the Wall Street Journal, celebrity rag Us Weekly recently found itself acquired by American Media, Inc., which should help explain that bizarrely fawning Ivanka Trump cover story from earlier this month. All that’s standing in between Pecker and Time, Inc. is a “deep-pocketed partner.” Considering his political affiliation, that shouldn’t be too hard to find.
And while this would deliver a massive black eye to journalistic integrity, it would also be a nightmare for the everyday reporter. Pecker is known in the industry for his cost-cutting measures, which typically come in the form of mass layoffs. Pecker’s ascent in the print world sadly mirrors Trump’s in the political realm.
“At the time, it did seem outlandish that the steward of a supermarket-tabloid empire would wind up as the proprietor of a storied name in American journalism,” Toobin writes. “But the idea of Pecker as the leader of Time, Inc., like that of Trump as the president of the United States, has gone from preposterous to more than possible.”
Read the whole thing here.