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The National Enquirer and Trump: The Dark Side of the “Catch and Kill” Journalism

Catch and Kill

Image Credit; Getty Images | Photo by Tasos Katopodis

Posted: June 10, 2024 at 4:08 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

In a chilling narrative in The New York Times Magazine, Lachlan Cartwright, a seasoned journalist with two decades of experience, delves into the murky waters of his tenure at The National Enquirer during Donald Trump’s ascent to the presidency. This tale reveals the insidious “catch and kill” tactics now central to the former president’s legal challenges. Cartwright’s story sheds light on a troubling chapter in American journalism, highlighting the ethical breaches and corruption that have tainted the media landscape.

Trump’s Legal Challenges and The Enquirer’s Role

On April 4, 2023, amidst a bustling Manhattan criminal court, Donald Trump faced charges that included 34 counts of falsifying business records. At the heart of the case was the accusation that Trump used The National Enquirer as a covert arm of his 2016 presidential campaign, silencing potentially damaging stories through hush money payments. This practice, known as “catch and kill,” involved purchasing exclusive rights to stories without publishing them, effectively burying scandals that could harm Trump’s image.

Cartwright’s journey into this world began in 2014 when he joined The National Enquirer, lured by a significant pay raise and the promise of breaking major stories. However, he soon discovered that the real power lay with David Pecker, the Chief Executive of American Media Inc. (AMI), The National Enquirer’s parent company. Pecker’s control was absolute, dictating cover stories and headlines, often bending the truth to fit sensational narratives.

The “Catch and Kill” Tactics

One of the most striking examples of “catch and kill” involved Dino Sajudin, a doorman who claimed Trump had a secret love child. Despite serious credibility issues and insufficient concrete evidence, AMI paid Sajudin $30,000 to keep quiet. Similarly, Karen McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate, received $150,000 for her story of an affair with Trump, which was never published. These payments were part of a broader strategy to protect Trump and attack his rivals with dubious stories, like the baseless claims about Ted Cruz’s father being involved in the JFK assassination.

Cartwright’s time at The National Enquirer coincided with personal turmoil, including his father’s death and a strained relationship with his boss, Dylan Howard. This period was marked by relentless attacks on Hillary Clinton, fabricated health crises, and outrageous claims. The National Enquirer’s headlines often featured doctored images and sensational stories, blurring the line between fact and fiction.

Becoming a Whistleblower

The turning point for Cartwright came when he decided to become a source for other journalists, revealing the corrupt practices at AMI. This decision, fraught with personal and professional risks, was driven by a desire to correct the record and expose the truth. His disclosures played a crucial role in the investigations that led to Trump’s indictment and the public’s understanding of the extent of the corruption. Cartwright’s story is a stark reminder of journalism’s need for integrity and accountability as the legal battles unfold. In a democracy, the media’s role is to inform and enlighten, not to manipulate and deceive.

Barry Levine, the publication’s former executive editor, reflects on this shift with a sense of tragedy in The New York Times… “It’s just a tragedy for the paper,” Levine remarked from his Manhattan apartment. He reminisced about his romanticized vision of journalism, inspired by the larger-than-life personas of Fleet Street reporters who would do anything to get a story. Levine, who worked at The Enquirer from 1999 to 2016, explored this type of journalism at the tabloid.

The Enquirer’s Aggressive Past

Long before it became a protector of Trump, The National Enquirer reported aggressively on politicians from both sides of the aisle, including Jesse Jackson and Sarah Palin. Levine secured mainstream respectability for the tabloid with a series of scoops on John Edwards, a serious contender in the 2008 presidential race. The National Enquirer’s aggressive investigation revealed Edwards’ affair with Rielle Hunter, a videographer on his campaign staff, which eventually led to his downfall and a criminal prosecution.

The Decline of The National Enquirer

Pecker’s testimony, coupled with the financial downturn of The National Enquirer, signaled the publication’s downward trajectory. Once a nationwide hit, The National Enquirer’s weekly sales dropped from over two million to around 56,000. The tabloid’s parent company has struggled to sell it since 2019, with two deals falling. Levine, reflecting on his tenure, noted that The National Enquirer had aggressively pursued stories about both Republicans and Democrats, including an investigation into Jesse Jackson’s love child and a scoop on Sarah Palin’s teenage daughter’s pregnancy. However, the tabloid’s tactics deteriorated as the news cycle sped up and revenue declined. Instead of competing with rivals like TMZ, Pecker increased the issue price, leading to further declines.

In 2016, Levine left The National Enquirer to write books. His 2019 book, “All the President’s Women,” co-written with Monique El-Faizy, centered on Trump’s alleged affairs but did not touch on his dealings with Pecker and The Enquirer, partly because of a nondisclosure agreement Levine had signed. The National Enquirer’s saga and its role in American politics underscore the dark side of journalism, where ethical boundaries are crossed and public trust is eroded. The “catch and kill” strategy not only undermined democratic processes but also revealed the depths to which some media organizations would sink to protect their interests and those of their allies.

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