What Did The Enquirer Admit To?

In this Jan. 31, 2014 photo David Pecker,  David Pecker, Chairman and CEO of American Media, addresses those attending the Shape & Men's Fitness Super Bowl Party in New York. The Aug. 21, 2018 plea deal reached by Donald Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen has laid bare a relationship between the president and Pecker, whose company publishes the National Enquirer. Besides detailing tabloid’s involvement in payoffs to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal to keep quiet about alleged affairs with Trump, court papers showed how David Pecker, a longtime friend of the president, offered to help Trump stave off negative stories during the 2016 campaign. (AP Photo/Marion Curtis)
Marion Curtis/AP

It made a big, big stir yesterday when the Manhattan US Attorney’s announced yesterday that the parent company of The National Enquirer, AMI, had entered a non-prosecution agreement with prosecutors. AMI agreed that the Daniels and McDougal payments were meant to protect Trump’s campaign. I’m less impressed than others that this dramatically raises the legal stakes for Trump: AMI and Cohen vs Trump rather than Cohen vs Trump. This will never be a conventional trial, whether it’s in a courtroom or in the court of public opinion. More interesting to me is what else AMI revealed.

It was an open secret (in the nature of things) during the campaign that the Enquirer was all but a part of the Trump campaign. Yes, it routinely attacked Hillary. It also attacked most of the President Trump’s Republican challengers in the primaries. If it’s just that David Pecker was pals with Trump and ran pro-Trump stories, I’m not sure that’s a legal problem. That’s not really the intended purpose of the 1st Amendment. But it’s well within its scope. The 1st Amendment doesn’t require that you practice quality journalism or even legitimate journalism.

There are some people who think aggressive advocacy should count, under certain circumstances, as campaign contributions. But that’s a terrible idea. And, in any case, there’s zero chance the current Supreme Court, which thinks spending is speech wouldn’t think speech is speech. Where it gets more complicated is when money is involved or AMI was working in concert with the campaign or its agents (Michael Cohen) or more specifically if things drift into blackmail or extortion territory – what I’ve alluded to in terms of Cohen weaponizing the tools he used to protect Trump against Trump’s enemies.

This whole thing seems like a very open question to me.

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