The Other Way the National Enquirer Helped Elect Trump
On Wednesday, the tabloid publisher AMI signed a non-prosecution agreement with prosecutors in New York, admitting that the company had paid the former Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 as part of a “catch and kill” deal—AMI never intended to publish her account of an affair with Donald Trump—with the Trump campaign.
In broad strokes, the public has known most of that story for some time now. The Wall Street Journal reported the general outline days before the 2016 election. The close relationship between Trump and AMI CEO David Pecker was known even before that—coming into focus when AMI’s National Enquirerran a bogus story claiming that Rafael Cruz, the father of Trump’s GOP-primary rival Ted Cruz, was somehow involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination.
But even if AMI was acting in coordination with the Trump campaign, it probably wouldn’t violate the law, says Brendan Fischer of the Campaign Legal Center. The law grants an exemption for outlets working within their “legitimate press function,” which would include even the National Enquirer’s trademark hogwash. Publishing attack stories on Clinton doesn’t withhold useful facts from the public. Besides, news outlets coordinate with campaigns all the time, either with the offer (implicit or explicit) of a friendly interview or to accept opposition research that turns into good stories.
“Media companies are given broad leeway to talk about candidates, attack or support candidates, and they’re not brought within the ambit of campaign-finance law unless they are found to not be acting as a press entity within its legitimate press function,” Fischer says.