Thu. May 23rd, 2024

David Pecker testimony at Trump trial reveals the seedy underbelly of his tabloid journalism

By 37ci3 Apr27,2024

WASHINGTON – Former National Enquirer publisher Testimony of David Peker At Donald Trump’s house hush money trial This week’s op-ed revealed the secret tactics he used to defend the former president, flagrantly violating not only basic journalistic ethics, but even the more egregious standards typical of tabloids like his.

“I knew the National Enquirer was slimy, but I didn’t know they were this slimy,” said Kelly McBride, senior vice president and chair of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at the nonprofit Poynter Institute. “It’s so far outside the practice of journalism that it’s hard for me to even imagine it happening.”

In testimony this week at Trump’s trial in New York City, the former CEO of the former parent company of the National Enquirer described in stunning detail how he agreed to act as the “eyes and ears” for the Trump campaign, buying the rights to stories to suppress. , and even openly fabricating negative stories about Trump’s opponents.

“I wanted to protect my company, I wanted to protect myself, and I wanted to protect Donald Trump” about her alleged months-long affair with Trump, Peker explained, explaining why his publication spread false information about the “catch and kill” deal to buy and cover Karen McDougal’s story.

Donald Trump looks on as witness David Packer speaks on the witness stand
Donald Trump looks on during a Manhattan criminal trial Monday as witness David Packer speaks on the witness stand.Elizabeth Williams / AP

Paying for stories to support political campaigns, fabricating stories, and attention-grabbing undercover details are gross violations of basic journalistic principles codified in many news agencies’ internal ethics policies and the principles of the Society of Professional Journalism. Code of Ethics.

Some of the Enquirer’s tactics were already known. But it came mostly through reports from anonymous sources, including a former National Enquirer editor who now covers the trial for another publication, so it was surprising to hear the tabloid’s ex-boss explain how he struck a deal with the past. Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, will work with the campaign during a 2015 meeting at Trump Tower.

Some details, including Packer’s confession to the Enquirer, were new doctor photos Making up a story about one of Trump’s 2016 opponents, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, about his father being with Lee Harvey Oswald, who killed former President John F. Kennedy.

“We mashed up photographs and various images with Lee Harvey Oswald. And mix the two together. That’s how this story was made — I’d say made,” Peker said.

Trump defender Todd Blanche has argued that the National Enquirer’s practice of paying sources for stories is standard journalistic practice. But in reality, the practice is mostly limited to only a small handful of tabloids and popular publications, and most mainstream news outlets expressly prohibit such practices as paying for stories, according to experts and media insiders.

“It’s in the Code of Ethics: Don’t pay for news. It’s one of those rare black-and-white things out there,” said Chris Roberts, a journalism professor at the University of Alabama and a member of SPJ’s Ethics Committee.

Peker said ABC News tried to secure exclusive access to the stories of McDougal and Stormy Daniels, knowing the National Enquirer had the upper hand because it could offer cash.

“The ABC offer was interesting because they were offering Karen a slot on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ but I knew from experience that ABC doesn’t buy stories. So I didn’t think they would pay for the story,” Peker said. ABC did not respond to a request for comment.

Watchdogs are sometimes accused of violating this principle by paying for key performances, such as travel expenses or meals for sources. But Peker described something more clearly operational, saying the publication had a policy of paying sources up to $10,000 in cash directly for exclusive rights to their stories, and that amount could be considered if he approved.

“We used checkbook journalism and paid for stories,” Peker said.

While tabloids like the National Inquirer have long had an unsavory reputation for their brash style and for bending journalistic norms around issues like paying sources, alumni of the publication say the arrangements Packer describes go far beyond the more lenient rules of tabloid journalism.

“We veterans of the Golden Age are well and truly saddened by what happened to our later polite Tabbie,” said Barbara Sternig, a former longtime tabloid reporter and author. Celebrity Secrets of a National Enquirer Correspondent. “It’s not because there weren’t some characters in our time. But the overall bad rep was simply due to the ‘thin’ nature of many of the great stories.”

The Enquirer’s reputation has long been offset by its ability to break the news. For example, in addition to celebrity bread and butter, the publication exposed the extramarital affairs that helped derail the presidential bids of Gary Hart in 1987 and John Edwards in 2008. Pulitzer Prize Board to rescind the previous policy and announce the 2010 Enquirer’s award for Investigative Reporting. He didn’t win.

According to former employees and observers, the Enquirer was an equal-opportunity tabloid — eager to report on any celebrity or powerful person. Trump seemed like an ideal target for such mean-spirited scoops as traded by the publication. Peker even testified that he expected women to come out of Trump’s past — but he decided to bury those stories instead of reporting them.

Sternig, who left the National Enquirer before Pecker took over, said there are occasional “let’s do deal” talks with famous celebrities in which the publication will bargain to kill a negative story in exchange for sit-down interviews or other exclusive access. But he said those were rare and “certainly not the norm” in his 20 years at the publication.

Peker described an example in which the Enquirer buried an unflattering story about professional golfer Tiger Woods in exchange for a cover appearance in one of its publications.

But it’s unclear what the publication or its readers gained in exchange for suppressing Trump’s stories.

“I don’t even understand what his motivations are, other than to bless himself,” McBride said. “They’re not even committed to their audience.”

Pecker called the deal with Trump “mutually beneficial” and said he personally benefited from it. especially before Trump ran for president and offered him behind-the-scenes details on The Lamp. Bwin For when Trump ran for president, The publication disappeared without a clear profit – a sin worse than ethical violations for some former tabloid reporters.

Alan Duke, who spent 26 years at CNN and is still working company a company that provides fact-checking services for social media platforms, spent five months at the National Enquirer in late 2014 and early 2015 between the two jobs.

“I thought it would be interesting to see how they worked. It was kind of like a master’s in tabloid journalism,” he said. “They had a very clear pattern of what they were interested in and what they were, and let’s just say I wasn’t impressed with their news judgment.”

Packer and his deputy, Dylan Howard, assigned Duke to cover Jeffrey Epstein, but Duke was surprised when they dismissed stories about Trump’s relationship with the disgraced financier, instead wanting him to focus on Epstein and Bill Clinton as the former president’s wife, Hillary. , is preparing to run for president.

The catch-and-kill operations were particularly effective, he said, because given the publication’s reputation, nothing they printed would be taken seriously. “I realized that what they don’t publish can have a bigger impact than what they publish,” Duke said.

Lachlan Cartwright, former editor-in-chief of the Enquirer under Packer, who now covers the trail for the Hollywood Reporter, said Packer was kept in the dark about his deal with Trump and doesn’t understand why he and his reporters bent over backwards. to protect the then GOP nominee.

“It was very unpleasant to have this hearing in court because I was whispering to my friends in bars late at night and saying, ‘Hey, something’s going on here.’ There’s more to it than just a series of hit pieces [on Trump’s opponents]. I think there can be some kind of agreement here,” he said Boston Public Radio interview this week. “But I had nothing, no hard evidence. And my friends said, Lachlan, you need to rest. You need to stop drinking. You become a conspiracy theorist.” Now I’m listening to it in court, in David Peker’s testimony, and it confirms everything I thought in real time but had no way of proving.

Those pulled punches seem to have offended the Enquirer, which hasn’t broken a major national story in years. turnover decreased. Newer and more nimble outlets like TMZ have taken over the mantle of celebrity scoop machines. pay a “closing fee”. to sources.

“This will be David Packer’s legacy,” Cartwright said. “Regardless of any credibility, what happened in court this week has been completely damaged.”

Some worry that major outlets will also suffer collateral damage, even if they don’t tolerate even a fraction of the behavior Peker describes. Trump and his allies accused mainstream news outlets of doing what Packer admitted to doing for Trump, and Trump’s lawyers in court argued that Packer was describing standard journalistic practices.

But Roberts, a professor and journalist ethicist, said that even if highlighting bad behavior makes the industry look bad in the short term, it’s important to call out other journalists who break the rules and undermine the credibility of the entire industry.

“We need to do a better job of explaining what the real rules of journalism are to those who practice them ethically,” he said. “Journalism is the only industry or institution that not only promotes a code of ethics, but actually requires people to publicly call out their peers who engage in bad journalism.”

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