David Pecker may have stepped down as CEO of American Media last month, but he’s still heavily involved in calling the editorial shots at the publisher of the National Enquirer sources tell Media Ink.
“We’re all scratching our heads. The structure editorially is still the same,” said one insider of Pecker’s continued oversight of the company’s supermarket tabloids, The National Enquirer, the Globe and the National Examiner, as well as its glossies like Us Weekly, In Touch, Life & Style.
In a surprise announcement on Aug. 21, American Media announced a major restructuring that saw it merge with wholesale distribution company Accelerate 360 LLC. The publishing operations were renamed A360Media.
As part of the restructuring — arranged by hedge fund Chatham Asset Management, which owned 80 percent of American Media — Pecker was said to be moving to an “executive advisor” role in a new corporate lineup that had David Parry, the distribution exec, as CEO and magazine group publisher Chris Scardino elevated to president of the media side.
But he continues to be deeply involved in the publishing operations, including plans to redo the Enquirer‘s “crime and real life” section, which will be renamed “American Life,” one source said.
“It is kind of surprising because the way the internal memo was written, it looked like he was being put out to pasture,” said another insider of Pecker. “Not sure at all what’s going to happen eventually, but maybe the old goat is getting a few kicks in before he hits the hay.”
Added the first source, “It’s bizarre, because editorial is what got him [Pecker] into trouble in the first place.”
Indeed it was the payment of $150,000 in 2016 to former Playmate model Karen McDougal over her alleged affair with Donald Trump that drew federal scrutiny to Pecker and his editorial director at the time, Dylan Howard. They avoided criminal prosecution by turning rat and cooperating with the Manhattan federal prosecutors investigating potential campaign finance violations that eventually landed Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, a three-year prison sentence. Pecker has also helped arrange Cohen’s $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.
The National Enquirer’s editorial operations also got the company into its infamous dispute with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who claimed that Howard threatened to publish compromising photos of Bezos and his then-girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez. Bezos claimed it was an attempted blackmail attempt. American Media has denied it did anything wrong.
A spokesman for A360 Media had not returned a call for comment, but a knowledgeable source said he suspected the 68-year-old Pecker’s ongoing role is merely transitional. “Once Parry and Scardino get up to speed, there will be less advising,” this person said.
Aside from Pecker, employees are also gabbing about the drastic hike in health insurance payments that have followed the merger. Several sources say the deductible has jumped from $600 a person to $3,000 for individuals. It’s even higher if a spouse or kids are on the plan. “You could end up having to meet a $10,000 deductible for your whole family,” one insider complained.
It has some insiders grumbling that they should reach out to a union to consider organizing. The company already handed out layoffs and a 23 percent pay cut in April. Asked about when the cut will be restored, one insider said, “All they tell us is times are tough.”
As Media Ink reported last week, employees have been bracing for another round of layoffs since the merger was announced as the coronavirus slams the publishing industry. Newsstand sales have been down across the board, as well as revenue from advertising.
Another insider said he doubts a unionization move will get much traction. “The company that is now in charge is deep in non-union country – Georgia – and would fight it all the way.”
“The current situation would probably lead them to shut down a title or two and everyone would come scurrying back.”
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