Does The First Amendment Protect The Right Of The Press Or People To “Kill” A Story?

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Stormy Daniels Affair, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Associated Press:

Eight months before the company that owns the National Enquirer paid $150,000 to a former Playboy Playmate who claimed she’d had an affair with Donald Trump, the tabloid’s parent made a $30,000 payment to a less famous individual: a former doorman at one of the real estate mogul’s New York City buildings.

As it did with the ex-Playmate, the Enquirer signed the ex-doorman to a contract that effectively prevented him from going public with a juicy tale that might hurt Trump’s campaign for president.

The payout to the former Playmate, Karen McDougal, stayed a secret until The Wall Street Journal published a story about it days before Election Day. Since then curiosity about that deal has spawned intense media coverage and, this week, helped prompt the FBI to raid the hotel room and offices of Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

The story of the ex-doorman, Dino Sajudin, hasn’t been told until now.

The Associated Press confirmed the details of the Enquirer’s payment through a review of a confidential contract and interviews with dozens of current and former employees of the Enquirer and its parent company, American Media Inc. Sajudin got $30,000 in exchange for signing over the rights, “in perpetuity,” to a rumor he’d heard about Trump’s sex life — that the president had fathered a child with an employee at Trump World Tower, a skyscraper he owns near the United Nations. The contract subjected Sajudin to a $1 million penalty if he disclosed either the rumor or the terms of the deal to anyone.

Cohen, the longtime Trump attorney, acknowledged to the AP that he had discussed Sajudin’s story with the magazine when the tabloid was working on it. He said he was acting as a Trump spokesman when he did so and denied knowing anything beforehand about the Enquirer payment to the ex-doorman.

The parallel between the ex-Playmate’s and the ex-doorman’s dealings with the Enquirer raises new questions about the roles that the Enquirer and Cohen may have played in protecting Trump’s image during a hard-fought presidential election. Prosecutors are probing whether Cohen broke banking or campaign laws in connection with AMI’s payment to McDougal and a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels that Cohen said he paid out of his own pocket.

Federal investigators have sought communications between Cohen, American Media’s chief executive and the Enquirer’s top editor, the New York Times reported.

What we’re seeing here is a pattern. Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal and this guy.  And I suspect many many others.

Tabloids such as the National Enquirer frequently pay people for their stories, but Enquirer employees told the AP that they thought this was a clear case of “catch and kill” — paying for the rights to a story for the purpose of burying it.

Four employees told the AP that story was promising when it was shut down:

The Enquirer staffers, all with years of experience negotiating source contracts, said the abrupt end to reporting combined with a binding, seven-figure penalty to stop the tipster from talking to anyone led them to conclude that this was a so-called “catch and kill.” …

One former Enquirer reporter, who was not involved in the Sajudin reporting effort, expressed skepticism that the company would pay for the tip and not publish.

“AMI doesn’t go around cutting checks for $30,000 and then not using the information,” said Jerry George, a reporter and senior editor for nearly three decades at AMI before his layoff in 2013.

That’s similar to how Enquirer staff members described the McDougal case a few months ago.

In my view, and I’m sure many will agree, there is nothing illegal or unconstitutional about a person (Trump, through Cohen) and another person signing an NDA.  Nor is there anything illegal or unconstitutional about the press (AMI, owner of the Enquirer) buying the rights to a story and then killing it.  But you see what is going on.  There are all things that were being done in furtherance of the campaign.  These were, in my view, campaign expenditures that were never reported.  And now we are up to three.

Not that it is relevant (yet), but we have some idea about what the story was about: