Daily Beast: Pecker Pulls Back on Pro-Trump Coverage

— National Enquirer boss tiptoes away from his pal Trump, with an assist from Hollywood’s leading talent agency. Check out my latest byline at The Daily Beast

Via “National Enquirer Boss David Pecker Tiptoes Away From His Pal Trump as Scandal Swirls and Circulation Drops” by Lachlan Markay, Asawin Suebsaeng and Dean Sterling Jones, The Daily Beast, August 02, 2018:

Shortly after the feds raided the office of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s now estranged personal attorney and longtime enforcer, National Enquirer publisher David Pecker went into a state of calculated retreat.

For years, Pecker’s tabloid had promoted and puffed up Trump’s political rise and his presidency. But once a regular fixture on the cover of the National Enquirer, Trump hasn’t appeared on it since an issue dated early May. That appearance was for a cover story on the various scandals swirling around Cohen.

[…]

According to multiple sources familiar with the situation, Pecker and the Enquirer’s top brass made a conscious decision to pull back on their pro-Trump coverage, just as Pecker’s media empire found itself increasingly embroiled in Trumpworld’s legal and public-relations woes.

A month after the Enquirer’s last Trump cover, the Wall Street Journal reported that federal authorities had subpoenaed Pecker and other executives at American Media Inc. (AMI), which publishes the tabloid. They sought records related to allegations that the company purchased the rights to former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story of an affair with Trump, then killed the story for Trump’s benefit, a practice known as “catch and kill.” Prosecutors are exploring whether such an agreement may have constituted an illegal in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign by AMI.

[…]

As Pecker and his team were distancing themselves from Trump publicly, a more surreptitious effort was underway to cleanse the public record of details of Pecker’s involvement in the McDougal scandal and the AMI boss’s relationship with the president.

Over the course of a week last month, an anonymous Wikipedia user repeatedly tried to scrub Pecker’s page of damaging information regarding his alleged links to the McDougal hush-money scandal, removing huge blocks of text describing Pecker’s and AMI’s roles in paying the model for her story. The edits also removed references to Pecker as “a close friend of Donald Trump” and a supporter of his 2016 presidential campaign in addition to scrubbing mention of a federal investigation of the payment that stemmed from the raid of Cohen’s office (In a recently-leaked tape, Trump told Cohen to make the payment “in cash” to “our friend David,” assumed to be Pecker.)

The origin of the edits was even more interesting. They were made by someone using an I.P. address associated with the high-powered Hollywood talent agency William Morris Endeavor, according to publicly-available web database information. The same I.P. address has been used to edit pages for WME itself, the head of the agency’s literary division, and a number of WME clients.

Click here to read the full article.

The story was covered by MSNBC’s Katy Tur here, CNN’s Brian Stelter here, the Columbia Journalism Review’s Pete Vernon here, and Vox’s Jennie Neufeld here.

Update, August 10, 2018: The Wrap picked up the story.

Two people inside the offices of talent agency WME attempted to remove damning information from the Wikipedia pages of its Co-CEO Ari Emanuel and one of his parent company’s clients, American Media Incorporated, a new report says. [Note: It’s unclear how many people edited the pages].

In July, a user with an IP address originating from the agency’s New York headquarters attempted to scrub sections detailing AMI Chief Executive Officer David Pecker’s accused role in the scandal surrounding President Trump and Playboy model Karen McDougal, the Daily Beast reported late Friday.

The report said a second user also removed several blocks of text from Emanuel’s personal page about a 2008 sexual harassment case involving the agency. A spokesperson for Emanuel declined to comment on the matter.

Anyone with access to WME’s wireless internet network would be registered to their IP address, one individual familiar with the company told TheWrap (a similar sentiment was echoed in the Daily Beast). Wikipedia pages are edited by the site’s user community, so the attempted changes were all eventually undone. An AMI spokesperson did not return TheWrap’s request for comment on the report.

The effort to clean up Pecker’s profile, the Beast reported, was largely initiated to distance the media owner from President Trump. In addition to removing a section that referred to the men as “close friends,” it also stripped large chunks of backstory about Pecker and the alleged coverup of Trump’s accused affair with Playmate McDougal, the story said.

Click here to read the full article.

The Bitch is Back

Carter-Ruck Lawyers passes the baton to Schillings partners in Elton John three-way tabloid scandal, but where does that leave Internet users threatened with legal action?

The juiciest celebrity news story of 2016 went unreported in the UK thanks to strong-arm legal tactics by David Furnish, husband of pop singer Elton John.

As you didn’t read in the newspapers, Furnish was allegedly given permission from his famous hubby to participate in a three-way sexscapade with British businessman Daniel Laurence and his husband Pieter Van den Bergh in a paddling pool of olive oil.

The story as reported by the National Enquirer in April

When Laurence and Van den Bergh decided to go public with the story, Furnish took out an injunction – dubbed the cheater’s charter – preventing papers in England and Wales from revealing the names of those involved.

But efforts to squash the story didn’t end there.

Earlier this year, non-UK Twitter users began tweeting e-mails they received from Twitter’s legal department demanding that they delete tweets outing John and Furnish as the celebrity couple first identified in court documents as YMA and PJS.

neil-saunders-twitter-legal

As an experiment, I set up a pseudonymous Twitter profile and tweeted about the story.¹

YMA PJS Tweet

Sure enough, within a few days I received the following e-mail.

Twitter Legal Notice

Twitter didn’t respond to multiple requests for information about the complainant and the nature of their complaint, so I took my enquiry to Carter-Ruck Lawyers, a British law firm known for using aggressive legal tactics to squash negative news stories about its celebrity clientele.

According to court documents, Carter-Ruck represented Furnish when the National Enquirer broke the story in AprilHowever, when I asked Carter-Ruck’s Managing Partner Nigel Tait about his firm’s legal shenanigans, he forwarded my questions to defamation lawyer Jenny Afia of Schillings partners, another British firm specialising in reputation and privacy.

Unfortunately, Afia declined to comment on whether Schillings represents Furnish, or if it intends to pursue offending Twitter users.

Don’t shoot me I’m only the messenger

In April, UK-based anti-piracy company Web Sheriff filed 12 copyright complaints with Google requesting it remove a total of 447 URLs linking to articles about the scandal.

web-sheriff-requests

Among the websites flagged for removal was TomWinnifrith.com, whose namesake – a prominent British entrepreneur and blogger – outed the couple in April.

Although Google ultimately didn’t enforce the request, Winnifrith said his web hosting provider took down his website following a legal threat from Web Sheriff.

Investment columnist Tom Winnifrith

WS [Web Sheriff] contacted our hosting company and bullied it into taking our site down and only putting it back up if we pulled the article,” said Winnifrith. That hoster cravenly did this even though WS had no power to threaten.

He continued: “I asked WS on whose authority it was demanding we pull content since that authority was actually vested with the UK Courts not a US law firm. I asked if it was acting for Mr. John. It refused to reply.”

When I asked Web Sheriff similar questions, I received no reply.

Self-proclaimed “Web Sheriff” John Giacobbi

It isn’t the only time an article about the scandal was pulled following legal threats.

In May, an article by Irish political activist and blogger Paddy J. Manning was pulled from MercatorNet, an Australian opinion-based news website.²

According to Manning, MercatorNet was forced to take down the article after the website’s web hosting provider was threatened with legal action.

Irish electoral candidate Paddy J. Manning

MercatorNet warned me that the website was run on ‘the smell of an oily rag’ so that if they were sued in Australian courts they would capitulate, said Manning. They received several warnings but no effective legal correspondence outside of threatening e-mails.”

He continued:It was their hosting company who were threatened successfully with a court action against their mirror/backup in Florida. No legal action was taken against the host; the threat was enough.

This was a perfect lesson in the brittleness of the web, how weak some constituent parts are and how quickly they snap.”

Redressing an unfurnished press

Thanks to the Internet, unflattering details about celebrities’ personal lives are accessible to anyone who wants to know. Ironically, there appears to be little public interest in Furnish’s affair, as demonstrated by the scanty coverage it initially received in the US.

Per the Streisand Effect, efforts to suppress the story only helped it along; according to a recent YouGov poll, one in four Brits already know the identity of YMA and PJS.

daily-mail-elton-john-david-furnish-perfect-marriage

A recent edition of the Daily Mail

It’s perhaps an indication of the futility of Furnish’s efforts that, since April, Google has removed just two of the 447 offending URLs flagged by Web Sheriff.

However, the residual chill from the injunction can be felt as far as the US and Canada. The National Enquirer and the National Post – both of which were flagged by Web Sheriff – are just two publications whose articles about the scandal are unavailable in the UK.

I’ll ask the Enquirer, the Post, and others about their articles and blog the results.

Stay tuned.

¹I live in Northern Ireland, therefore not bound by the injunction in England and Wales.

²Manning’s original blog post about the scandal was also geo-blocked by Google Blogger following legal threats. However, he described this form of censorship as patchy,” as the post could sometimes be viewed in one US state, but not in another. His tweets about the scandal were also geo-blocked by Twitter.