Former Playmate Karen McDougal is now free to discuss her alleged affair with Donald Trump with whomever she wants, after settling a suit with the owner of the National Enquirer.
But the case made many people wonder: Why couldn’t she do so before? And why would American Media Inc.—which runs the tabloid as well as Globe, OK!, Radar Online and other outlets—pay her over $100,000 for such a salacious tale, only to bury it?
It all comes down to a practice called “catch and kill” among tabloid newspapers. An organization will pay handsomely for the rights to someone’s story, only to keep it out of the public eye. In this case, chairman and CEO David Pecker is a Trump ally and was seemingly shielding his friend.
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The Enquirer has been accused of catching and killing other stories about Pecker’s friends beyond Trump. In 2005, the Los Angeles Times reported AMI had paid a woman $20,000 two years prior for her story about an affair with then-gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger. And the organization attempted to buy the story of Harvey Weinstein accuser Ambra Battilana, but reportedly balked at her price. The company also reportedly gathered information on people in Hollywood to help Weinstein.
Taking care of friends is one thing, but doing so at the expense of tremendous news stand sales? It might not seem like a good business practice.
In the tabloid world, though, sometimes the unspoken word is more powerful than the spoken one. Possessing the rights to a story that can strongly impact the public perception of a celebrity can be used as leverage for other stories. Or, in some cases, for a cover story interview that might sell just as many copies.
While AMI prevented McDougal from sharing her story in detail for a while, there are several similar allegations it has been seemingly unable to prevent from leaking out—including Stormy Daniels, Jessica Leeds, who says Trump groped her on an airplane in the early 1980s, and Jessica Drake, an adult film star who accused Trump of sexual assault during the campaign.
Drake, who is represented by Gloria Allred, has not spoken about the incident in detail since her 2016 press conference, but says she is not under any agreement that would prevent her from doing so.
“I never signed an NDA nor did I take money from him or anyone in his camp for anything, nor did I sell my story to any outlet because that’s not what it’s about,” she said earlier this year. “I’m in this for the long run and I’m not in this for money.”