The Pulitzer Prizes will be awarded Monday and, if it were up to President Trump, the National Enquirer would have won one years ago.
“I've always said, 'Why didn't the National Enquirer get the Pulitzer Prize for [John] Edwards?' ” Trump said on the day after he accepted the Republican presidential nomination in July 2016. He was referring, of course, to the former senator from North Carolina and 2008 presidential candidate whose love child the supermarket tabloid was the first to expose.
The remark seemed, at the time, like classic Trump hyperbole. It was delivered in the context of Trump's effort, during a news conference, to defend his spreading of a rumor about the father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), which the Enquirer had published. Trump insisted the Enquirer “should be very respected” and “does have credibility.”
In hindsight, there might have been more to Trump's praise of the National Enquirer than voters knew.
Seven months before Trump said the Enquirer deserved a Pulitzer, the tabloid's parent company, American Media Inc., paid $30,000 for the exclusive right to a tip from former Trump Tower doorman Dino Sajudin, who claimed that Trump might have fathered a child out of wedlock in the 1980s. The Associated Press and New Yorker reported the payment last week.
The Enquirer never published an article. The AP cited “four longtime Enquirer staffers directly familiar with the episode” who said the story was spiked by top editors.
Trump attorney Michael Cohen told the AP that he discussed Sajudin's story with the Enquirer but denied knowledge of the payment.
One month before Trump said the Enquirer should have won a Pulitzer, former Playboy model Karen McDougal met with the tabloid's top editor and recounted a 10-month affair she claimed to have had with Trump a decade earlier, according to a lawsuit McDougal filed against American Media in March.
The lawsuit alleges that American Media “shared the details of Ms. McDougal's story with the Trump campaign. In short, the meeting was a setup for AMI to hear Ms. McDougal's story, pass it on to Mr. Trump's representatives and prevent it from ever seeing the light of day.”
American Media told the New York Times that it did share McDougal's account with Cohen but said the purpose was merely to vet her claims.
On Aug. 5, 2016 — two weeks after Trump's Pulitzer comment — McDougal signed a $150,000 contract in which she gave American Media the exclusive right to publish her story of an affair with Trump. Employing a tactic known as “catch and kill,” American Media opted not to publish McDougal's story, just as it opted not to publish Sajudin's.
American Media chief executive David Pecker told the New Yorker last year that he prevented McDougal from “bashing Trump” because “the guy's a personal friend of mine.”
It is unclear what, if anything, Trump knew at the time about American Media's negotiations with McDougal and Sajudin, though voters may find out. FBI raids last week on the office, home and hotel room of Cohen were aimed, in part, at recovering records related to suppressing potentially scandalous media reports.
McDougal alleges in her lawsuit that “AMI worked secretly in collaboration with Michael Cohen.”
If Trump knew what American Media was doing on his behalf, then his assertion that the National Enquirer merited a Pulitzer makes more sense, in hindsight. From Trump's perspective, the Enquirer's most laudatory act might not have been reporting on an affair involving Edwards but rather covering up alleged affairs involving Trump.