Dylan Howard’s Hollywood Reboot: Why Are So Many A-Listers Working With a Tabloid Henchman?
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Dylan Howard’s Hollywood Reboot: Why Are So Many A-Listers Working With a Tabloid Henchman?

The former 'National Enquirer' editor has been a key player in the era's most sordid scandals, from Trump's hush-money payments to Harvey Weinstein’s "Catch  and  Kill" tactics to Jeff Bezos' extortion claims. Now he’s repositioning himself as a showbiz player, developing multiple projects in the white-hot true-crime arena.

Over the past several years, former National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard has elevated himself from largely unknown tabloid whiz into a headline generator in his own right. He's played the role of villain — or at least a henchman — in national scandals involving Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein and Jeff Bezos. In the process, he left his perch at the Enquirer and was part of a probe by the U.S. Justice Department.

Yet despite the disrepute of his recent past, Howard, 38, is in the midst of repositioning himself as a Hollywood player, developing multiple projects in the white-hot true-crime arena. And, intriguingly, he is doing so with the support of a group of industry stalwarts — including Endeavor, Megyn Kelly and Dr. Phil McGraw — who had, until recently, been at the mercy of his notorious reporting tactics.

Howard, a brash Australian émigré, began his career as a sports news broadcaster but made his name in the U.S. nearly a decade ago with a series of consequential tabloid stories for outlets he ran like RadarOnline and Celebuzz. He exposed Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic rants, first named the mother of Arnold Schwarzenegger's "love child" and shined a light on the illegal Hollywood poker ring later depicted in Molly's Game. By 2011, he had "become the go-to guy for authoritative showbiz news," the Los Angeles Press Club observed when Howard, then at American Media Inc.'s Star magazine, won its Entertainment Journalist of the Year award.

Howard rose at AMI to run the Enquirer and become a key lieutenant to CEO David Pecker in the shady but lucrative business at the intersection of celebrity and infamy. In 2017, he was revealed by Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker to be Weinstein's accomplice, conspiring to dig up dirt on the mogul's actress accusers. Later, he was named in The Wall Street Journal as a Trump secret-squasher, with Farrow subsequently reporting in his book Catch and Kill that Howard shredded documents incriminating the president that the Enquirer had amassed but never printed. And in February 2019, Bezos made public Howard's emails that threatened to publish compromising pictures of the Amazon founder and girlfriend Lauren Sanchez — unless Bezos' Washington Post stood down on what he characterized as the paper's critical coverage of Saudi Arabia's business relationship with AMI.

During this period, Howard was personally accused in an Associated Press story of sexually harassing employees at AMI's Los Angeles offices in the 2010s. AMI claimed that the company conducted an internal review at the time that did not find serious wrongdoing. However, Howard subsequently departed the company for 15 months to run Celebuzz, where he would face similar allegations. THR has obtained an April 2013 memo from Celebuzz's outsourced human resources firm, which concluded that Howard had violated its sexual harassment policy. Among the claims filed against him were that he'd made lewd comments about his dating history and specifically retaliated against workers who didn't "engage in his sexual banter" by "embarrassing them or downgrading their work efforts." Howard resigned shortly before HR made its final determination, citing "the unfounded allegations against me." AMI has said it didn't know about the Celebuzz harassment complaint when it rehired Howard to a promoted position overseeing the Enquirer and all of its newsrooms out of its New York office. (Pecker didn't respond to questions for this story.)

On the Trump front, AMI was investigated by the Justice Department for the same secret payoffs scheme that put the president's lawyer Michael Cohen behind bars. In exchange for immunity for Trump ally Pecker, the company signed a non-prosecution deal with the feds and admitted it paid off former Playboy model Karen McDougal "in concert" with the Trump campaign to prevent her claim about their affair from surfacing before the 2016 election. After the agreement, AMI sold the Enquirer and Howard stepped down as its top editor; he now serves as AMI's chief content officer.

One might think Howard's involvement in multiple scandals would make him a pariah in Hollywood and the mainstream media. Legal experts have even speculated that the Bezos scheme might run afoul of extortion statutes. Or, even still, that sexual harassment allegations made against him at AMI and Celebuzz would put him on ice, as have claims against many other men in the #MeToo era.

But Howard's and AMI's various scandals seem to have had little effect on his budding entertainment career. Even before the Enquirer's sale to Pecker's longtime friend James Cohen for $100 million, Howard had begun remaking himself as a podcast personality, first hosting a celebrity justice anthology called All Rise, which delved into regular tabloid fodder like Bill Cosby, Casey Kasem and Dog the Bounty Hunter. Then he became an iTunes chart phenomenon with a 12-part series about the Natalie Wood mystery called Fatal Voyage that, after its release in July 2018, by its own accounting was downloaded an average of 300,000 times per episode and briefly outperformed true-crime hits Dirty John, Serial and S-Town.

The Reelz channel, which previously carried The Weinstein Co. co-produced National Enquirer Investigates, remains a distributor of AMI content, in August airing Robin Williams: When the Laughter Stops, as does Discovery Communications, which has broadcast AMI productions about Cosby on Investigation Discovery and Princess Diana on TLC. Asked about the alliance, Reelz stands by AMI and Howard, describing them as "a tremendous and reliable programming supplier and partner" since 2016 who "deliver compelling programs and specials on time and on budget." Discovery didn't return a request for comment.

A new business partner for Howard is Endeavor Audio, a podcast division launched in November 2018 by WME owner Endeavor. Endeavor Audio head Moses Soyoola negotiated the deal in the middle of that year, which resulted in a debut podcast about Jeffrey Epstein called Devil in the Darkness that began this past September. Their partnership — in which each shares production costs and profits and AMI makes the content that Endeavor is responsible for monetizing — so far has yielded collaborations on podcasts about JonBenét Ramsey, Princess Diana, John F. Kennedy Jr. and Marilyn Monroe.

Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel has been close to Pecker for at least three decades, dating to when Emanuel, then at ICM, represented Hachette Filipacchi, where Pecker was CEO. (Emanuel also was Trump's longtime agent.) An individual with direct knowledge of the practice says that Emanuel's relationship with Pecker has, over the years, yielded a meaningful benefit: AMI has purchased damaging footage of major Endeavor clients or their loved ones to take it off the market before it could be exposed in the media. (It's also worth noting that Endeavor's chairman, Patrick Whitesell, was married to Lauren Sanchez when her relationship with Bezos was the subject of Howard's alleged blackmail.)

Endeavor declined comment on Emanuel's relationship with Pecker. However, a high-level Endeavor executive says its deal with AMI is solely based on the success of the Fatal Voyage podcast. "A key element of Endeavor Audio's content strategy is creating podcasts that appeal to more mainstream audiences," says an Endeavor spokesman. "This agreement, just like our agreements with the wide variety of media companies we represent and partner with, has zero influence on editorial coverage."

In addition to his C-suite role at AMI, Howard also is senior vp of subsidiary Broad + Water Studios, where he oversees strategy for its output of documentaries. In November, he was outed by The Daily Beast for proposing to secretly pay $1 million to R. Kelly to participate in a TV docuseries that he was hoping to develop about the R&B singer's underage rape allegations. The proposed arrangement, captured on an audio recording with Kelly's manager, would have involved the formation of a shell company to hide payment from AMI to Kelly. Howard acknowledged the overture to The Daily Beast but noted that it "went no further than general exploratory discussions between [Kelly's camp] and myself and was never advanced internally at American Media."

Howard also is producing a sequel to the 1967 John F. Kennedy assassination documentary Rush to Judgment under his own banner, Topixly. In June, it was announced that it would be narrated by Martin Sheen — father of Charlie Sheen, whose HIV diagnosis was the subject of one of Howard's biggest scoops. In 2016, THR published Howard's confessional chronicle of his volatile relationship with the younger Sheen. A year before the Weinstein story brought larger attention to the issue, he detailed how the Two and a Half Men star had employed nondisclosure agreements and payoffs to intimidate accusers into silence. "The story of my chase with Charlie is a glimpse into the dark heart of the American showbiz dream," he wrote. Neither of the Sheens responded to a request for comment about their current relationship with Howard.

Howard's been busy in publishing as well. He's now in the midst of releasing seven quickie, co-authorized volumes through Skyhorse, a Simon & Schuster distribution partner, within the span of less than a year. Simon & Schuster wouldn't discuss its distribution of Howard's work, but Skyhorse publisher Tony Lyons backed him. "Dylan Howard is an incredible investigative journalist with a terrific source network," he explained in a statement, adding, "We are proud to have him as a Skyhorse author."

All of the Skyhorse books draw on tabloid topics Howard has positioned himself as an expert on in the past, from Michael Jackson to Aaron Hernandez. Among the attendees at the Manhattan book party for his September release, Diana: Case Solved, was Megyn Kelly, who'd used her Today show perch to question why Farrow's Weinstein coverage never aired on NBC and has been the subject of years of unflattering Enquirer coverage. A March 2018 news story, for instance, described her as "a scheming, ruthless, thin-skinned, revenge-bent time bomb." It's unclear why Kelly attended as she wouldn't discuss her relationship with Howard.

The same book was blurbed by an assortment of media personalities, including Sean Hannity and McGraw, whose own sky-high praise — "Howard passionately brings comprehensive and groundbreaking analysis to the most compelling mysteries of our time" — came accompanied by an opportunity for Howard to plug his project during a dedicated Dr. Phil segment. It's a notable turn for McGraw given that in 2016 he filed a $250 million defamation suit against AMI for accusing him of abusing his wife, which the couple denied. The two sides soon settled that dispute, McGraw's attorney has explained.

Asked about the reversal, a CBS representative for McGraw says: "During the process of resolving their legal dispute over three years ago, Dr. McGraw and Mr. Howard found they shared a common interest in true-crime mystery, and a working relationship ensued, completely aside from and unrelated to the tabloid arena."

According to The Wall Street Journal, however, the settlement was not defined by a common interest but came due in part to the fact that "the Enquirer threatened to run additional articles that [McGraw] would find damaging." McGraw's attorney, L. Lin Wood, tells THR this is "dead wrong and false."

One of Howard's most recent co-authored books, based on the Endeavor-partnered Jeffrey Epstein podcast, was released in early December. Its subtitle (Spies, Lies & Blackmail) echoes that of Farrow's book (Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators). The book speculates that Epstein was a longtime asset of the Mossad who extorted the powerful by hoarding their secrets to shield and advance his agenda. Former Weinstein lawyer Lisa Bloom, who represents multiple Epstein victims, is quoted in the tome, touted as an "exclusive" interview. Questioned about why she appears in Howard's book given the multiple sexual harassment claims made against him, she at first sought to distance herself from the project. "I don't think I've communicated with Dylan Howard for at least several years," she said. Later, Bloom wrote back and said that one of Howard's subordinates at AMI had "just called me to remind me that I did a TV interview with her for a Reelz special" about Epstein that had subsequently been repurposed for Howard's book. She added: "Generally speaking, it's not [my firm's] policy to do background checks on reporters or their supervisors."

THR's multiple attempts to talk to Howard for this piece were ignored. But as the story neared completion, he emerged in an email playing the role of victims' advocate, requesting comment from THR's leadership on an article he suddenly claimed to be pursuing. He was now threatening to "expose" THR for working to conceal Weinstein's behavior for years — a meritless claim. "There is no immediate deadline as this is a long-tail project," Howard explained.

His message was clear.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.