Tabloid Mogul David Pecker's Former Colleagues Aren't Surprised by His Trump Infamy

David Pecker - Getty - H 2018
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The National Enquirer chief, who reportedly has been granted immunity by federal prosecutors, had few fans as chief executive of Hachette Filipacchi Magazines.

David Pecker was known only as a New York media mogul before he became embroiled in a national firestorm connected to his leadership of tabloid publisher American Media Inc., which entered into so-called catch and kill deals with Michael Cohen to bury negative stories about his longtime friend, President Donald Trump.

Before he became chairman of AMI in 1999 as part of an acquisition of the company, Pecker served as chief executive of Hachette Filipacchi Magazines, which published magazines like Elle, Premiere and George, which was a short-lived collaboration with the late John F. Kennedy Jr.

While running Hachette, Pecker made his mark by blurring the lines between editorial and business and occasionally getting into hot water by doing favors for famous friends, like actress Fran Drescher. Several employees who worked under Pecker at Hachette told The Hollywood Reporter in interviews that his new infamy jibes with their recollections of his behavior and penchant for quid pro quos.

"He seemed more interested in what magazines could do for him than what he could do for magazines," said Richard Bradley, one of the founding editors of George. "As far as we could tell, magazines were a vehicle for helping your friends and, consequently, yourself."

"David was always dealmaking and throwing people under the bus to get what he needed," said another employee.

According to several George editors, Pecker would use Kennedy for his own benefit. "He treated John as a possession," said one person close to Kennedy. "He was like a toy. He was like a shiny object that he could tout out to these advertisers and potential advisers and people he wanted to rub elbows with."

Specifically, the editors said that Pecker would request Kennedy's presence at conspicuous lunches at the Four Seasons hotel and dinners at the trendy Italian eatery Rao's, where he had a table.

He was also brought along with car advertisers on a sales trip to Detroit, which an admirer and former competitor, onetime Wenner Media executive Kent Brownridge, said was a condition of Pecker's agreement to back Kennedy's magazine. "People were literally fighting to have a meeting, to buy three pages," he said. "I mean, they were crawling all over each other."

When Kennedy decided to launch his magazine, "every fucking publisher in New York turned him down, including my boss, Jan Wenner, and he went to David and David instantly saw the world great's ad sales machine was standing right in front of him," Brownridge said.

Pecker's long friendship with Trump also checks out with the former editors. "It makes absolute sense to me that these two men would be in cahoots based on their personalities and ways of doing business," one said.

Brownridge said that Pecker's friendship with Trump was likely deepened recently by his dislike of Robert Mueller, who was appointed special counsel in May 2017. Brownridge said that Pecker has harbored a grudge against Mueller since October 2001, when, as director of the FBI, he oversaw the closure of the American Media office in Florida after traces of anthrax were found. (A photographer for the company died of exposure.)

In response, an AMI spokesperson said: "Any suggestion that Mr. Pecker or anyone at AMI may harbor any grudge against the FBI is absolutely unfounded and not true. While no one at AMI had any contact with Mr. Meuller during this time, we are grateful for any involvement he might have had in supporting the efforts of the Special Agent in Charge in Florida, they played a critical role in saving lives during and following the Anthrax attack that killed one employee and placed three more in critical condition."

Brownridge, who contracted with Pecker on distribution of Us Weekly and called him "the king" of newsstand placement, described his operating philosophy this way: "If you're big and important and get media attention, and there's a way to leverage that, David will be your friend."

An editor at Hachette said that Pecker was "really obsessed" with Drescher and her show, The Nanny, and kept pitching both for coverage in George.

An editor at Premiere magazine, which has since shuttered, said that Pecker alienated the staff by requesting such favors for his friends. (Editors refused when Pecker recommended Drescher for the cover of Premiere in the spring of 1996.)

Some Hachette employees were also dismayed by the size of the company's human resources department, which became a running joke. "There's one human with no resources," one high-level George executive said.

Still, some of the editors who criticized Pecker acknowledged his business savvy and ability to make money off magazines. "David clearly had energy and a sort of fearlessness," one skeptic said. "He was willing to do things that other people wouldn’t.”

"There was a humorous side to him because of his bravado and this kind of swagger he would have in this office," another said, adding that it "was kind of amusing...but you knew that the man could retaliate if he wanted to."