The National Enquirer’s publisher claims its agreement to purchase and bury former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story of her alleged affair with President Trump is protected by the First Amendment, according to new court filings.
On Monday, American Media, Inc. (AMI) asked a Los Angeles court to dismiss McDougal’s lawsuit, which seeks to release her from a “catch and kill” contract that gave the company exclusive rights to her story in exchange for $150,000.
McDougal, who allegedly had a 10-month affair with Trump beginning in 2006, says she was pressured into signing the hush agreement months before Election Day.
In her complaint, McDougal claims AMI violated public policy by working secretly with Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, to buy her silence. Her payout amounts to an illegal, in-kind corporate contribution that was intended to influence the election, her lawsuit states.
But AMI says there’s nothing illegal about their agreement.
“If AMI had exercised its editorial discretion to publish McDougal’s story, she would have no argument that such publication was an illegal in-kind campaign contribution,” AMI’s counsel, Jean-Paul Jassy, wrote in Monday’s court filing. “But editors also have a First Amendment right not to publish, and cannot be punished for exercising that right.”
McDougal’s attorney, Peter Stris, released a statement accusing AMI of trying to silence the fitness model once again with its anti-SLAPP, or strategic lawsuit against public participation, claim against her.
“The irony of today’s motion by American Media Inc. to strike Karen McDougal’s lawsuit is unmistakable,” Stris said. “As we have learned through brave truth-tellers like Ms. McDougal, the tabloid went to great lengths to silence her and others, and they are now attempting to silence her again with the absurd claim that their own free speech was violated.”
“Needless to say, we look forward to opposing their motion,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, AMI released a statement saying the company is “very proud of Karen McDougal and our collaborative relationship that has produced good journalism and content for our publications and we hope that she will continue to be a valued contributor.”
“While we dispute her legal claims, as our anti-SLAPP motion makes clear, we look forward to reaching an amicable resolution satisfactory to her and to AMI.”
McDougal’s case is one of several relating to President Trump, who is being sued by porn star Stormy Daniels to void her own “hush agreement” over her alleged tryst with the commander in chief. Trump also faces a defamation suit from former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos, who has accused him of sexual misconduct.
Jessica Denson, a former 2016 campaign employee, has filed a lawsuit to void her own nondisclosure agreement that silences her from discussing “discrimination claims.” Denson is seeking $25 million in damages.
In McDougal’s case, AMI argues that buying her story—and making an inquiry to President Trump’s representative—amounted to “newsgathering.”
Paying sources and buying such exclusive story rights has been common for more than a century, AMI said. In its motion, the publisher pointed to The New York Times’ $1,000 payment to a survivor of the Titanic in 1912 and Larry Flynt’s $1-million offer for intel on adulterous politicians, among other examples.
Even if AMI quashed McDougal’s story to protect Trump’s candidacy, “it is routine and constitutionally protected for the media to express a political view,” the court filing stated.
“News publishers have helped and hurt politicians from time immemorial,” the motion added. “Leading periodicals often endorse and excoriate individual candidates.”
AMI then used Hillary Clinton as an example, saying 57 of 100 of America’s largest newspapers endorsed her in 2016, while only two endorsed Trump.
AMI’s CEO, David Pecker, is close friends with Trump, according to McDougal’s lawsuit and Ronan Farrow’s New Yorker piece on McDougal’s deal. (One former AMI editor told The New Yorker of Pecker, “We never printed a word about Trump without his approval.”)
Her lawsuit claims AMI “continues to intimidate Ms. McDougal with legal and financial threats if she speaks with the press.” And it says that she was misled about the terms of her deal.
McDougal says she was promised two magazine covers—including one on Men’s Fitness—and two years of monthly feature print articles and weekly online columns. (AMI says McDougal wrote 19 articles, was featured in six articles and was on four different covers, but the company is not obligated to publish her work.)
AMI and her former attorney—Keith Davidson, who also brokered Stormy Daniels’ NDA with Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen—failed to tell her the contract’s fine print didn’t obligate the publisher to run her columns, her lawsuit says.
In Monday’s motion to dismiss, AMI denied the agreement was against public policy.
The parent company, too, denied that McDougal is prohibited from speaking to the press. AMI says that McDougal negotiated an amended agreement giving her permission to respond to “legitimate press inquiries” about the Trump affair.
McDougal filed her lawsuit seeking to void the contract on March 20. Two days later, she detailed her alleged romance with Trump in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
She told Cooper she filed the lawsuit to get her “life rights back.”
“I want to share my truth, because everyone else is talking about my truth. I need to share my story. Everyone else is talking about it,” McDougal said.