Tabloid titan David Pecker is a personal friend of Donald Trump and the CEO of American Media Inc., publisher of the National Enquirer. The billionaire has been in the news lately for his interest in expanding his influence by purchasing Time Inc. and, in all likelihood, bending the coverage of the president in a favorable direction.
Pecker is the subject of a lengthy profile in this week’s New Yorker, written by Jeffrey Toobin. Tucked deep within is a striking nugget on Tiger Woods, whose fall from grace was tailor-made for Pecker’s supermarket aisle magazines.
Pecker’s relationship with Woods suggests how he’s leveraged his brands even in a declining market. In 2007, the magazine’s tip line received a call claiming that Woods was having trysts with a waitress named Mindy Lawton, who worked at a diner near his home in Orlando. The tipster was Lawton’s mother. As Pecker recalled, “She said her daughter serves him, and then she has a relationship with Tiger, and she goes out to the parking lot behind there and they have sex together.”
After talking to Lawton’s mother, Enquirer reporters staked out the parking lot by the diner, and they saw Woods and Lawton together. “What happened was, Tiger gets into the S.U.V., she came out of the restaurant,” Pecker told me. “The Enquirer guys were behind the bushes and she must have had her period, so she threw the tampon and they grabbed it.” After the obligatory comment call to Woods, Pecker received a phone call from Mark Steinberg, Woods’s agent.
Men’s Fitness had asked Woods to appear on its cover several times, but he had always declined. A negotiation ensued, whereby Woods would pose for the magazine’s cover in return for a cancelled story in the Enquirer about the diner tryst. Neal Boulton, the editor of Men’s Fitness at the time, recalled, “Pecker was all over me about the negotiations with Tiger’s people.” Boulton quit before the Woods cover was published. “I allowed myself to get sucked into this situation,” he told me. “I just felt pretty lousy about it all.” (Lawton, Steinberg, and Woods declined to comment; Lawton’s mother could not be reached for comment.)
Lawton, like her tipster mother, was not shy in sharing details of her trysts with Woods as the scandal engulfed him a few years later. And she did not paint him in a particularly fond light. She was sentenced to a year in jail for drunk driving in 2011.
As for Pecker, there are no regrets for the way the Lawton scoop went down. After all, it worked out quite well for the Enquirer brand.
Pecker didn’t see the negotiation as blackmail. “I was never going to run any of it, because I’d be thrown out of Walmart tomorrow,” he said, referring to the parking-lot encounter’s unsavory details. Twenty-three per cent of the Enquirer’s sales come from Walmart, and the next biggest outlet is the Kroger supermarket chain, at ten per cent; chain stores account for roughly three-quarters of total sales. There are no formal rules for the level of explicitness or vulgarity that the chains will tolerate, but Pecker is careful not to push the limits. In the end, he scored dual victories with Woods: the golfer posed for the cover of Men’s Fitness, and later the affair appeared in the skybox of the Enquirer. Woods’s marriage and career dissolved not long afterward.