April 13, 2018

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Doorman’s tale of Trump love child prompts threats, caution, queasiness

Why did one media company secretly pay out $30,000 for a rumor, which it later quashed, that President Donald Trump fathered a child with an employee? Why has that company gone to such lengths to keep others silent about their associations with Trump?

Those questions, set off by reports in The New Yorker and the Associated Press, roiled reporters on Thursday, prompting cautious what-we-know-now reporting and the most qualified of extrapolations.

“If nothing else, the newest example builds the circumstantial case that something was afoot as Trump was trying to win the presidency,” wrote The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake.

Here’s the AP lede:

“Eight months before the company that owns the National Enquirer paid $150,000 to a former Playboy Playmate who claimed she’d had an affair with Donald Trump, the tabloid’s parent made a $30,000 payment to a less famous individual: a former doorman at one of the real estate mogul’s New York City buildings.

“As it did with the ex-Playmate, the Enquirer signed the ex-doorman to a contract that effectively prevented him from going public with a juicy tale that might hurt Trump’s campaign for president.”

The contract’s penalty, according to the AP and The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow: The doorman would have to pay $1 million if he breathed a word about this rumor.

Federal prosecutors are investigating the pre-election hush payments, including $130,000 to a Trump-affiliated porn star, to see if they violated campaign laws.

Publishing a rumor — or the quashing of a rumor — brings out journalistic and ethical queasiness. The New Yorker took pains to note it had uncovered no evidence that Trump fathered the child in the 1980s. The alleged daughter wouldn’t answer questions, and the father of the family said the claim was false and that the National Enquirer had put the family in a difficult situation.

Farrow quoted him as saying: “I don’t understand what they had to pay this guy for.”

The ex-doorman defended the veracity of his story to the Post’s Carol Leonnig on Thursday. “You know, I took a polygraph test.”

During the AP’s reporting, the Enquirer’s parent company threatened to sue and hired the New York law firm Boies Schiller Flexner, which challenged the accuracy of the AP’s reporting. The AP acknowledged spiking the story in August and later reviving it, Politico's Michael Calderone reports. BTW, David Boies was also involved in Harvey Weinstein’s attempt to muzzle reporting of decades of the Hollywood mogul’s sexual harassment and abuse.

And into this mess, a sequel to a February 2017 TIME magazine cover dropped:


Comey Comey Comey

 The book is out, and the excerpts and reviews have begun. A few highlights:

Quick hits

QUIT ALREADY: Missouri’s attorney general calls for the immediate resignation of the governor, a fellow Republican, after testimony by a woman that Gov. Eric Greitens had blindfolded, bound and forced her to perform a sex act. Greitens, who is married, acknowledged an “affair” with the woman but said he did not coerce sex. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say they find her witness account credible, the Kansas City Star reports.

FIRED, ALREADY: There wasn't a wet eye in the house when Tronc fired former Los Angeles Times editor Lewis D'Vorkin on Thursday. In just three months, D'Vorkin earned a nickname, "The Prince of Darkness," and a reputation for terrorizing the newspaper staff. He had been moved by Tronc to a corporate job earlier this year and was among dozens of Tribune Interactive people let go on Thursday. The company has yet to finalize terms of its LAT sale. 

A HAPPY ENDING FOR THE DENVER POST?: A civic group is leading an effort to buy the hedge fund-depleted Colorado newspaper. Its goal: "To ensure open-minded, journalist-driven print and digital news for decades to come.” The move follows the Post’s plea itself for buyers to save it from its current owner, Alden Global Capital, reports Sydney Ember.

SOLD: The Akron Beacon Journal, once the flagship property of the company that became Knight Ridder, has been purchased along with Ohio.com by GateHouse for $16 million. As part of the deal, three small GateHouse papers in Alaska also went to Canada-based Black Press Group, Crain’s Cleveland Business reported. The Knight family had owned the paper from 1903 until Knight Ridder’s sale to McClatchy in 2006. Under that ownership, the paper won Pulitzer Prizes for coverage of the Kent State shootings, an attempted takeover of Goodyear, race relations and for a series of anti-Vietnam columns by John S. Knight. The new owner, GateHouse, owns 142 papers, including nearby outlets in Canton and Kent as well as Columbus.

‘GENDER-WASHING’: Robyn Doolittle did the hard work for four years of covering Rob Ford, the scandal-laden mayor of Toronto. She broke the story of him smoking crack, which prompted his resignation. Doolittle, a Globe and Mail reporter and author of “Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story,” was understandably dismayed when she found out an upcoming film stars a male reporter in what looks like her role. “Why have a woman be a lead character when a man could do it?” she asked sarcastically. “Obviously I’m biased, but man, I’ve seen a lot of stories by male reporters celebrated in movies.” Ben Pratt, starring as the reporter, says it’s a fictionalized account of three people — a reporter and two mayoral aides — during the Toronto scandal.

DON’T KNOCK THE ROCK: Two science writers took a break to expense Raisinets and review the genome-splicing thriller "Rampage. "This movie features both science (my beat) and The Rock looking contemplatively out over a cornfield (my aesthetic)," wrote STAT reporter Megan Thielking. What she didn’t expect: A fan note from The Rock.

ABOUT TIME?: Was he rushing into this decision? No, concluded Barrie Farnsworth. After 45 years and 29 newspapers, maybe it was time to go. “I think the only newsroom job I have not had is Sports Editor,” the British journalist told reporter David Sharman. “I have no regrets about that.” … In Michigan, onetime AP White House reporter and Washington bureau chief Ron Fournier says he’s out of journalism, too — to become president of a regional public relations company. "It’s time to get off the sidelines and into the arena," Fournier said.

CALIPHATE: She knows more about ISIS that almost any reporter in the world. So why does the NYT’s Rukmini Callimachi carry trash bags to the front lines of fighting in Iraq? “If you’re able to get to the buildings they occupied, right after, you often can find the documents they left behind,” Callimachi says in the first chapter of her NYT podcast series, “Caliphate,” which premiered Thursday. “I am looking for ISIS’s diary … their personal tips about their coworkers.” Thursday also marked the ninth day in a row that “Felonious Florida,” the Sun Sentinel true-crime series we profiled Wednesday, remained atop the iTunes podcast charts.

THE LOCAL NEWS SITE THAT COULD: Berkeleyside, in California’s East Bay, raised $1 million from 355 of its readers to bolster its work, making it the first news site in the country to do a successful Direct Public Offering. Co-founder Lance Knobel says the offering could be a model for other local news sites nationwide. Author Michael Pollan, a daily reader, says he contributed because “the notion of free journalism is simply not sustainable.” The Lenfest Institute’s Joseph Lichterman lays out how Berkeleyside did it — and what lessons it learned. Here’s our look at Berkeleyside’s rise, while the area’s traditional journalistic “big dogs” have struggled.

What we’re reading

ICE CONTROVERSY: At first, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it was not chasing the fleeing vehicle — and that it didn’t have its flashing lights on. Then, video showed both assertions appeared to be untrue. A farmworker couple in California, panicked by the federal agents, lost control of their vehicle and crashed into a utility pole. Both died. The case has created a flashpoint in the immigration battle between California and federal officials cracking down on people in the country illegally, reports the LAT’s Brittny Mejia.

PRE-DAMAGE CONTROL: Before the chemical weapons attack on Syrians by the nation’s Russian-backed dictator, the Russian military was spreading conspiracy theories about an impending chemical attack from rebels.

LOCALIZE THIS: Is your community being pressured by the Trump Organization to lower taxes on its properties? Since becoming president, Trump’s companies have filed at least nine new lawsuits against municipalities in Florida, New York and Illinois arguing for lower tax bills, ProPublica’s Katherine Sullivan reports.

BEVERLY HILLS: How did Trump get a $10.3 million mansion for free — and then flip it the next year for $9.5 million? The story from Reveal’s Lance Williams and Matt Smith.

HOW A SUBURB ATTRACTS CITY-DWELLERS: Avocados, kombucha, cheap homes and a comic-strip campaign set Homewood, Illinois, apart. By CityLab’s Amanda Kolson Hurley.

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