David J. Pecker, the tabloid media titan who drew the scrutiny of federal investigators for his alleged role in Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, is out as the leader of the parent company of The National Enquirer, Us Weekly and other publications, according to a company announcement on Friday.
At the same time, American Media, the company led by Mr. Pecker since 1999, has been renamed A360Media, according to the announcement, which was circulated internally Friday afternoon by David Parry, the chief executive of Accelerate 360, a company that is being merged with American Media. Both are controlled by the hedge fund Chatham Asset Management.
Accelerate 360 describes itself as a logistics company that delivers products from “from corkscrews to umbrellas” and has recently promoted its deliveries of protective face masks and hand sanitizer.
Under Mr. Pecker, 68, The Enquirer moved away from its usual coverage of Hollywood celebrities and reality television stars to bolster the candidacy of Mr. Trump and attack his political foes, including Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton.
In 2016, Mr. Pecker and his associates helped orchestrate deals involving two women who claimed past affairs with Mr. Trump: the former Playboy model Karen McDougal and the porn star Stormy Daniels. In a piece of tabloid tradecraft known as “catch and kill,” the articles were never published.
Federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York, who investigated American Media’s hush payments as a possible violation of campaign finance laws, gave Mr. Pecker an immunity deal after looking into the arrangement. American Media has denied any wrongdoing.
Last year, The Enquirer was accused of “extortion and blackmail” by Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder who has been the target of name-calling by Mr. Trump on Twitter. The accusation by Mr. Bezos, the world’s richest man, came after the supermarket tabloid devoted 11 pages of its Jan. 28, 2019, issue to an exposé of his extramarital affair with Lauren Sanchez, a Los Angeles television personality.
In a lengthy post on the digital platform Medium, Mr. Bezos singled out Mr. Pecker in his headline: “No thank you, Mr. Pecker!” In the text that followed, he accused American Media of having threatened to publish graphic photographs of himself, including a “below-the-belt selfie,” if he did not publicly affirm that The Enquirer’s reporting on his affair was not motivated by political concerns.
In April 2019, after the dispute with Mr. Bezos, American Media announced that it had sold The Enquirer to James Cohen, a son of the founder of the Hudson News franchise of newspaper and magazine shops. That deal has not closed.
The principal owner of American Media, Chatham Asset Management, had pushed Mr. Pecker to sell The Enquirer after the publication found itself under federal investigation.
Chatham, a New Jersey based hedged fund, is led by Anthony Melchiorre, a Chicago-area native who has earned a reputation on Wall Street as a tough negotiator. Mr. Melchiorre manages more than $4 billion in assets for clients through various funds, including some listed under a Cayman Islands address, where more favorable tax rates apply.
Chatham recently took ownership of the McClatchy Company, a large and prestigious newspaper chain, after a bankruptcy auction. McClatchy runs 30 news outlets across the country, including The Sacramento Bee and The Miami Herald. Chatham has been known to encourage steep cost cuts at its other newspaper business, Postmedia, Canada’s largest newspaper chain.
An internal memo from Mr. Parry on Friday said that “the unexpected economic impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on magazine newsstand sales have accelerated the discussions and made the American Media/Accelerate integration necessary.”
In the memo, he described the two companies as “sister companies under common ownership.”
America Media will merge with a business that “recently launched a successful line of Personal Protection Equipment that includes hand sanitizer, gloves, disinfectant wipes, cloth and disposable face masks, PPE safety packs and immunity boosting supplements,” according to the news release.