It's been a good run for the National Enquirer this year, breaking one of the biggest political scoops of the season: the pay-for-pardon deal arranged by Hugh Rodham, former President Bill Clinton's brother-in-law, for herbal medicine man Almon Glenn Braswell. The story hits newsstands Friday, but the tab put a brief teaser on its Web site (right above an Eminem story: "Bad boy rapper afraid of the dark!"). By Thursday, surely every newspaper in America lead with news of the National Enquirer's big story.
And just last month, the Enquirer broke the news of the Rev. Jesse Jackson's affair and illegitimate child, which sent the civil rights veteran scrambling to do damage control.
We asked the Enquirer's executive editor, David Perel, what's the secret to the supermarket stalwart's success.
Are you suddenly enjoying credibility you never had before?
Obviously there's been a big change in perception, but there hasn't been a real change in the way we do business. Politics is something that we've been pursuing for a long time. Remember, we first had the picture of [former Democratic presidential hopeful] Gary Hart in the late '80s ... So politics isn't anything new for us.
But your bread and butter has always been entertainment celebrity gossip - not politics. Has that changed?
It's just part of an evolution of American culture. Basically, our readers are focused on celebrities. But more and more celebrities are becoming involved in politics, and politicians are behaving more like celebrities. The line between those groups has been blurring increasingly.
That seems true of the Clinton era. But if a politician stays out of the limelight and tries to maintain a line between their public and private lives, would you be as eager to run a Jesse Jackson-style story about them?
That would be a consideration. We take every story on a case-by-case basis, and I don't like to give absolutes. You've got to use your best judgment.
Your two big political stories this year have been about prominent Democrats. Have you been accused of partisan bias?
I'm not worried about that. It's basically the same with all scandal stories; the side that you hit accuses you of working for the other guys. When we do a story about Republicans, they say we're working for the Democrats. We just can't pay any attention to that.
Do you see the Enquirer as affecting the tone of political coverage for "serious" political media?
These are serious stories. If the Washington Post or the New York Times had either of these stories, they would have run with it. It's obvious that they deem the material newsworthy, or else they wouldn't be picking up on our coverage.
You used to work at the Washington Post. What's different about being at the Enquirer?
Let me tell you what's the same. We're both big publications with a lot of money and a lot of resources, so we can go after the big stories. What's different is that we are accurate, but we have style. We give the readers their news without putting them to sleep. I love working with the tabloids.
-- Alicia Montgomery [3:30 p.m. PST, Feb. 22, 2001]
The Clintons can't seem to dodge the spotlight, even a month after they left the White House.
On Wednesday, reports revealed that Hugh Rodham, brother of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., was paid close to $400,000 for promoting the presidential commutation of a prison term for California drug dealer Carlos Vignali and a pardon for Almon Glenn Braswell, who was convicted of fraud in 1983 for selling phony herbal medicines. Rodham received a $200,000 "success fee" for the Braswell pardon the first business day after Bill Clinton left office, and Vignali's supporters paid Rodham almost $200,000 over time for helping get presidential mercy for him.
Rodham has already returned the money, under pressure from both the former president and the freshman senator, though he denies any impropriety. But the matter has added to the ammunition of congressional investigators probing Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich. In a new development in that case, one of the Israeli officials who encouraged the former president to pardon Rich acknowledged having received a $25,000 campaign contribution from him eight years ago.
Though Rich is technically free to return to this country now that he has been pardoned, his advisors say that he hasn't packed his bags yet. If he does eventually come home to the United States, Switzerland, his current country of residence, will miss him dearly. Rich is one of that nation's key taxpayers.
The Clintons' pardon problems overshadowed President Bush's big issue of the day on Wednesday: education reform. After weeks of keeping the price of his school plan under wraps, Bush revealed his intentions to raise the budget of the Department of Education by $4.6 billion. Though that represents the biggest budget boost for any federal department proposed so far, Democrats remain unimpressed. They assert that adequate education reform can only be achieved with a minimum $10 billion budget increase.
-- Alicia Montgomery [6 a.m. PST, Feb. 22, 2001]