American Media Inc. is selling the National Enquirer for $100 million to James Cohen, CEO of Hudson News, ending an association between a longtime friend of President Donald Trump and the tabloid that illegally attempted to bury embarrassing news about Trump during the 2016 election.
The supermarket tabloid, along with two sister publications, is set to be purchased by the head of the travel retailer known for its airport newsstands.
The decision to sell came after Anthony Melchiorre, the hedge-fund manager whose firm controls AMI, became disillusioned with the reporting tactics of the Enquirer and the legal and political pressure that resulted from them, according to people familiar with the deliberations.
The Enquirer is overseen by AMI President and CEO David Pecker, Trump's confidant dating back many years, whose efforts to tilt the 2016 presidential election have been the subject of news stories for much of Trump's presidency.
Pecker and his supermarket tabloid have also been embroiled in recent months in an unusually public feud with Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post.
The sale of AMI's tabloid business, which includes the National Examiner and the Globe, is expected to reduce AMI's debt to $355 million, the company said.
AMI faced financial difficulty as it sought to refinance more than $400 million in debt and as the Enquirer's circulation continued to decline. The paper sold an average of 516,000 copies per issue as recently as 2014, but that number fell to 218,000 in December, according to data compiled by the Alliance for Audited Media.
The sale price of $100 million is a stunning figure for a scandal-ridden tabloid. The New York Times Co. sold the Boston Globe for $70 million in 2013.
Bezos paid $250 million for The Washington Post that same year.
The sale to Cohen, whose father founded Hudson News, also includes a service contract under which AMI will provide publishing, financial and distribution assistance to the tabloids included in the purchase.
In addition to its shaky finances, AMI faced significant legal risk owing to the efforts of Pecker and Howard and their "catch-and-kill" actions during the 2016 presidential campaign. Pecker and Howard entered into nonprosecution agreements with federal investigators to avoid indictments for their role in buying and then burying the story of a former Playboy model who alleged having an affair with Trump.
In August, just as the two men were finalizing those agreements, the company's board of directors started looking for ways to unload the tabloid business "because they didn't want to deal with hassles like this anymore," said a person familiar with the board's deliberations.