Filmmaker and director of Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer Mark Landsman had never paid much attention to the tabloid subject of his documentary—at least not outside of the “hilarious” TV commercials for it that ran while he was growing up.
That changed in 2015.
“I started to realize, at any checkout line that I was in, the intense bias of the messaging that was happening on the cover of these papers that I was used to seeing featuring Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson, or Liz Taylor, or aliens,” he said. “It just felt bizarre to me.”
Leading up to the 2016 presidential election, the National Enquirer published numerous favorable cover stories about Republican candidate Donald Trump. Meanwhile, it depicted Hillary Clinton as ill, addicted to drugs, or headed for jail.
In 2015, most people had never heard the name David Pecker. Pecker was the chairman and CEO of American Media, Inc., the Enquirer’s publisher up until the company sold the publication to James Cohen, CEO of Hudson News Distributors, for roughly $100 million in April 2019. (Neither AMI nor Hudson News responded to Fortune’s requests for comment.)
Now, Pecker may not be a household name, but he’s a known entity. He’s made the news for receiving immunity after testifying in a federal investigation that the Enquirer “caught and killed” the story of Karen McDougal’s alleged affair with Trump—“catch and kill” refers to news organizations securing the rights to often scandalous stories only to purposefully bury them. This came right on the heels of Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen’s testimony that he’d arranged to pay both McDougal and Stephanie Clifford, a.k.a. Stormy Daniels, for staying quiet about their alleged affairs with Trump. One former Enquirer reporter in Scandalous went so far as to call Trump the tabloid’s “silent editor.”
Pecker has also appeared in pieces about how the Enquirer sought to expose personally invasive stories. The publication under Pecker blackmailed Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, threatening to publish embarrassing photos and text messages detailing his affair with former news anchor Lauren Sanchez.
As detailed in Scandalous, the National Enquirer has gotten close to pretty much every major American scandal since its tabloid makeover in the 1950s, when Generoso Pope Jr. bought the then-struggling outlet. Tailored to tantalize the average American—described in Scandalous by Enquirer staff as “Missy Smith from Kansas City”—the publication used shock and awe tactics to enthrall readers. Those tactics, the documentary suggests, have since trickled down to other publications today.
Scandalous aims to draw attention to the role the Enquirer played in shaping current American culture, politics, and media. “We wanted the viewer to walk away feeling complicit in this type of journalism,” says Courtney Sexton, SVP of CNN Films and Scandalous executive producer. “The National Enquirer only exists because we demand it. TMZ only exists because we demand it. … I would have to imagine that [the Enquirer] has influenced every publication to pay attention to what people want to consume.”
‘Straight out of Ocean’s 11’
In 2017, after Landsman started noticing the Enquirer’s newfound political bent, his wife’s best friend invited him and his wife to dinner with her father, who turned out to be Malcolm Balfour, a former Enquirer reporter. Hired in 1972 as an article editor, Balfour said that his job was to “come up with the far out kind of stories [the Enquirer] had in those days.”
“His stories were unbelievable,” Landsman said. “He talked about things like espionage and disguises and checkbook journalism, bribes.” Balfour told a story of Jacqueline Kennedy and Aristotle Onassis arriving in a yacht at Palm Beach only for the Enquirer to attempt attaching a recording device underneath the yacht to eavesdrop on the pair. “It didn’t work, and we wound up not doing it,” Balfour said. “But there were so many of these stories.”
“It was straight out of an Ocean’s 11 movie,” said Landsman. This is when it clicked for him that the Enquirer’s activities would make for a great film.
Balfour introduced Landsman to other former Enquirer reporters, many who had “cut their teeth on Fleet Street,” the U.K.’s former journalism hub. Landsman was “absolutely fascinated” with them, Balfour said. Then, in April 2018, Ronan Farrow published a story in The New Yorker about the Enquirer and AMI suppressing stories that would have been damaging to Trump while he was running for president.
Landsman pitched the documentary to CNN Films, and they went for it. Sexton thought the film had a “great mix of being entertaining but also having an important message grounded in something that is culturally relevant.”
Making the movie proved a sort of balancing act. Landsman and CNN Films had to respect that their subjects who used to report at the Enquirer sometimes got the story right, while also showing how damaging and unethical a lot of the methods were. For instance, the Enquirer helped police with the O.J. Simpson case by finding pictures of him wearing the shoes that left prints at the scene where Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Simpson, and Ron Goldman were found murdered. On the other hand, according to former Enquirer staff interviewed in Scandalous, the publication’s reporters essentially fed a murder confession to the woman who sold drugs to John Belushi before he died. The documentary also shows how the tabloid was widely seen as complicit in the exploitative paparazzi culture that the public blamed for Princess Diana’s death.
More recent scandals involving the Enquirer under Pecker required a sort of write-around in the documentary. “No one from the current AMI universe would talk to us,” Landsman said, including Pecker and former Enquirer editor-in-chief Dylan Howard. About five former Enquirer employees said they “wished” they could talk for the film, according to Landsman, but couldn’t because they had signed nondisclosure agreements.
Other former Enquirer reporters asked to be paid for participating in the film, according to Landsman, which he and his team refused to do. “The only thing we paid for was archival,” he said. The film used footage from more than 100 different archive houses, Landsman estimated.
Landsman wasn’t surprised that “old school” Enquirer reporters asked for payment in exchange for their information. Paying sources was—and apparently remains—a regular practice at the Enquirer. What did surprise Landsman as he made Scandalous was “the kinds of bargains people strike with themselves.” Some of the former Enquirer reporters interviewed in the film had previously worked at news organizations like Reuters and the Chicago Sun-Times, where activities like bribing sources would have been considered a highly unethical practice. They decided to leave those publications for the Enquirer, where they got to fly on private jets at a moment’s notice to get the story, bags of cash to bribe sources in hand.
“It’s pretty shocking, and makes you hopefully, as a viewer, feel a little bit icky about what it takes to get these stories that we can’t turn our eyes away from,” Sexton said. One example in the documentary is how the Enquirer handsomely paid Elvis Presley’s cousin to snap a picture of the rock star in his coffin.
An impact on journalism and more
“The most interesting thing,” said Landsman, “is that some of those guys, to this day, will say, ‘I am absolutely a journalist.’” Even though many former Enquirer reporters engaged in journalistically unethical practices, as they recounted in Scandalous, they felt they were doing their jobs. The documentary also features interviews with non-tabloid journalists like Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman, and Ken Auletta, a longtime New Yorker writer. In the film, each addresses the tabloid’s massive influence on American culture and media, while also pointing out some of its more damaging practices. Bernstein called the publication’s relationship with Trump “the ultimate corruption,” while Haberman said the Enquirer’s practice of “silencing women with hush payments” is something she “had never heard of before.”
Watch clips from Scandalous here:
Scandalous illustrates Pecker’s social-climbing friendship with Trump (he’s a “short guy who wants to be taller,” Auletta says of the former CEO in the film), and the president’s long-term influence on the paper. Decades ago, the documentary states, Trump would send the Enquirer celebrity story tips under false names, before he became a subject of the tabloid himself, and, eventually, the tabloid’s so-called “silent editor.” (Where Landsman’s documentary leaves off, Farrow’s new book Catch and Kill picks right up, delving even deeper into the tabloid’s practices and its April sale, which some suggest may have left the Enquirer in the hands of more than just known purchaser Cohen.)
Landsman hopes Scandalous will get people thinking more about the value of their media consumption. The film—which Magnolia Pictures is releasing Nov. 15—is not just a documentary about an influential tabloid. It’s a cautionary tale about the future of media, and how it can affect a country’s culture and politics.
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Gov’t finds fewer Filipinos poor in 2018
FEWER FILIPINOS were mired in poverty in 2018, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported on Friday.
The PSA’s full-year 2018 official poverty data placed poverty incidence among individuals — the proportion of Filipinos whose incomes fell below the poverty threshold — at 16.6%, compared to the revised 23.3% recorded in 2015.
The data were derived from the Family Income and Expenditure Surveys (FIES) which the PSA conducts every three years. The latest FIES 2018, which used a sample size of around 180,000 households, incorporated revisions for the 2015 full-year poverty figures due to the rebasing of the consumer price index market basket prices to 2012 from 2006 as well as the adoption of the 2015 census results for the weights in the FIES.
The latest poverty result translates to a reduction of around 5.9 million poor individuals to 17.6 million in 2018 compared to 23.5 million in 2015.
Likewise, poverty incidence among Filipino families — or the proportion of those whose incomes fell below the poverty threshold — went down to 12.1% from 17.9%.
The subsistence incidence among Filipinos — or the proportion of those whose incomes fell below the monthly food threshold — likewise went down to 5.2% in 2018 from 9.1% in 2015.
The subsistence incidence among families — or the proportion of those in extreme poverty — improved to 3.4% from 6.4%.
The food threshold is defined as the minimum income required to meet basic food needs and satisfy the nutritional requirements “for economically necessary and socially desirable physical activities.”
Similarly, the poverty threshold is defined as the minimum income needed to meet basic food and non-food requirements.
The per capita poverty threshold in 2018 was P2,145.36 per month as compared to P1,890.44 per month in 2015.
Meanwhile, the monthly poverty threshold for a family of five members was P10,726.79 versus P9,452.18 in 2015.
The per capita food threshold was P1,505.6 per month in 2018 as compared to P1,321.01 in 2015. For a family of five, the monthly food threshold in 2018 was P7,528.02 versus P6,605.07 in 2015.
On average, incomes of poor families were short by 21.8% of the poverty threshold in 2018, the PSA noted.
This means that, on average, an additional monthly income of P2,338 was needed by a poor family with five members in order to move out of poverty in 2018.
“With a poverty reduction rate of 2.23 percentage points per annum, we are not only on track to meet our [Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022] target of bringing down poverty incidence to 14% by 2022. We are also likely to meet the Sustainable Development Goal or SDG target of eradicating extreme poverty as defined by the international poverty line and cutting by half the proportion of the population living below the national poverty line by 2030,” said National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Officer-in-Charge Adoracion M. Navarro.
“In fact, we have almost reached our target to lift 6 million Filipinos out of poverty by 2022 as 5.9 million have already been lifted out of poverty as of 2018,” added Ms. Navarro, who is also NEDA’s undersecretary for Regional Development.
The NEDA official added that the reduction in poverty rates is “largely attributed” to “improved labor market conditions” that drove up the salaries and wages of the poor.
“With a vibrant economy that continues to generate good jobs, the mean salaries and wages for the population went up by 22.8% to P156,114 in 2018, from P127,122 in 2015. For those in the bottom 30% of the population, mean per capita income increased by 31.87%. This outpaced the 18% income growth experienced by the top 20% of households. This is a good sign that our programs targeting the poor are working well,” Ms. Navarro said.
Security Bank Corp. Chief Economist Robert Dan J. Roces said the latest poverty result “jives” with the recently-released data on unemployment and underemployment.
“Better job opportunities on the back of improved labor market conditions, better wages, and some form of relaxed taxation have contributed to better incomes for poor households. The latter, however, remains the most at-risk relative to sudden jumps in inflation especially in staples such as rice and other foodstuff,” Mr. Roces said in an e-mail.
“Additionally, most of the unbanked come from the poorer households and these have no access to formal financial services. Financial literacy and inclusion must be able to target them if we are to strive for a 14% poverty incidence target by 2022,” he added.
For Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. Economist Michael L. Ricafort, the latest poverty result “was a pleasant surprise.”
“The lower poverty incidence… may have been fundamentally brought about by improved economic conditions that are conducive in creating more jobs and business opportunities to more individuals… thereby resulting in increased incomes and spending power that led to greater growth in consumer spending which accounts for about 70% of the economy,” he said.
Asked for his outlook, Mr. Ricafort said that poverty incidence may continue to improve in the coming years amid the economy’s improved fundamentals as well as “improved demographics.”
“With more Filipinos already reaching working age, this fundamentally led to lower poverty incidence amid increased incomes, productivity, and spending in the population, thereby supporting increased economic activities, faster economic growth and higher per capita income,” he said.
However, he cited major risks to this outlook such as (1) delays in the passage of the national budget that would lead to government underspending on infrastructure projects, social services, and poverty reduction programs; and (2) the lingering US-China trade war as they disrupted local industries “that are part of exporters’ supply/value chains” thereby indirectly reducing employment. — Carmina Angelica V. Olano and Edwin C. Aruta, Jr.
CIBC, TD close bleak Q4 earning season with lower profit, higher loss provisions
TORONTO — Canada’s banking sector closed out its fourth-quarter earnings season Thursday with CIBC and TD providing more evidence of a challenging economic environment.
Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce reported $1.19 billion of net profit in the fourth quarter, down six per cent from the comparable period of 2018, while its adjusted earnings of $2.84 per share came in below analyst estimates.
CIBC’s revenue for the three months ended Oct. 31 was $4.77 billion, up from $4.45 billion in last year’s fourth quarter, when it had $1.27 billion of net income, or $2.80 per share, and $3 per share of adjusted earnings.
TD Bank Group’s adjusted earnings also missed analyst estimates as net profit slipped three per cent to $2.86 billion, or $1.54 per share, in the quarter ending Oct. 31, down from $2.96 billion or $1.58 per share a year earlier
Among other things, the banks increased their provisions for credit losses substantially compared with last year, when PCLs were historically low.
At TD, PCL for the quarter was $891 million, an increase of $221 million or 33 per cent, compared with the fourth quarter last year. At CIBC, PCL rose 52 per cent to $402 million from $264 million a year earlier.
CIBC’s quarter was also negatively affected by a $135-million goodwill impairment charge related to the expected sale of its controlling interest in FirstCaribbean International Bank Ltd.
CIBC’s net profit amounted to $2.58 per share while adjusted earnings were $2.84 per share.
Analysts had estimated $3.06 per share of adjusted profit, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.
“Our core businesses delivered pre-provision earnings growth of four per cent. However, our higher provisions for credit losses this quarter affected our bottom line results,” CIBC chief executive Victor Dodig told analysts.
“While provisions have increased, we remain confident in the quality of our loan portfolio going forward.”
Laura Dottori-Attanasio, the bank’s chief risk officer, said that the quarter’s PCLs included $330 million of provisions for impaired loans and $72 million of provisions for performing loans.
The higher provision for impaired loans was primarily due to one fraud-related impairment that amounted to $52 million in CIBC’s business-government portfolio. The higher provision for performing loans was primarily due to changes in forward-looking indicators amid an increase in delinquency rates at its Canadian consumer portfolios.
“The increase is mainly in insured mortgages and secured lines of credit within personal lending that have conservative collateral coverage. As such, we do not expect them to translate into notable losses,” she said.
Dodig concluded the CIBC call by saying the bank is focused on improving the performance of its businesses.
“We did not deliver what we wanted to deliver to our shareholders and we’re focused on getting the bank back to earnings growth in 2020. That’s the preliminary occupation of the leadership team.”
In answer to an analyst question, Dodig said there are opportunities for CIBC to simplify its operations and improve efficiencies.
“And while we prefer to execute this gradually over the normal course. We continue to review all our options, and that could potentially require a charge down the line in order to accelerate our progress.”
Bank of Montreal, which also reported lower fourth quarter profit and higher provisions for credit losses on Tuesday, said it took a $357-million restructuring charge — mostly severance for about five per cent of its global workforce — as a result of a decision to accelerate digitization initiatives and simplification of its business.
CIBC shares were down $6 or 5.2 per cent at $108.83 in midday trading at the Toronto Stock Exchange.
TD shares were down $2.36 or 3.1 per cent to $73.31.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 05, 2019.
Companies in this story: (TSX:CM, TSX:TD. TSX:BMO)
David Paddon, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version provided incorrect information about TD’s provision for credit losses.
Sage Shareholders Face Classic Biotech Investor Dilemma
(Bloomberg Opinion) — Investors in Sage Therapeutics Inc. woke up Thursday to every biotech investor’s nightmare. The company’s closely watched lead medicine, SAGE-217, failed to hit a key mark in a critical trial in patients with major depressive disorder. The stock was down a bruising 55% in early trading, cutting the firm’s market value by more than $4 billion. Investors have a tough decision to make. They could join the many abandoning ship, assuming that the drug isn’t as effective as hoped and that additional continuing studies of the drug may fail. Or they can see this as a buying opportunity of an oversold stock. Sage’s executives spent a call with analysts Thursday outlining several reasons for optimism, and depression trials are notoriously difficult and fickle. Eating a significant loss or betting on recovery will both take a strong stomach.Drugs to treat depression almost always have a tough path to market. Patient improvement is difficult to assess, placebo effects are real and variable, and it’s hard to ensure drug compliance. Plenty of drugs have succeeded in mid-stage trials only to run into difficulty when tested in a larger population. Sage’s drug is both riskier and more promising because it takes a novel approach to treating the condition rapidly. Sage has a few explanations for why the drug failed this study even though it succeeded in a late-stage trial in postpartum depression patients earlier this year. Some patients may not have taken the drug as directed or at all, which could have influenced results. The study also included a higher proportion of patients with less severe symptoms than previous tests. Sage also pointed to the fact that the drug worked better at interim endpoints as evidence that the drug is active and that the study was “directionally” positive. Optimistic investors may find this convincing. But there are plenty of valid reasons for the stock sell-off, too. The drug’s impact was substantially less pronounced than in previous studies, which may mean that it simply isn’t that potent and raises concerns that its effect may fade over time. Even compelling after-the-fact explanations of failed trials are somewhat unreliable. The company’s positive earlier trial in patients with major depressive disorder looked at a small number of patients; it may have exaggerated the drug’s impact. If the medicine does make it to market, it may treat a narrower group of patients than the company had once anticipated. Sage could mount a comeback in a generally buoyant biotech market if future trials confirm that this failure was an unlucky fluke or if regulators are receptive to its various arguments. That’s a ride for only brave and patient investors; another failure would be received even less kindly than this one, and even good depression drugs are a gamble. To contact the author of this story: Max Nisen at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Daniel Niemi at email@example.comThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Max Nisen is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering biotech, pharma and health care. He previously wrote about management and corporate strategy for Quartz and Business Insider.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
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