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National Enquirer sale rumors swirl as potential buyers emerge

A handful of rumored suitors have emerged as possible buyers for the National Enquirer now that David Pecker’s American Media Inc. officially put it on the block under pressure from principal investor Chatham Asset Management.

Four names have bubbled to the surface: Paul Pope, the son of the National Enquirer founder Generoso Pope Jr., billionaire Ron Burkle, Hudson News CEO James Cohen, and even chief AMI antagonist Jeff Bezos, the head of Amazon and also the owner of the Washington Post.

Among the most intriguing name to surface as a potential buyer — and the only to acknowledge publicly that he is in on the hunt — is Pope, who has hoped to one day regain control ever since the Pope estate sold it in 1989 for $412.5 million. But he’ll need help. He’s been estranged from his mother, Lois Pope, and his five siblings for years.

Former NBC executive Tom Madden, who owns a Boca Raton, Fla.-based p.r. agency TransMedia Group, is said to be helping him try to raise the funding.

“I’m going to see if I can put together a team and help Paul regain his legacy,” said Madden, speaking with Media Ink Thursday. But he said he has not yet approached American Media Inc.

Pope has blasted the management style of Pecker for injecting a political agenda into its coverage.

“When we ran the National Enquirer, it was a lot more powerful than it is today, and that’s due largely to the way the paper is being run by an avid Trump friend and supporter,” Pope told Media Ink.

During its heyday, it was selling 5 million to 6 million copies a week. Today, the Enquirer and the two other smaller tabloids that AMI is selling — the National Examiner and the Globe — are estimated to be selling only several hundred thousand copies a week.

Burkle is a junior partner with AMI in its RadarOnline digital gossip site. The New York Times on Thursday said Burkle was in “deep negotiations” with AMI to buy the Enquirer.

A spokesman for Burkle and his Yucaipa Partners investment group shot that down, telling Media Ink, “We are not buying it.”

Amazon boss Bezos accused the Enquirer in February of an “extortion and blackmail” attempt.

The Enquirer had already published steamy texts between Bezos and his girlfriend, former TV host Lauren Sanchez. And the tabloid was threatening to publish more embarrassing photos unless Bezos issued a statement saying the January bombshell was not “politically motivated.”

The rumor mill said, if Bezos bought it, he would promptly close it. “It would be the ultimate catch and kill,” quipped one celebrity journalism veteran. But a source close to AMI shot down the speculation of a Bezos deal: “That’s idiotic.”

The other rumored name is James Cohen, who still runs Hudson News, a magazine wholesale distributor responsible for getting magazines on racks at transit hubs and airports. In an earlier era, he was a temporary partner of Pecker and AMI when it bought OK! for $20 million. He did not return a call seeking comment.

Anthony Melchiorre, Chatham Asset Management chief and the largest shareholder at AMI, was reportedly “disgusted” by recent Enquirer stories. The speculation was that state pension funds that invest in Chatham were putting pressure on him over its involvement with AMI and its tawdry stories.

No sale price was mentioned, but it is likely to be a fire sale, far below earlier deals.

Said one source, “Pecker’s selling it at the worst possible time. He’s a wounded animal. And the guy who owns most of his debt [Chatham boss Melchiorre] wants out.”

Once the money-losing tabloids are shed, AMI would still have publications including Us Weekly, Men’s Journal, Muscle & Fitness and In Touch.

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