Just about everyone my age or older remembers how awesome Carol Burnett’s show was. She is a national treasure and one of our most iconic entertainers. I don’t think it mattered if a person was young or old, liberal or conservative or whatever characteristic one might choose. People knew of her and admired her. She ended each show with the first verse of this eventual full sign off. I can assure those of you too young to have had the privilege of watching her show back then that Carol wasn’t the only one glad we had that time together.
She was smart, talented, funny and it turns out tough as nails. She was still hugely well known and popular in 1976 when the National Enquirer (a scumball rag even then) chose to slander her, claiming she ran around a restaurant (where Henry Kissinger was also dining — a way to hype their “story”) in a drunken state. IOW the kind of made up sensationalistic bullshit the National Enquirer has always published. Trashing celebrities has always been their stock in trade. But they made a mistake in taking on Burnett. They counted on her laughing it off and/or brushing it aside and then counting their money from the increased sales the headline of that issue screamed out at folks in the supermarket checkout line. To the Enquirer’s consternation, then embarrassment and financial pain Burnett did what others like her didn’t.
Carol Burnett sued the National Enquirer. And won. The original judgment awarded $300,000 in compensatory damages and 1.3 million in punitive damages for a total of 1.6 million. The punitive damages would eventually be reduced as the Appeals Court noted it amounted to 35% of the National Enquirer’s worth. Too bad. Still, for the time it was a sizeable judgment, and against a rag that no one thought it was possible to beat no matter how outrageous a claim they made about a famous person. In addition to the just cited Wikipedia link, the NY Times had a nice write up of the matter in 1981.
So what was it all about? A short blurb published in March 1996. From the Wikipedia link above:
In March of that year, the National Enquirer published a short item about the incident, “Carol Burnett and Henry K. in Row”. It read, in its entirety:
In a Washington restaurant, a boisterous Carol Burnett had a loud argument with another diner, Henry Kissinger. Then she traipsed around the place offering everyone a bite of her dessert. But Carol really raised eyebrows when she accidentally knocked a glass of wine over one diner and started giggling instead of apologizing. The guy wasn’t amused and ‘accidentally’ spilled a glass of water over Carol’s dress.
That’s all the Enquirer wrote. And it blew up in their faces. When they realized Burnett wasn’t going to let it go they even tried publishing a “retraction” the following month hoping it would bring them back within the boundaries of “journalism” and libel law:
“An item in this column on March 2 erroneously reported that Carol Burnett had an argument with Henry Kissinger at a Washington restaurant and became boisterous, disturbing other guests. We understand these events did not occur and we are sorry for any embarrassment our report may have caused Miss Burnett.”
That wasn’t nearly good enough as far as Burnett was concerned and she took them to court & proved the Enquirer had acted with malice by presenting testimony from their own employees showing the “newspaper” hadn’t made anything resembling a good faith journalistic effort to check out the facts.
What Carol Burnett did (sue the Enquirer) was almost unthinkable. Kicking their ass in court and prevailing upon appeal even more so. I recall a sort of funny book inspired by a dumbass macho quote from long ago: “Real men don’t eat quiche.” Someone got the idea to write a “real man’s cookbook” titled Real Men Cook Quiche that had actually guy type recipes with attempts at humor (some better than others) thrown in. Two things from that little paperback still stand out in my mind. The first is “A real man knows a balanced diet consists of a quarter pounder with cheese in each hand” — typical of the kind of humor in the book. The other was (paraphrasing) that Carol Burnett qualified as an honorary real man for taking on the National Enquirer and winning!
The National Enquirer would sadly continue to go on writing outrageous bullshit including making up stuff about famous people but for a while at least they learned to be a bit more careful.
Then David Pecker came along. I don’t know if what happened so long ago with Burnett kicking his rag’s ass had anything to do with it but Pecker collected a lot of dirt with which to threaten people. He was no J Edgar Hoover but apparently sleazy enough and determined enough to gather stuff that people really, really never wanted to see the light of day — and would pay (in one form or another) to keep out of the news. It seems he got away with his extortion for a long time. However, it caught up to him thanks to the deal he made with Trump years ago. Mueller found out about it. So, Pecker cut himself a deal to save his own ass and that of his flagship publication but he might have gone full Manafort and screwed himself (and the Enquirer) by threatening Jeff Bezos.
Bezos is the richest guy in the world and owns one of the premier newspapers in the world. There’s an old saying that one shouldn’t pick a fight with someone (a newspaper or news magazine) that buys ink by the barrel. That’s part of how the National Enquirer and other rags have survived and prospered for so long. The problem for Pecker is that the Washington Post buys a lot more barrels of ink so to speak. Oops.
Worse for Pecker, Bezos could buy him and his rag of a “newspaper” for tip money. Double oops. Finally, Bezos has already been hit in his divorce and embarrassing pictures from an affair while troubling isn’t that big a deal in the grand scheme of things for Bezos. Jeff Bezos sized up the situation and basically told Pecker “You want to play? Game on asshole!”
Jeff Bezos has taken Carol Burnett’s libel bet and raised it from slander to (possible) criminal behavior.
Where this could get really interesting and fun for folks like us is that this time the stakes are far larger than when Burnett decided to cut the National Enquirer down to size. The Burnett case was purely a civil matter. It’s possible that might (years from now) turn out to be the case here too. But according to some of the commentary I’ve been hearing from actual lawyers on TV (who have actual prosecutorial experience) federal laws may well have been violated here. Extortion. Interstate transmission of threats, the latter of which it’s been suggested might lead to Pecker’s attorney facing disbarment. Bezos has resources Pecker can only dream of and Bezos is pissed off. He can grind down AMI and David Pecker in court/legal fees to the point of personal and corporate bankruptcy. And just for the fun of it and to make a larger point to the sleaze “journalists” in general it’s time to STFU and go away. Or back way the hell off and/or tone down the bullshit and conspiracy stoking lies. Alex Jones is already in deep shit from Sandy Hook parents and these new legal goings on about what constitutes actual journalism and what’s sensationalist bullshit that’s nothing more than lies packaged in a way to gain ill-gotten profits may be his “death” blow.
In a larger sense if Bezos fights this the way it looks like he intends to it will put a lot of outlets on the defensive. No, they won’t all go away any more than the National Enquirer and similar rags did after Carol Burnett pressed them in court and won. However in my view just making them be a lot more careful in what they say/do is something tangible and good.
Oh, I also want to reiterate that it’s possible Pecker has violated the terms of his deal with Mueller/SDNY. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would take great pleasure in them going back to the Judge and making the case that the deal is off and getting the Court’s permission to (pun intended) nail Pecker to the wall. One question I’ve heard posed is rooted in the premise that what Pecker and his lawyer did threatening Bezos and the Washington Post was made out of desperation. Certainly, a freaking lawyer putting such a transparent threat in an email is bat-shit crazy. What on earth could have made them so desperate to try and shut down Bezos/the Post as soon as possible?
IOW what information has the Post uncovered or is on the verge of uncovering/confirming (like a real freaking news outlet is supposed to do!) that has Pecker running scared? A further question being posed is whether Pecker is getting pressure from someone else to make the Post stop. And who that might be, including the possibility that Trump is leaning on his onetime best bud. Or the Saudis are putting on the pressure to preserve their shady goings on with Kushner and Trump — and that the connection can be proven. Bottom line — Pecker (through his lawyer) is desperate to shut down the Post’s reporting. What is he hiding?
I hope I’m right in thinking we may be about to see a whole new level of deepness of the shit Team Trump has found itself immersed in. Hold on tight folks. This could be yet another wild ride, and since much of it will take place more publicly than what’s going on with Mueller.