Next Up for a Trump Tabloid Ally: Trying to Make It in the Hamptons
Next Up for a Trump Tabloid Ally: Trying to Make It in the Hamptons
In late May, the luxury brand Ferragamo threw a launch party to celebrate the Grazia Gazette: The Hamptons — the latest free publication in one of the country’s wealthiest enclaves.
Most guests did not know that they were also celebrating a comeback.
Grazia’s American operation, Grazia USA, is run by Dylan Howard, the disgraced National Enquirer editor who played a key role in suppressing stories about Donald Trump’s affairs during his presidential campaign, helped Harvey Weinstein dig up dirt on his accusers and, in Jeff Bezos’s telling, threatened the Amazon owner with blackmail.
At the party for Mr. Howard’s new venture, young stars and social media influencers mingled while sipping a custom rosé. Some sang along to Olivia Rodrigo’s “Driver’s License.”
They knew the lyrics, but not much about the man behind the event.
“I have never heard of him,” said Isaac Hindin-Miller, the DJ, in a phone call afterward.
“I was more there as a guest of Ferragamo,” said Jenné Lombardo, a marketing consultant who went with her husband, Harvey Newton-Haydon, a model.
“I don’t know Howard or anything about him,” Julia Moshy, who works for the private club Casa Cipriani and maintains a robust social media following, wrote in an email.
A Dylan Howard primer: During his time as the top editor of The Enquirer, a job he held for more than five years, Mr. Howard used his position to help suppress coverage of Mr. Trump’s reported extramarital affairs, including buying one woman’s story and then burying it in a journalistic maneuver known as “catch and kill.” The company later admitted that the payment amounted to an illegal campaign contribution, and Mr. Howard emerged unscathed after cooperating with federal prosecutors.
Mr. Howard also dispatched a reporter to help collect hostile information on the actress Rose McGowan, who had made veiled references to misconduct by Mr. Weinstein. (Ms. McGowan later said the producer had raped her in a hotel room in 1997 — Mr. Weinstein has denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex.)
Soon after leaving American Media last year, Mr. Howard started a new company, Pantheon Media Group. Pantheon later struck a licensing agreement with the Mondadori Group, the biggest publisher in Italy and the backer of the Grazia fashion magazine franchise, to publish Grazia in the United States. The Grazia Gazette: The Hamptons is among the first projects.
The model Ambra Battilana, who had been invited to the party, was aware of Mr. Howard’s background. She said she was relieved she had not attended.
Ms. Battilana has accused Mr. Weinstein of sexually assaulting her during a meeting in his TriBeCa office. The next day she recorded Mr. Weinstein apologizing to her. The Enquirer unsuccessfully tried to buy Ms. Battilana’s story at the time. (Mr. Weinstein was found guilty of sex crimes against two women last year and sentenced to 23 years in prison.)
Given all that, Mr. Howard’s involvement in the Surf Lodge party did not sit well with Ms. Battilana, who spends most summer weekends in the Hamptons and goes to the Surf Lodge frequently. (Mr. Howard also has a home in Springs, a hamlet in the Hamptons, which he bought for $1.1 million at the end of 2017, according to public records.)
“I think this is completely horrendous,” she said. “I will be asking who is connected, because I really want to get to the bottom of understanding who was the person who would allow such a person to get in.”
In a statement, a spokeswoman for Ferragamo said: “Salvatore Ferragamo has a longstanding relationship with Grazia titles globally and recently expanded that to partner on the launch issue of the Gazette with a dinner co-hosted by editor in chief David Thielebeule and cover star Madelyn Cline, not Dylan Howard.” (Ms. Cline is an actress and one of the stars of Netflix’s “Outer Banks.”)
Grazia Gazette: The Hamptons is just one part of Mr. Howard’s reinvention plan. He is trying to raise money to “buy the entire Grazia brand worldwide,” according to a copy of his financing proposal reviewed by The New York Times, with whom Mr. Howard did not wish to discuss his new business ventures. He initially agreed to clarify his future plans over lunch, only to cancel through a publicist, Howard Bragman, several days later.
“Mr. Howard would of course like to grow his business, including his successful collaboration with Grazia,” Mr. Bragman said in an email. In a separate email, Mr. Howard’s lawyer, Mitchell Schuster, called The Times’s characterization of Mr. Howard’s fund-raising efforts “not correct as stated and misleading.”
Maer Roshan, the editor of Los Angeles Magazine and the former editor of Radar, which Mr. Howard took over in 2009 and transformed into something more akin to the gossip site TMZ, was among those in the media who were incredulous at Mr. Howard’s attempted comeback.
How “does this dude come back with this glossy magazine and roster of A-list advertisers?” he wondered.
Since leaving American Media when his contract expired on March 31, 2020, Mr. Howard has acquired the website for OK Magazine, as well as Radar Online. Both were formerly owned by American Media.
Mr. Howard has also continued a sideline he started in 2018 as an author of true-crime books for Skyhorse, which is distributed by Simon & Schuster. Working in collaboration with other authors, but with his name receiving top billing, he has come out with more than half a dozen books, including, “Epstein: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” “Covid-19: The Greatest Cover-Up in History” and “Diana: Case Solved.”
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In an email, Tony Lyons, Skyhorse’s president and publisher, called Mr. Howard a “dogged investigator and a talented storyteller.”
There is also podcasting. This month, PodcastOne, the producer of “The Adam Carolla Show,” “The Dan Abrams Podcast” and more than 200 other audio series, announced that it had reached a deal with Mr. Howard’s Empire Media to create six limited series and eight weekly programs.
One company that won’t do business with Mr. Howard is the dating app Bumble, which removed his profile earlier this year after a woman complained about his work for Mr. Weinstein, according to two people with knowledge of the matter (Mr. Schuster, the lawyer, said Mr. Howard chose to remove his profile for “unrelated reasons” and said he did not “work for” Mr. Weinstein).
Mr. Howard grew up in Geelong, Australia, a city southwest of Melbourne, and started his career at a local paper. From there he became a sports reporter for Channel 7 in Melbourne before coming to the United States in 2009.
After a stint as a producer at Reuters in New York, he joined American Media, which owned a number of celebrity gossip sites and publications, including the supermarket tabloid Star and RadarOnline. Under Mr. Howard, RadarOnline turned into a celebrity scoop machine, posting audio recordings of Mel Gibson’s vitriolic tirades and other Hollywood dirt.
In 2011, he tied for entertainment Journalist of the Year at the annual Los Angeles Press Club awards. “In the world of celebrity and entertainment news, even mainstream media couldn’t ignore exclusive stories broken under Dylan Howard’s tenure as senior executive editor of RadarOnline,” the judges wrote.
Mr. Howard left American Media in 2012. The Associated Press reported that his departure came after an external investigation into his workplace behavior. (The company said he was cleared of any wrongdoing.) The next year he returned to American Media, whose chief executive was David Pecker, a friend of Donald J. Trump, and he soon became the company’s chief content officer. That job gave him oversight of The Enquirer as well as Us Weekly, Globe and OK!, among other publications.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, headlines in The Enquirer lionized Mr. Trump and belittled his political rivals. In addition, as The Wall Street Journal was first to report, American Media made a $150,000 payment to the former Playboy model Karen McDougal in return for the rights to her story of an affair with Mr. Trump. The Enquirer never ran that story.
Mr. Howard also worked with Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former lawyer, on a deal that silenced another woman, Stormy Daniels, who also said she had sex with Mr. Trump, who has denied having sex with either woman.
In an email, Mr. Bragman added that Mr. Howard had been “ORDERED BY MANAGEMENT” to help suppress coverage of Mr. Trump’s affairs. But in a follow-up email, Mr. Schuster, Mr. Howard’s lawyer, said that Mr. Bragman’s comment was not authorized by Mr. Howard.
“Please disregard Mr. Bragman’s comment and confirm that it will not be included in your article,” he wrote. “Thank you.”
American Media ultimately admitted that its payment to Ms. McDougal violated campaign finance law. Mr. Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison. Mr. Howard, along with Mr. Pecker, entered into a nonprosecution agreement with the government and cooperated with its investigation.
The agreement remained in effect only if American Media did nothing to break the law for three years. In 2019, Mr. Bezos, the Amazon founder, accused the company of blackmail after it had published an 11-page exposé of his extramarital affair with the former TV personality Lauren Sanchez headlined “Bezos’ Divorce! The Cheating Photos That Ended His Marriage.”
The story led to a public spat in which Mr. Bezos accused the tabloid’s leaders of “extortion and blackmail” in a lengthy post on Medium. The multibillionaire quoted from a letter sent to him by Mr. Howard. In the letter, as quoted by Mr. Bezos, Mr. Howard described the supposedly compromising photographs The Enquirer had in its possession, including a “below-the-belt selfie.”
No one was charged in the matter. Mr. Schuster called Mr. Bezos’ post on Medium “self-serving and inaccurate,” and said that Mr. Howard’s reporting was “fair and accurate.”
Now, a little more than a year since Mr. Howard made his exit from American Media, Grazia Gazette: The Hamptons appeared in stacks along Main Street in East Hampton.
Distributed free, it has a lot of competition in a place where there is no shortage of gratis publications aimed at wealthy readers, a boomlet fueled by ad dollars from real estate agencies promoting multimillion-dollar listings.
“Most of them are thrown in the garbage,” said the author Steven Gaines, a resident of East Hampton who has written extensively on the area’s history. “Some people pick them up and look at them, but there’s really nothing interesting.”
The lucky ones have a rack under an awning, or a place on an indoor windowsill. The unlucky ones get tossed on doorsteps, rained on and thrown away.
Lynn A. Scotti, a president and group publisher at Modern Luxury Media, which publishes Hamptons Magazine, is aware of the new entrant in the field. She said she had seen the Grazia Gazette “out wet,” adding: “We welcome healthy competition and I wish him the best.”
The editor and publisher Dan Rattiner, who has run Dan’s Papers, a Hamptons local news publication, for more than 60 years, said of the free glossies: “They come and go. There are so many of them, it’s hard to tell one from another.”
Mr. Roshan, the editor, expressed surprise that luxury advertisers would sign on with a publication run by Mr. Howard at a time when “people have been canceled and cast out for far less.”
But Joseph Montag, the managing director of the Topping Rose House, a hotel and restaurant and a not infrequent filming location for “The Real Housewives of New York City,” suggested that people in the Hamptons were not likely to be bothered by Mr. Howard’s efforts to bury the accounts of the women who had accused Mr. Weinstein of sexual assault or told of their affairs with Mr. Trump.
“People out here are used to those sorts of things,” Mr. Montag said, adding that Matt Lauer, the former NBC anchor who was fired by the network after accusations of sexual assault, was still out and about in the Hamptons.
Mr. Gaines, the Hamptons chronicler, seemed to be of two minds.
“If he wants to reinvent himself, he should go to Miami,” he said. “They forgive everything down there.”
But then again, the Hamptons-specific media market is crowded.
“If he took his bad-boy reputation out here and he used that, he exploited that, to make a different type of magazine,” Mr. Gaines continued, “I think people would read that.”
Lauren Hirsch and Michael Rothfeld contributed reporting. Susan Beachy contributed research.