ImageRon Burkle, Billionaire Investor, Is Said to Be in Talks to Buy National Enquirer
The money-losing National Enquirer aided President Trump’s 2016 campaign.CreditCreditJeenah Moon/Reuters

The owners of The National Enquirer have been in talks to sell the tabloid to Ronald W. Burkle, a supermarket magnate with ties to President Bill Clinton, according to three people with direct knowledge of the negotiations.

While representatives of The Enquirer, which is owned by American Media Inc., have been in negotiations with Mr. Burkle’s team, the deal could fall apart, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private negotiations.

Mr. Burkle, who specializes in buying distressed companies, made his initial fortune buying and selling supermarkets in California. In 1999, he helped buy the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey franchise out of bankruptcy; the team has won three Stanley Cup championships since then. In recent years, Mr. Burkle has been a regular in the gossip pages and on the A-list benefit and party circuit, hobnobbing with the likes of Madonna, U2, Sean Combs, Leonardo DiCaprio and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York.

Mr. Burkle and his private equity firm, Yucaipa Companies, did not initially respond to requests for comment. After news of the talks was reported by The New York Times on Thursday, a representative said Mr. Burkle and Yucaipa were not interested in The Enquirer. “Ron Burkle and Yucaipa are not buying The Enquirer,” Frank Quintero, who works at the firm, said in an email. “Furthermore, I’m told we are not in talks to buy it.”

The disclosure of the talks threatened to scuttle them, leaving both sides frustrated that the news had leaked. Two people with direct knowledge of the talks said Mr. Burkle’s team was upset that news of their involvement had been made public, and they felt used by AMI. It is unclear what will happen next, but AMI was pushing to continue the talks.

Mr. Burkle and David J. Pecker, American Media’s chief executive, are said to be friends and have invested in media deals together. Both backed Radar magazine, a short-lived title focused on celebrity and lifestyle that closed in 2008. In his Radar days, Mr. Burkle remained in the shadows, and Yusef Jackson, the son of the civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, was the magazine’s public face.

An acquisition of The Enquirer by Mr. Burkle, a longtime Democratic donor, could raise eyebrows in Washington, given President Trump’s fondness for the tabloid, which he has praised on Twitter.

The Enquirer, which loses money, drew the attention of federal prosecutors for its role in aiding Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign. Mr. Pecker was said to have helped Mr. Trump’s candidacy through a deal to buy a story from a Playboy model who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump.

American Media acquired the story for $150,000 and never published it, following a tabloid industry practice known as catch-and-kill. Federal prosecutors in New York gave Mr. Pecker an immunity deal in its investigation of the arrangement.

American Media’s principal owner, the hedge fund Chatham Asset Management, pressed Mr. Pecker to sell the tabloid after it wound up in investigators’ cross hairs, the people with direct knowledge of the matter said.

ImageRon Burkle, Billionaire Investor, Is Said to Be in Talks to Buy National Enquirer
Ronald W. Burkle at the White House in 2016 after the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup. He is an owner of the hockey team.CreditChip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The hedge fund’s managing partner, Anthony Melchiorre, decided there was no longer a benefit in being associated with The Enquirer. The financial losses provided further motivation for a sale.

Mr. Burkle is not unfamiliar with the rough-and-tumble of tabloid culture. In 2006, he accused a New York Post gossip columnist of demanding a hush payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars to prevent the publication of items about his personal life.

Years earlier, he told federal investigators that the Hollywood private detective Anthony Pellicano had demanded that Mr. Burkle pay as much as $250,000 in exchange for Mr. Pellicano’s agreeing not to investigate him. Mr. Burkle told the F.B.I. that he ultimately became friendly with Mr. Pellicano, providing him with favors.

When Mr. Clinton left office in 2001, he agreed to be an adviser to Mr. Burkle’s investment firm, an arrangement with the potential to yield tens of millions of dollars for the former president. Mr. Clinton’s role at the time was to help find investment opportunities for Yucaipa and to offer the firm a sheen of credibility.

Mr. Trump also calls Mr. Burkle a friend. In October 2017, at a White House event celebrating the Penguins’ Stanley Cup victory, the president praised Mr. Burkle as “a great, great negotiator,” and jokingly asked him to help renegotiate some trade deals for the United States.

Mr. Burkle has been a staunch supporter of labor unions and is a fixture in Los Angeles fund-raising circles. He is a trustee of the National Urban League and a nonprofit focused on human rights started by President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn.

Mr. Burkle has flirted with buying news media companies in the past. He explored making bids for The Wall Street Journal and the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain before backing out. His recent acquisitions have included a controlling interest in the Soho House Group, which runs a line of members-only clubs.

Mr. Burkle’s attempts to close high-profile deals have fizzled in the past. Mr. Burkle and another investor agreed to a $500 million deal to buy the Weinstein Company last year, only to pull out at the 11th hour. A Dallas-based investment group eventually won rights to the studio.

After The Enquirer drew the attention of law enforcement, American Media signed a non-prosecution deal with federal prosecutors. As part of the agreement, the company affirmed that it had made the payment to the Playboy model, Karen McDougal, to “influence the election.” The deal, signed in September, also stipulated that American Media “shall commit no crimes whatsoever” for three years and that, if it did, the company “shall thereafter be subject to prosecution for any federal criminal violation of which this office has knowledge.”

That agreement has put American Media in a difficult position, now that federal prosecutors have started investigating claims by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, that he was threatened by the company, according to two people with knowledge of the investigation. Mr. Bezos, who accused American Media of extortion in a blog post, is to meet with federal prosecutors in New York as early as this week, one of the people said.

The feud between Mr. Bezos and American Media goes back to January, when The Enquirer ran an 11-page story headlined “Bezos’ Divorce! The Cheating Photos That Ended His Marriage.” The article included furtively snapped photographs of Mr. Bezos in the company of his girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez, and transcriptions of the multibillionaire’s amorous texts.

Despite his interest in media properties, Mr. Burkle has granted interviews infrequently.

“It doesn’t do me any good for people to know about me or know what I’m doing,” he said in a rare interview with Talk magazine over a decade ago. “If you’re low key, I think you can get a lot more done.”

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