Opinion

Karen McDougal’s CNN Interview Definitely Violated Her Contract, But She’ll Still Come Out Ahead


One-time Playmate of the Year Karen McDougal may be just about to learn some of the finer points of contract law, courtesy of her former lover, Donald Trump. On Thursday night, McDougal followed up on her bombshell interview with Ronan Farrow, by sitting down for an exclusive interview on CNN with Anderson Cooper. After recounting a few choice details about her alleged 10-month relationship with Donald Trump (such as how Trump reportedly offered to pay her after their first sexual encounter, or how guilty she felt while visiting the Trumps’ gilded apartment), McDougal talked about her contract with American Media, Inc. (“AMI”).

Here’s what happened. A few days before Trump was elected president (and well after her alleged affair with Trump had ended), AMI — the publisher of the National Enquirer—paid $150,000 to McDougal for the exclusive rights to her story. AMI is accused of buying the story in order to bury it, thereby protecting Trump, who just happened to be a personal friend of AMI chairman David Pecker; according to some insiders, AMI, “never printed a word about Trump without his approval.”

Hush money wasn’t the only thing in McDougal’s contract with AMI – it also laid out plans for her to author a regular health-and-fitness column.  McDougal’s contract with AMI was a limited life-story rights agreement granting AMI exclusive ownership of her account of any romantic, personal, or physical relationship she has ever had with Trump. McDougal told Anderson Cooper that this agreement was a total “win-win” for her; she hadn’t been planning to publicize the affair anyway. Now, she’d be paid, Trump would be protected, and the story would be safeguarded for all time. McDougal, who, by her own account, is a Trump-supporting Republican, and not the least bit a scorned woman, couldn’t have been happier with this arrangement. That was then, though. Now, she says, it’s “time to tell my truth.”

Now that Karen McDougal is speaking out, she’s about to learn just how far AMI will go to protect the reputation of its longtime friend, Donald Trump. When she spoke with Ronan Farrow, McDougal told Farrow that the contract “took my rights away,” and that, “at this point I feel I can’t talk about anything without getting into trouble, because I don’t know what I’m allowed to talk about. I’m afraid to even mention his name.”

Well, she should be. Karen McDougal signed a contract that pretty clearly obligated her to keep her mouth shut about her affair with Donald Trump. She agreed that any disputes over that contract would be resolved in a mandatory arbitration process – and not in open court.

McDougal said several times that she just wants the rights to her own life story back. That’s definitely a smarter spin than the story she peddled to Ronan Farrow. Back then, she talked about the brave women who have come forward as part of #MeToo, admitting that, “it’s a different circumstance,” but that victims who speak out are “paving the way,” for one another.

McDougal is right about one thing – her affair with Donald Trump is wildly different than any #MeToo stories. By her own account, was not the victim of sexual harassment or assault; she was involved in a consensual relationship with a prominent man. She signed away her rights to publicize that story for a $150,000 payday. Now, she’s having some seller’s remorse. It’s understandable. She’s got dirt on the President of the United States. $150,000 doesn’t seem like so much anymore.

Law & Crime contacted AMI prior to tonight’s CNN interview, and was provided with the following statement by an AMI spokesperson:

Karen McDougal has been free to respond to press inquiries about her relationship with President Trump since 2016.  Thus, the suggestion that AMI “silenced” her is completely without merit.  Rather, Karen signed a contract that gave AMI the editorial discretion to publish her life story, and she promised to write health and fitness columns and appear on the cover of two magazines.  To date, AMI has published 20 of Karen’s columns in print, all of which were syndicated on other entertainment properties, four stories on www.muscleandfitness.com, in addition to a behind-the-scenes video shoot, and a story on www.mensfitness.com, which we are very proud of.  In addition, Karen has appeared on the cover of Muscle & Fitness Hers, which was the highest selling issue for 2017.  She was also slotted to appear on the cover of Men’s Journal, a magazine with a circulation of 1,250,000, but she has not responded to repeated requests to schedule that photo shoot and through her attorney she indicated she believed she was not being paid enough to do all the work she had been asked to do. 

..  Her lawsuit is the first time AMI has learned of her desire to go a different direction.  AMI has a valid contract with Karen and we look forward to reaching an amicable resolution satisfactory to her and to AMI.”

Legally speaking, there’s good news and there’s bad news for Karen McDougal. The bad news is that her contract with AMI is probably enforceable, and she certainly breached it by talking to both Ronan Farrow and Anderson Cooper. There are a few arguments McDougal could raise, and while they aren’t likely to prevail, they’ll at least increase the cost of AMI’s litigation. She could argue that the contract wasn’t properly formed, because either she didn’t truly understand the nature of the agreement, or because she was pressured into signing the contract. Such arguments are likely losers – but it doesn’t hurt to try.

There is good news, for the former Playmate, though. Breach of contract is not the same thing as commission of a tort. When one person harms another in tort (for example, by defaming, harassing, or assaulting that person), the sky can often be the limit with regard to damages. But with contract law, there’s far less possibility of a courtroom windfall. McDougal’s contract with AMI likely spelled out exactly what AMI’s damages would be if she breached in a “liquidated damages clause.” For all McDougal’s talk of moral epiphanies, it’s far more likely that she made a smart financial choice. If the story is worth more than the liquidated damages clause in the AMI contract, why not sell it?

Several times during the CNN interview, Karen McDougal called herself “a smart girl,” – and it turns out, she may be absolutely right about that. She gave American viewers just enough trashy detail about her affair with Trump to get them really interested in buying whatever she plans to sell. Her payday is likely to be far more than AMI’s $150,00, and she’ll have revived her career in a way that a fitness column couldn’t ever have accomplished. Not bad for a bunny who has been put out to pasture.

 

 

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. She is a frequent media contributor, and is Of Counsel to Smedley & Lis, in Woodbury, New Jersey. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos

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