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National Enquirer, Intercept Owners Name Chief Legal Officers (2)

Feb. 6, 2021, 12:10 AM; Updated: Feb. 8, 2021, 5:17 PM

Accelerate360 LLC and First Look Media Inc. on Friday announced a pair of new chief legal officers.

J. Jeffrey Pascoe joins A360, which last year merged with National Enquirer and US Weekly owner American Media LLC, and Ian Stratford comes to First Look, a New York-based media company started by eBay Inc. founder Pierre Omidyar.

Pascoe spent a decade as general counsel for Gerber Childrenswear LLC, an apparel and fashion brand for infants. Before that he worked as a litigation associate in Greenville, S.C., at what was then Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice. Pascoe, who also spent two years as a speechwriter and special aide to former Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), didn’t respond to a request for comment about his move to A360.

Stratford starts his new job after spending four years as a senior vice president and associate general counsel at Endeavor Group Holdings Inc. At Endeavor, a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based private holding company that owns the William Morris Endeavor talent agency and the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Stratford helped start a media projects and distribution business called Endeavor Content.

Stratford confirmed, but declined to discuss further, his new role at First Look, which will see him lead the company’s business and legal affairs team. Variety, an entertainment industry trade publication, first reported Friday the news of his hire.

Tawdry Tales

American Media shed its name last August when former CEO David Pecker, a tabloid media titan who was once a close ally of former President Donald Trump, stepped down from the company following its combination with A360, which claims to be the largest magazine wholesaler in North America.

A360, a wholesale distribution company based in Smyrna, Ga., a northwest suburb of Atlanta, is controlled by the hedge fund Chatham Asset Management LLC, which had been a majority owner of American Media. Bloomberg News has previously reported on the ties between Chatham, Pecker, and Trump. Chatham paid $312 million last summer to buy bankrupt newspaper publisher McClatchy Co.

The union between A360 and American Media rebranded the latter as A360 Media LLC. Eric Klee and Jon Fine, who respectively have been chief legal officer and deputy general counsel for American Media in New York, didn’t respond to requests for comment about whether they will remain with the company.

A360 confirmed to Bloomberg Law that Fine is still an employee and that Klee has a long-term consulting agreement with the company, which has centralized executive roles at its corporate headquarters in Smyrna.

Fine’s LinkedIn profile currently identifies him as a deputy general counsel for A360 Media. He recently posted an opening for a media counsel position at the company in either Atlanta or New York. Fine joined predecessor American Media in late 2018 as deputy general counsel for media, replacing Cameron Stracher, who abruptly left the company following a reported dispute with Pecker.

Stracher, who now runs his own entertainment law firm in New York, was unavailable for comment Friday. Stracher previously told the New York Law Journal that he hired Fine to help him with his in-house workload but declined to discuss why he subsequently left American Media. The New York Post reported in early 2019 that Stracher’s fallout with Pecker occurred before bigger news broke.

On Feb. 7, 2019, Amazon.com Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos said that Pecker and American Media had tried to extort him by releasing private text messages and photos.

The revelation from Bezos, which was posted on Medium under the headline “No thank you, Mr. Pecker,” included an email from Fine describing the terms of the alleged deal. Fine himself had once been an Amazon employee, having spent nine years at the company, where he was a director of author and publishing relations.

A360 CEO David Parry didn’t respond to inquiries from Bloomberg Law about how Pascoe’s hire might change the structure of the company’s in-house legal team. J. Daniel Pittman is general counsel for the Smyrna-based logistics arm of A360, which also employs Heather Daly as a corporate legal consultant.

Pittman, who in 2019 joined what was then called the American News Co., didn’t respond to a request for comment.

A reported $100 million deal agreed upon in early 2019 that saw American Media sell the National Enquirer to Hudson Media Inc. CEO James Cohen never closed.

New Look

Stratford joins a legal team at First Look that within the past few years has been at the forefront of some notable First Amendment legal fights.

The company and its billionaire backer Omidyar sought to bolster support for Gawker Media LLC in 2016 amid the latter’s litigation battle with PayPal Holdings Inc. co-founder Peter Thiel, a fellow billionaire and former Sullivan & Cromwell associate.

David Bralow, a senior vice president of law at First Look, said in an email to Bloomberg Law that the company is “delighted to have Ian join and provide overall guidance to our growing set of businesses.”

Bralow’s own position is a “hybrid role” that he said allows him to “concentrate on press freedom issues” and “support important journalism” with the First Look-backed Press Freedom Defense Fund, the company’s Field of Vision documentary unit, and digital investigative reporting outfit The Intercept.

First Look has employed a handful of in-house lawyers. Stratford said that First Look is building out its team and declined to discuss current staffing levels. The company has had some editorial staffing changes in recent months.

Laura Poitras, a documentary filmmaker who co-founded The Intercept in 2014 with investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald, posted a letter on her website last month claiming that the company fired her in November. Greenwald, a former associate at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, quit The Intercept late last year amid accusations of editorial censorship that First Look vigorously denied.

Poitras said she was terminated for raising concerns about First Look’s failure to protect the identity of Reality Winner, a former National Security Agency contractor charged in 2017 with leaking classified materials to The Intercept for a story it published about Russian hacking efforts in the 2016 presidential election.

First Look, which is assisting Winner with her legal defense, denied Poitras’ claims and said it made a business decision not to renew her contract.

Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer has been representing Winner, who last year unsuccessfully sought a compassionate release from federal prison due to the coronavirus pandemic. The most recent federal tax filing by First Look’s nonprofit arm shows it paid $299,117 to Arnold & Porter in 2018.

Bralow, who is legal director for the Press Freedom Defense Fund, which supports journalists and news organizations in legal trouble, was paid $359,712 that year.

(Adds detail on First Look's parting with Poitras in 24th paragraph. This story was published Feb. 5.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com
John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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