Maxine ‘Max’ Page, a former senior editor at RadarOnline, speaks to The Associated Press via a Skype, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in New York. Page is among 12 former employees interviewed by the Associated Press, who said that Dylan Howard, a top editor for the National Enquirer, Us Weekly and other major gossip publications, openly described his sexual partners in the newsroom, discussed female employees’ sex lives and forced women to watch or listen to pornographic material while he was running American Media Inc.’s Los Angeles office. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Top gossip editor accused of sexual misconduct

NEW YORK — The top editor for the National Enquirer, Us Weekly and other major gossip publications openly described his sexual partners in the newsroom, discussed female employees’ sex lives and forced women to watch or listen to pornographic material, former employees told The Associated Press.

The behaviour by Dylan Howard, currently the chief content officer of American Media Inc., occurred while he was running the company’s Los Angeles office, according to men and women who worked there. Howard’s self-proclaimed nickname was “Dildo,” a phallus-shaped sex toy, the former employees said. His conduct led to an internal inquiry in 2012 by an outside consultant, and former employees said he stopped working out of the L.A. office after the inquiry.

Howard quit soon after the report was completed. The company rehired him one year later with a promotion that landed him in the company’s main office in New York. It was not clear whether Howard faced any discipline over the accusations. The AP is not aware of any sexual harassment allegations involving Howard since he was rehired.

The AP spoke with 12 former employees who knew about the investigation into Howard’s behaviour, though not all were aware of every detail. The outside investigator hired to examine complaints about Howard’s behaviour also confirmed to the AP that he completed a report.

In a brief phone interview with the AP, Howard characterized the ex-employees’ claims as “baseless.”

American Media said in a statement Tuesday evening that Howard “has the full support of AMI and its executives.” It said since Howard was rehired, “he has continued to have the respect of his peers and colleagues.”

A lawyer for American Media confirmed that an outside investigator was hired to look into two employees’ claims about Howard’s behaviour. He said the investigation did not show serious wrongdoing.

“It was determined that there was some, what you would call as, horsing around outside the office, going to bars and things that are not uncommon in the media business,” Cam Stracher said, “but none of it rose to the level of harassment that would require termination.”

American Media publishes the National Enquirer, RadarOnline, Star and other gossip publications and websites. In March the company purchased the glossy Us Weekly magazine for a reported $100 million, significantly boosting its readership among women.

Most of the former employees spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they had signed nondisclosure agreements, sometimes as part of severance packages.

Two former employees, one a senior manager and another a reporter in the L.A. office, agreed to be publicly identified to discuss Howard’s behaviour.

“The behaviour that Dylan displayed and the way he was and the way the company dealt with it — I just think that it has to be made public because it’s completely unacceptable,” said Maxine “Max” Page, a former senior editor at RadarOnline. She complained to the human resources department about Howard’s behaviour on behalf of two female reporters.

Howard made inappropriate comments to and about one of those women, Page and six other ex-employees said. Howard told employees in the newsroom he wanted to create a Facebook account on behalf of the woman’s vagina, commented on her sex life and forced her and other female employees to either watch or listen to graphic recordings of sex involving celebrities despite there being no professional rationale for doing so, they said.

A former senior editor said Howard wrongly claimed during a newsroom meeting that the woman had had sex with a journalism source and praised her for it, saying she needed to “do what you need” to get a story.

The editor said, “He encouraged her to have sex with people for information.”

The woman Howard was discussing confirmed these and other incidents to the AP but declined to be identified.

Stracher, the company lawyer, said no one interviewed by the outside investigator complained about Howard’s handling of pornographic material. Stracher said there was nothing inherently inappropriate about that in the celebrity news business. Stracher also said no one complained to the investigator about Howard’s alleged encouragement of a reporter to sleep with news sources.

Another former reporter, Liz Crokin, said she was also harassed by Howard, including once when he asked whether she was “going to be walking the streets tonight” on a day she wore heels to work.

Many of the former employees who described Howard’s behaviour said they decided to do so after The New Yorker and other news organizations published emails in recent weeks showing that Howard had worked with movie producer Harvey Weinstein to undermine allegations of sexual misconduct by Weinstein.

For his 30th birthday party, Howard invited a dozen employees to Las Vegas in January 2012 for an all-expenses-paid, three-day party he dubbed “Dildo’s Dirty 30,” according to a copy of the professionally designed invitation obtained by the AP.

A week later, ex-employees said, the outside consultant hired to review the allegations against Howard began conducting interviews.

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