Jeff Bezos Goes All-In On War Against The National Enquirer

The publisher of the National Enquirer is learning that it may have been a mistake to go to war against Jeff Bezos.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has declared war on American Media, Inc., the company that owns the National Enquirer and other tabloids/celebrity rags, in an ongoing dispute over revelations regarding an extramarital affair that has led to the impending dissolution of Bezos’s marriage:

The richest man on earth accused the nation’s leading supermarket tabloid publisher of “extortion and blackmail” on Thursday, laying out a theory that brought together international intrigue, White House politics, nude photos and amorous text messages.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the owner of The Washington Post, made his accusations against American Media Inc., the company behind The National Enquirer, in a lengthy post on the online platform Medium. Last month, The Enquirer published an exposé of Mr. Bezos’ extramarital affair with Lauren Sanchez, a former host of the Fox show “So You Think You Can Dance.”

The headline of Mr. Bezos’ post — “No thank you, Mr. Pecker” — targeted David J. Pecker, the head of the tabloid company. In the sometimes digressive text that followed, he accused American Media of threatening to publish graphic photographs of Mr. Bezos, including a “below-the-belt selfie,” if he did not publicly affirm that The Enquirer’s reporting on his affair was not motivated by political concerns.

“Well, that got my attention,” Mr. Bezos wrote of the threat. “But not in the way they likely hoped.”

The inciting event in this battle of American titans was the Jan. 28 edition of The Enquirer, which hit supermarket racks on Jan. 10, one day after Mr. Bezos and his wife of 25 years, MacKenzie, announced that they would be getting a divorce. The tabloid devoted 11 pages to the story of Mr. Bezos’ affair with Ms. Sanchez, calling it “the biggest investigation in Enquirer history!”

The Enquirer boasted that it had tracked the couple “across five states and 40,000 miles,” furtively observing them as they boarded private jets, rode in limousines and repaired to “five-star hotel hideaways.” The article was illustrated with paparazzi shots of the unwitting couple as they stepped onto a tarmac and arrived together at what the tabloid called “their beachfront love nest in Santa Monica.”

The tabloid also published amorous text messages that Mr. Bezos had sent to Ms. Sanchez. “I am crazy about you,” he wrote, according to The Enquirer. “All of you.”

Tech executives are not the usual subjects of Enquirer covers, and the story set off speculation in Washington and New York media circles that the tabloid’s aggressive coverage of Mr. Bezos was tied to the closeness of Mr. Pecker, The Enquirer’s chief, and the White House. That alliance came fully to light last year in the legal drama involving hush payments to women alleging affairs with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Pecker were longtime friends — but the relationship between the two was said to be frayed in recent months, when American Media’s leadership entered into a deal with federal prosecutors looking into the company’s role in the hush payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign. Mr. Pecker and his associates had helped orchestrate the deals involving two women who alleged past affairs with Mr. Trump in “catch and kill” deals: the former Playboy model Karen McDougal and the porn star Stormy Daniels.

After The Enquirer made his private life public, giving Twitter wags and late-night hosts the chance to weigh in on his high-flown texting style, Mr. Bezos sprang into action, starting his own investigation of the tabloid’s motives and how it had come to possess his texts to Ms. Sanchez.

The Amazon founder, who at last count was worth $136 billion, suggested that he would spare no expense in taking the fight to the tabloid publisher. Leading the investigation was Gavin de Becker, Mr. Bezos’ longtime security chief, whom Mr. Bezos said he had instructed “to proceed with whatever budget he needed to pursue the facts in this matter.”

It was a bold move for someone who has often tried to evade the spotlight, even amid the frequent insults hurled his way by Mr. Trump, who has labeled the newspaper that Mr. Bezos purchased in 2013 as “The Amazon Post” and recently called him ”Jeff Bozo“ in a tweet.

Mr. de Becker confirmed to The Daily Beast on Jan. 31 that he was leading the investigation into the matter of how the Enquirer had obtained the text messages. Not long afterward, The Post prepared an article exploring competing theories about the motivation behind the publication of the tawdry tale.

American Media made the next move, offering Mr. Bezos an offer that it wrongly assumed he could not refuse. And if he did say no? A future issue of The Enquirer would make him very unhappy, with the selfies and more of the steamy texts it had apparently obtained.

“Of course I don’t want personal photos published, but I also won’t participate in their well-known practice of blackmail, political favors, political attacks and corruption,” Mr. Bezos wrote. “I prefer to stand up, roll this log over and see what crawls out.”

Amazon declined to comment.

Mr. Bezos’ allegations placed new pressure on American Media, which narrowly emerged from the campaign finance prosecution without being charged.

On Friday morning, the company said in a statement that although it stood by its actions, for now, its board was starting an investigation into the matter.

“American Media believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos,” the statement said. “Nonetheless, in light of the nature of the allegations published by Mr. Bezos, the Board has convened and determined that it should promptly and thoroughly investigate the claims. Upon completion of that investigation, the Board will take whatever appropriate action is necessary.”

You can read the entire post that Bezos wrote, which includes email exchanges between his representatives and representatives of American Media in the post at Medium, which in and of itself is an interesting choice for Bezos to have made with regard to where and how to speak out about this matter. After all, given the fact that he owns The Washington Post he could have chosen to use that outlet to get his message out, although it has been clear that he largely considers himself to be something of an absentee owner in the sense that he allows the paper to make its own editorial choices without much interference or input from him, which is, of course, something of a marked change from the days when the Graham family owned the paper. In any case, posting it at Medium also essentially guaranteed that it would get almost immediate widespread attention from not only the general public but also from news organizations other than the Post, such as The New York Times from which the above is excerpted.

In any case, it seems clear that AMI went into these discussions thinking that it was going to somehow find a way to get Bezos to remain quiet in exchange for not revealing additional compromising text messages and allegedly explicit photographs that Bezos apparently may have exchanged with the woman he has been having an affair with. If that was their intent, though, they appear to have badly miscalculated, because Bezos is essentially calling their bluff and daring them to move forward now that it appears to all the world as if they were engaging in what potentially qualifies as blackmail under the laws of both the Federal government and the laws of several states, including the states in which American Media conducts its business such as New York and California.

All of this is potentially political relevant for several reasons. First of all, as has been noted several times in the past, the owner of American Media Inc., David Pecker, has had a long-standing personal relationship with President Trump and has been involved in several efforts to help the President’s campaign. It was AMI, for example, that paid money to former Playboy model Karen McDougal to keep her silent regarding her affair with Trump in the early 2000s, a move that in retrospect clearly appears to have been designed to assist the Trump campaign, a move that clearly qualifies as an in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign made on the eve of the 2016 election. It was no doubt due to this that AMI and Pecker entered into a cooperation agreement with the Federal Government late last year. It’s also relevant due to the fact that Bezos and The Washington Post have been frequent targets of the President. It has also been suggested that Pecker and AMI have been seeking business opportunities in Saudi Arabia and that there may be some connection between the publication of stories related to Bezos and the fact that Saudi involvement in the death of Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi has been a target of significant reporting at the Post. This is especially true given the fact that someone like Bezos is not the typical subject of reporting from the Enquirer so it was unusual that they had gone with the story to begin with.

Whether there’s anything to do this or not is unclear, but clearly David Pecker made a mistake if he thought that going to war against the richest man in the world would be easy.

FILED UNDER: Media, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Teve says:

    they tried to blackmail the richest guy in the world, and Ronan Farrow says they’ve tried to blackmail him and other journalists, and so I have to wonder about all those people that Trump insulted, like Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham, who all of a sudden got really enthusiastically on board with Trump at some point.

  2. mattbernius says:

    It was no doubt due to this that AMI and Pecker entered into a cooperation agreement with the Federal Government late last year.

    Its worth noting that a provision of that deal was that AMI not engage in any illegal activity for a number of years. If these actions were taken post deal, then AMI might have some ‘splaining to do…

  3. grumpy realist says:

    Reminds me of the Duke of Wellington’s response to whoever-it-was saying she would keep him out of her memoires for a price: “Publish and be damned!”

    ….you also wonder about the smarts of someone trying to blackmail the richest guy in the world. Someone who can pay for a lot of lawyers. Lots and lots of lawyers. That go on and on and on….

  4. CSK says:

    Front page of NY Post today:


  5. SenyorDave says:

    One thing that continues to amaze me (and it shouldn’t, at this point) is that virtually anyone in Trump’s inner circle is a sleazebag. David Pecker, Steve Bannon, Roger Ailes, his kid, including Javanka. This extends to his cabinet, who he filled with a bunch of penny-ante thieves and conmen (Wilbur Ross has made a career of thievery in his equity fund dealings, and lied about divesting dates when he came on board as Commerce secretary, Scott Pruitt and Tom Price were forced to resign). Nobody with any real ethics wants to deal with Trump. And Trump doesn’t seem to mind – he seems to prefer dealing with bottom-feeders.

  6. Jay L Gischer says:

    What I’ve seen suggests that what is in Bezos’ Medium post is not prosecutable as blackmail, because it’s covered by SLAPP. But I’m not a lawyer.

    I think there are some breathtaking bread crumbs here. At the core, the reason that AMI is threatening him, is that they don’t want anyone to find out how they got the material. The usual mundane way – someone steals it without consulting them, and then hands it to them – does not expose them to any legal threat. Why should they care if that’s what happened? So what did happen?

    In other news yesterday, CBS published an interview with Sen. Burr in which he said that the thing they are investigating has grown to be a lot bigger than just interference in the 2016 election, and that lots of people have come in and lied to them. The headline quote is him sloughing off on the collusion angle, but for me, the money quote is “they might all be on Oleg Deripaska’s payroll”.

    I mean, that could apply to this case, though the Saudis are a better bet. But who knows, they might be connected.

  7. Jen says:

    I would dearly love to see this be the undoing of AMI/National Enquirer. Regarding the wisdom of this, I saw a comment on Twitter a description that perfectly captures it–paraphrasing because I can’t find the tweet now and can’t remember who posted it–“These people have the bravado and confidence of a Season One Don Draper, but the intelligence of a Dr. Scholl’s insole.”

  8. Sleeping Dog says:

    Bezo’s going after AMI. Got to get a fresh batch of popcorn and a six-pack.

    While in other news the SDNY investigation into Tiny’s inaugural committee and the Trump Organization in general taking on the parameters of a RICO prosecution?

  9. gVOR08 says:

    @Jay L Gischer: On TV last night it was stated that Bezos investigator is the best in the business and has a large, well resourced organization, and that he alleges the message hack looked like the work of a national intelligence apparatus. Mossad was mentioned as a possible. At the time, they’d had like an hour to react, so this would be very rushed speculation.

  10. James Pearce says:

    Whether there’s anything to do this or not is unclear, but clearly David Pecker made a mistake if he thought that going to war against the richest man in the world would be easy.

    You only run a scam like this on rich people. Pecker thought it would work because it worked all those other times.

    Bezos deserves credit for not giving in.

  11. Jay L Gischer says:

    @gVOR08: As it turns out, I have a book written by Gavin de Becker. It’s called “The Gift of Fear” and it’s a good read. So yeah, I think his credentials are very good. But, the Mossad? Say what? Why would the Mossad get involved? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!!!???

    “It might be that they’re all on the payroll of Oleg Deripaska”. I feel like I’m watching another season of Daredevil with Kingpin as the main villain.

  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    Bezos handled this perfectly. Never let anyone else set the narrative, never play along with the happy little story the bad guys have in their heads. Disrupt, divert, push back, go on the attack. Good advice BTW if you’re faced with someone telling you to get in the van or they’ll shoot you. Fine: shoot me, right here in a public place. It’s the winning move.

    And now tiny little AMI has picked a fight with a T Rex. Pecker probably thinks he’s safe with Trump and MBS backing his blackmail, but these are very stupid people. How rich and powerful is Bezos? He can buy AMI and just burn it down. If the Saudis want to outbid him? Fine. Bezos can start buying up entire grocery store chains that carry the Enquirer. He can buy the distribution network. He can disappear the Enquirer and AMI and ensure that no one associated with Pecker ever works again. This is the guy who buried Borders Books and Sears without even being angry.

    Stupid, stupid people these Trumpaloons.

  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    Why would Mossad get involved? I have no idea if they were, but the why is simple: they are in bed with MBS and the purpose of this extortion was to get Bezos to stop the Wapo which has been looking into MBS and not letting it go. Netanyahu, like Trump, is an authoritarian and a crook and would no doubt OK a bit of digital snooping for the larger purpose of getting the US to go to war against Iran.

  14. Kathy says:

    Blackmail is not a one time thing. I mention this in case someone gets the idea that what AMI asked of Bezos may not seem like much. that was just the first payment.

  15. Neil Hudelson says:

    It’s like AMI had never heard the term “f*ck you money.”

    $136 Billion is a LOT of F*ck You Money.

  16. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    I don’t like him, don’t like what has happened to Seattle…but badass move by Bezos.
    It will be delicious if this is what brings down Dennison.

  17. Gustopher says:

    Lawyers should not use slang. “Below-the-belt selfie” is nowhere near as funny as “below-the-belt self portrait.”

    I know that humor is not the main point of writing a blackmail letter, but you really should take the time to enjoy your job.

  18. Mikey says:

    Somewhat amusingly, it appears National Enquirer’s web presence is hosted on…Amazon Web Services.

    Not that I think Bezos would make a call to turn it off, or anything. It’s just kind of ironic.

  19. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    How rich and powerful is Bezos? He can buy AMI and just burn it down.

    That doesn’t sound like Bezos. First, it rewards the investors in AMI. Second, he doesn’t destroy assets.

    Jon Fine, the deputy general council for AMI who sent the emails worked for Amazon in the past. I am shocked that he did not realize what Bezos’ response would be.

  20. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    He can buy AMI and just burn it down.

    Nah…I think Bezos should buy Fox News. Dennison’s head would explode.

  21. Scott says:

    Somewhat tangential is the fact that we live in a post-shame world. Once upon a time, a description and picture of someone’s junk would be profoundly embarrassing. Apparently, Bezos doesn’t care. And his affair was already known to his wife so that is no longer a factor. What his children think, who knows?

    It is kind of like when gays could not get a security clearance because they would be vulnerable to blackmail. Well, that is not longer the case. Take away the vulnerability and you take away the power to influence.

  22. gVOR08 says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Nah…I think Bezos should buy Fox News. Dennison’s head would explode.

    I’ve been worried ever since kid Sulzberger took over NYT that he’d sell it to someone like Adelson. It would be sweet to see the opposite.

  23. Michael Reynolds says:

    An interesting possible knock-on from digital tech is that pretty soon no one will know if it was your dick pick or not. At the point where fake, revenge dick picks reach a certain critical mass, the value of a dick pick will disappear.

  24. Jay L Gischer says:

    @t: You make an interesting point. Bezos announced his divorce a week or two before the first round of embarrassing texts were published by AMI. So that’s the biggest damage. Did they try to blackmail him then, too? I mean, he seems to have known it was coming, told wife, negotiated divorce terms or at least process and announced it.

    At that point he had more to lose. But then, he didn’t have an ongoing investigation carried out by highly competent people, either. I guess they figured it was worth a shot?

  25. Jay L Gischer says:

    This thing brings up memories of the whole Hulk Hogan vs. Gawker Media where Hogan got funded by Peter Thiel. I’m not a big fan of Thiel, but I also think Gawker deserved to get burned to the ground for what they did, regardless of who they did it to.

    We currently live in a world where getting justice requires having the backing of a billionaire.

  26. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Choose your enemies.

  27. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    We currently live in a world where getting justice requires having the backing of a billionaire.


  28. Eric Florack says:

    Interesting how this showed up within hours of words from the Washington Post which it is in effect a PR outlet for Amazon, to the effect that Amazon might not be moving into New York City after all, despite the socialism are bending over forward to accommodate him.

    All of this might be a parting shot from his ex-wife, or from Lauren Sanchez who apparently is the cause of his divorce.

  29. MarkedMan says:

    I find it revealing that those on the left and right both agree that news sources such as The NY Times, the Washington Post, and NPR represent the left, while Fox News and the National Enquirer represent the right.

  30. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Eric Florack:
    How are the obviously extortionate letters from Trump co-conspirator David Pecker be a ‘parting shot’ from anyone but Pecker?

    Before coming here to regurgitate whatever imbecility has been hastily cranked out by the right-wing bullshit machine, why don’t you task your few remaining brain cells with asking whether what you’re saying makes any sense whatsoever? Or are you content being a fool and making sure everyone knows it?

  31. grumpy realist says:

    Terry Crews claims National Enquirer tried to blackmail him as well. (hope the link works)

    …looks like the dam is about to break….

  32. Michael Reynolds says:

    @grumpy realist:
    Pressure should be put on stores that still sell the Enquirer. They are aiding and abetting blackmail.

  33. gVOR08 says:

    @MarkedMan: Unless an organization chooses to abandon journalistic integrity, as FOX and the National Enquirer have, they’re kind of constrained to accept facts and reason. That an orientation toward objective reality leaves them perceived as liberal should receive a good deal more commentary than it does.

  34. Jen says:

    @Eric Florack: Just about every accusation in that statement is bizarre.

    The Washington Post is not a PR arm for Amazon, Bezos is by all accounts completely hands-off. He used Medium to post his response, to use an obvious example.

    Amazon deciding to reconsider New York in the face of growing opposition is–or should be–a sign that they are paying attention and don’t want to pay for mounting a big charm offensive/PR battle to get the community in their corner. If NY doesn’t want them there, they have other choices, probably ones that make more sense financially.

    Michael has already pinpointed the last ridiculous notion, but I’ll reiterate it: it is bonkers to suggest that this is connected to anyone other than the immediate parties in the email chain that Bezos published–the extortionists at AMI/Enquirer and Bezos and his attorneys.

  35. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: Personally, I’m in favor of fewer plutocrats owning fewer media outlets in aggregate, so no, Bezos shouldn’t buy Fox News, owning WaPo is bad enough.

  36. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Eric Florack: No, that isn’t actually interesting at all. Perhaps if you sprinkle a few more dots onto the page at random you’ll be able to connect them to make a picture, but I’m not seeing it right now.

    (And you should check to see if you have a fever. Your brain probably can’t take much more of that sort of overheating without real consequences.)

  37. An Interested Party says:

    Just about every accusation in that statement is bizarre.

    That’s hardly surprising…after all, look who’s making the accusation…

  38. mike shupp says:

    Grumpy Realist:

    Harriet Wilson. She published; I’m not yet in a position to report on the damnation part.

  39. Liz says:

    @t: He “literally” does not run a modern plantation. To compare laborers who are paid,unbeaten,never sold and never owned to real slaves only serves to diminish the horrendous injustice true slaves endure.

  40. Scott says:

    @Eric Florack: Understanding that socialism is a new vocabulary word for Trumptards so the fact that it isn’t being used correctly is not surprising. There is no :The: socialism. There are socialists and there is socialism. At the very least, learn to use your new right wing media fed vocabulary correctly