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.