Jeff Bezos accuses National Enquirer owner of 'extortion and blackmail'

  08 February 2019    Read: 1985
Jeff Bezos accuses National Enquirer owner of

The Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, has accused the owner of the National Enquirerof “extortion and blackmail”, alleging that lawyers for David Pecker threatened the tabloid would publish text messages and intimate images if Bezos didn’t halt an investigation into how it had obtained those files.

In a lengthy Medium blogpost titled “No thank you, Mr Pecker”, Bezos accused American Media Inc (AMI), which publishes the National Enquirer, of telling him “they had more of my text messages and photos that they would publish if we didn’t stop our investigation”.

Bezos, who is the world richest man and also owns the Washington Post, became the subject of tabloid fodder in January after he and his wife MacKenzie announced they were divorcing. Shortly after, the National Enquirer published “intimate text messages” revealing Bezos’ relationship with Lauren Sanchez, a former tv anchor.

After the tabloid published his personal messages, Bezos retained private security consultant Gavin de Becker “to determine the motives for the many unusual actions taken by the Enquirer”, he revealed in his blogpost.

Bezos said an “AMI leader” subsequently told him that David Pecker, the chief executive of AMI, was “apoplectic” about the investigation.

“My lawyers argued that AMI has no right to publish photos since any person holds the copyright to their own photos, and since the photos in themselves don’t add anything newsworthy,” Bezos wrote.

The Amazon CEO said AMI’s chief content officer, Dylan Howard, then emailed threats to Bezos’s lawyer, Martin Singer. “[I]n the interests of expediating [sic] this situation, and with The Washington Post poised to publish unsubstantiated rumors of The National Enquirer’s initial report, I wanted to describe to you the photos obtained during our newsgathering,” Howard wrote.

The email, which Bezos published in full, with redactions of personal information, went on to say that the Enquirer had obtained a “below the belt selfie — otherwise colloquially known as a ‘d*ck pick’” as well as nine other images. Those included a selfie, a shirtless photo of him holding his phone “while wearing his wedding ring”, a “full-length body selfie” of him in his underwear, and photos and messages from Sanchez.

“It would give no editor pleasure to send this email. I hope common sense can prevail — and quickly,” Howard allegedly wrote.

Bezos’s blogpost also included an email from Jon Fine, an AMI lawyer, seeking “a public, mutually-agreed upon acknowledgment from the Bezos Parties, released through a mutually-agreeable news outlet, affirming that they have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AM’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces, and an agreement that they will cease referring to such a possibility”.

The proposed agreement in Fine’s email also said: “AM agrees not to publish, distribute, share, or describe unpublished texts and photos (the “Unpublished Materials”).”

Bezos has been a frequent target of Donald Trump, and the Amazon CEO’s security team has suggested the National Enquirer leak was politically motivated. Pecker was a longtime confidante of Trump.

In December, prosecutors in the southern district of New York gave AMI immunity for its cooperation in the investigation into Trump’s presidential campaign and hush payments to a Playboy model. AMI admitted the company had coordinated with Trump’s presidential campaign to “catch and kill” the story of Karen McDougal, the model who alleged she had an affair with Trump. AMI admitted it had worked “in concert” with the campaign to pay McDougal $150,000 for her story and then suppress it.

“Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten,” Bezos wrote on Thursday.

“Any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes a back seat because there’s a much more important matter involved here. If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?” Bezos asked.

He continued: “Be assured, no real journalists ever propose anything like what is happening here: I will not report embarrassing information about you if you do X for me. And if you don’t do X quickly, I will report the embarrassing information.”

National Enquirer and AMI representatives did not immediately respond to request for comment. Amazon and Bezos’ attorney also did not immediately respond to inquiries.


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