Jeff Bezos alleges ‘National Enquirer’ tried to blackmail him for ‘intimate’ photos

Amazon founder and ‘Washington Post’ owner says AMI action is politically motivated

Jeff Bezos, pictured here in 2018, is the founder of Amazon, and the owner of the ‘Washington Post’. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Jeff Bezos, pictured here in 2018, is the founder of Amazon, and the owner of the ‘Washington Post’. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

 

Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post, may have thought his moment in the eye of the media storm was over.

Last month, news came out of his separation from his wife of 25 years, writer Mackenzie Bezos, sparking broad coverage of the impending divorce.

The richest man in America has amassed a fortune of about $137 billion (€120 billion), mainly through Amazon, prompting feverish speculation about the nature of the divorce settlement.

The clash between Bezos and the National Enquirer potentially opens up a new front in Donald Trump’s battle with the media

His wife’s involvement in the early days of the business – she once worked as an accountant for the fledgling firm – ensures that she is likely to get a sizeable chunk of the wealth.

But this week further details of the circumstances surrounding the marriage break-up and its announcement emerged.

In a highly unusual move, Bezos published a blog on Thursday night accusing American Media Inc (AMI), the owner of the National Enquirer, of blackmail and extortion.

The front-page of the New York Post, reporting on Mr Bezos’s allegations
The front-page of the New York Post, reporting on Bezos’s allegations

In a blog post on Medium, Bezos said that senior executives from AMI threatened to publish intimate pictures of him if he did not stop his investigation into how the organisation obtained a number of his personal text messages and photographs of him.

Hours after Bezos’s announcement of his separation last month, the National Enquirer published details of his extra-marital affair with TV personality Lauren Sanchez, who is also married.

In recent weeks Bezos hired a private investigator to examine how the publication obtained the information and some incriminating text messages that it published.

On Thursday he revealed in his blog post that AMI executives had threatened to publish the intimate pictures if Bezos and his investigator Gavin de Becker did not issue a statement saying they “have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces”.

Bezos instead decided to publish a long blog post outlining the sequence of events. “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,” he wrote.

Within hours, Ronan Farrow, the prominent New Yorker journalist who broke many of the #MeToo stories and has written about AMI’s many “hush money” payments, said that he had also faced blackmail threats from AMI.

Together with another unnamed prominent journalist, he had “fielded similar ‘stop digging or we’ll ruin you’ blackmail efforts” from AMI, he said.

The clash between Bezos and the National Enquirer potentially opens up a new front in Donald Trump’s battle with the media and another twist in the various investigations involving the president.

Trump has frequently taken aim at the Washington Post and Amazon. In contrast, the National Enquirer and its owner David Pecker have been strong Trump supporters.

David Pecker, Chairman and CEO of American Media Inc, which publishes the ‘National Inquirer’. Picuterd in 2014. Photograph: Reuters/Marion Curtis
David Pecker, Chairman and CEO of American Media Inc, which publishes the ‘National Inquirer’. Picuterd in 2014. Photograph: Reuters/Marion Curtis

 The tabloid publication published flattering stories about the New York businessman in the run-up to the 2016 election while running damaging stories about Hillary Clinton. But the company found itself embroiled in a federal investigation into possible campaign finance violations by Trump last year.

It emerged that the Enquirer had paid $150,000 in the weeks before the election to a former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who was alleging an affair with Trump. The development shed light on a practice known as “catch and kill” whereby publications pay off the rights to a story in order to stop their publication.

AMI subsequently testified that it made the payments in order to influence the election at the direction of Trump – a possible campaign-finance violation. As part of its co-operation with investigators it was given immunity if it did not commit any crimes.

The new allegations by Bezos raise serious questions about AMI’s practices and whether the immunity deal with prosecutors could be in jeopardy. This will likely centre on the question of whether AMI has committed a crime in its alleged attempts at extortion.

Intriguingly, Bezos’s post also claims that Pecker and his company have been investigated “for various actions they’ve taken on behalf of the Saudi Government”. He also claims that Trump rewarded Pecker’s loyalty with a dinner in the White House, to which the media executive brought a guest with important ties to the Saudi royal family.

In a statement on Friday, AMI said it “acted lawfully” in reporting the Bezos story, but nonetheless will “promptly and thoroughly investigate the claims”.

Where the story goes next is likely to be a matter for investigators. But for Pecker, his one-time loyalty to Trump may now be a source of regret.

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