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Jeff Bezos, the founder/CEO of Amazon, yesterday went on social media to accuse American Media Inc. (AMI), owner of the National Enquirer, of extortion and blackmail. Bezos released emails sent to him by the AMI’s representatives saying that the National Enquirer would not release compromising photos of him and his mistress if Bezos stopped investigating the tabloid’s motives for previous coverage of his personal life.

Here’s the backstory. Last month, Bezos announced that he and his wife of a quarter-century, MacKenzie, were divorcing. That announcement came immediately before the Enquirer published an 11-page story about Bezos’ affair with Lauren Sanchez, a former host of the Fox show “So You Think You Can Dance,” and subsequent stories suggested that Bezos went public only when he knew that the story was about to be published. The Enquirer bragged that the story was the result of “the biggest investigation in Enquirer history,” and said it had tracked the couple “across five states and 40,000 miles.”

It was a story that generated a lot of attention in the business community because it raised questions about the impact of a divorce on Amazon. It also had a political angle since President Trump has been highly critical of Bezos, Amazon, and the Washington Post, which Bezos owns in a personal investment. Trump has referred to the paper as the “Fake Washington Post” and called it a “lobbyist” for Amazon.

What got Bezos’ attention was the publication of text messages between Sanchez and him.

The New York Times writes this morning that “after seeing his texts in the tabloid’s pages, Mr. Bezos sprang into action, starting his own investigation into the tabloid’s motives as The Post prepared an article speculating on its potential political agenda. His tying of The Enquirer’s motive to politics, Mr. Bezos alleged in a post on Medium on Thursday, prompted associates of David J. Pecker, the chairman of American Media Inc., to threaten to publish graphic photos it had apparently obtained, as well as more of the steamy text messages … Mr. Bezos said A.M.I. had political reasons for wanting him to stop looking into its decision to publish the article. He pointed to the publisher’s past cooperation with Mr. Trump, as well as its connections to the government of Saudi Arabia. The Washington Post has relentlessly reported on the murder last year of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident.”

In his blog posting yesterday, Bezos wrote, “It’s unavoidable that certain powerful people who experience Washington Post news coverage will wrongly conclude I am their enemy. President Trump is one of those people, obvious by his many tweets. Also, The Post’s essential and unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi is undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles … 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 about AMI. “I prefer to stand up, roll this log over and see what crawls out.”

The Times notes that “Mr. Bezos is hardly the sort of character the Enquirer typically puts on its cover, and the (original) story set off speculation in Washington and New York media circles that the coverage was tied to The Enquirer’s alliance with the White House. The relationship between the tabloid’s owner, American Media Inc., and the president had been frayed by a cooperation deal struck by The Enquirer’s leadership with prosecutors looking into its role during the 2016 campaign, when it helped orchestrate the payment of hush money to women who alleged past affairs with Mr. Trump.”

Neither AMI nor Amazon have commented on the charges.
KC's View:
As I said when we first posted the story of the Bezos divorce, writing these kinds of pieces gives me no pleasure, and I had no interest in following it in this space. Private matter, I figured, and I have no desire to exploit anybody’s personal pain … my only interest was the hope that the situation would not affect Amazon or Bezos’ ownership of the Washington Post, a paper I treasure.

It all is a sordid mess.

But this whole thing makes it a different story, especially because there seems to be little doubt that the National Enquirer traffics in this sort of crap, that it has engaged in blackmail, and that what it does has nothing to do with journalism. I have no idea if the charges of blackmail and extortion would hold up in court, but it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

I have to wonder how many other politicians, celebrities and business people may have been subjected to blackmail and extortion. I really wonder what will crawl out now that the log has been rolled over. And I think that Bezos is absolutely right when he wrote, “If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?”