The richest man in the world on Thursday accused the nation's largest publisher of supermarket tabloids of extortion and blackmail, exposing a theory of international intrigue, White House politics, nude photos, and love texting.
Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post, has made his charges against American Media Inc., the company behind The National Enquirer, in a long post posted on the online platform Medium. Last month, The Enquirer published a presentation on Mr. Bezos' extramarital affair with Lauren Sanchez, a former host of Fox, "You Think You Can Dance."
The title of Mr. Bezos' message – "No thanks, Mr. Pecker" – was David J. Pecker, head of tabloid society. In the sometimes digressive text that followed, he accused American Media of threatening to publish graphic photographs of Mr. Bezos, including a "selfie as far as the eye can see", if he had not not publicly stated that The Enquirer's report on his case was not motivated. by political concerns.
"It caught my attention," Bezos wrote about the threat. "But not the way they probably hoped."
The most exciting event in this battle for American titans is the January 28 edition of The Enquirer, which hit the supermarket shelves on Jan. 10, a day after Mr. Bezos and his wife MacKenzie, 25, have announced divorce. The tabloid devoted 11 pages to the story of Mr. Bezos' case with Ms. Sanchez, calling it "the greatest investigation in the history of Enquirer!".
[[[[Who is MacKenzie Bezos? Her divorce has made the novelist and her private life a public fascination.]
The Enquirer boasted of having followed the couple "in five states and 40,000 km", stealthily observing them as they boarded private jets, boarded limousines and went to "pills". five star hotel". The article was illustrated with paparazzi shots of an unconscious couple as they walked on a tarmac and arrived together at what the tabloid called "their love nest by the seaside in Santa Monica".
The tabloid also published love texts that Mr. Bezos sent to Ms. Sanchez. "I'm crazy about you," he wrote, according to The Enquirer. "You all."
Technical executives are not the usual subjects of Enquirer's covers, and history has led speculation in the media circles in Washington and New York that the tabloid's aggressive coverage against Bezos was related to the proximity Mr. Pecker, the head of the Enquirer, and White. House. This alliance was fully highlighted last year in the legal drama involving hidden payments to women alleging business with Mr. Trump.
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Mr. Trump and Mr. Pecker were long-time friends – but the relationship between the two would have deteriorated in recent months, when American Media executives reached an agreement with federal prosecutors responsible for prosecutors. examine the role of the company in the settlement of payments made during the fiscal year 2016. the presidential campaign. Mr. Pecker and his associates had helped orchestrate agreements involving two women who claimed to have had links with Mr. Trump under "catch-and-kill" agreements: former Playboy model Karen McDougal and porn star Stormy Daniels.
After The Enquirer publicized his private life, giving Twitter and night-time presenters the chance to comment on his very virulent texting style, Mr. Bezos went into action, launching his own investigation into the motivations of the tabloid and its evolution. to possess her texts to Mrs. Sanchez.
The founder of the Amazon, which had the last balance sheet for $ 136 billion, hinted that he would spare no expense to attack the publisher tabloid. The investigation was led by Gavin de Becker, head of Bezos' long-standing security, to whom Bezos said he had instructed "to proceed with the budget he would need to study the facts in this case. ".
It was a bold move for someone who often tried to avoid the spotlight, despite frequent insults from Mr. Trump, who had called the newspaper bought by Mr. Bezos in 2013 "The Amazon Post" and recently called him "Jeff Bozo" in a tweet.
[[[[Mr. de Becker advised celebrities on threats for decades.]
On January 31st, Mr. de Becker confirmed to the Daily Beast that he was investigating the question of how Enquirer got the SMS. Shortly after, The Post prepared an article exploring competing theories about the motivations for publishing the frightened tale.
American Media then took the following decision, offering Mr. Bezos an offer that he mistakenly assumed that he could not refuse. And he said no? An upcoming issue of The Enquirer would make him very unhappy, with selfies and more torrid texts than he had apparently gotten.
"Of course, I do not want personal photos to be published, but I will not participate in their well-known practice of blackmail, political favors, political attacks and corruption," Bezos wrote. "I prefer to get up, roll this newspaper and see what happens."
Amazon declined to comment. American Media has not responded to a request for comment.
Using Medium to reveal the behind-the-scenes maneuvers of the Enquirer, Mr. Bezos – one of the most powerful titans in the world and the owner of one of the country's most influential newspapers – has shown that the best way communication can be a simple blog post.
Sometimes, while walking around – while showing the occasional flair of tabloid columnists of old – Bezos' message has brought together random elements of the legal drama that has lasted all year and which involves the president, American Media and payments allegedly illegal to women.
The federal investigation culminated in a guilty plea of former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael D. Cohen, who claimed to have paid Ms. Daniels $ 130,000 and asked American Media to pay $ 150,000. to Mrs. McDougal, on the order of the President, to protect her election. perspectives.
Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York determined that the payment by American Media was an illegal contribution from the company. Because the company cooperated with the prosecutors, the authorities did not lodge a complaint. But they forced American Media to sign a non-suit agreement, in which he claimed to have made the payment to "influence the elections".
This agreement, signed in September, stipulated that AM.I. "Will not commit any crime" for three years and, if applicable, "A.M.I. is then prosecuted for any federal criminal offense of which this office is aware. "
If American Media's threat to publish Mr. Bezos' personal photos is found to be criminal, the contract with federal prosecutors would be jeopardized.
"One thing we can be sure of is that federal prosecutors are looking into these charges," said Jeff Tsai, a former federal prosecutor. "The nature of this non-prosecution agreement – not to commit a crime – was to give A.M.I. the opportunity to think seriously about the nature of his practices. "
He added, "You can sometimes get a pass from federal prosecutors; it's a lot harder to get two passes.
The agreement put American Media, Mr. Pecker and Mr. Howard in disagreement with Mr. Trump, which refuted the speculation that Enquirer had somehow pursued the history of Bezos in alliance with the US. President and his allies.
On February 5, however, this possibility appeared in The Post. Mr. de Becker told the paper that Enquirer's story began with a "politically motivated" leak. Mr. de Becker was the protector of Olivia Newton-John, of Michael J. Fox, as well as Ronald Reagan's friends and family. He declined to comment.
American Media appeared to warn Mr. Bezos not to raise any political speculation in an email addressed to Mr. de Becker's lawyer, which he had shared with Medium. In his letter, which he quotes in full, a company lawyer, Jon Fine, asked Mr. Bezos to publicly state that he had "no knowledge or basis to suggest that" the coverage of "American Media" was motivated or influenced by political forces. . "Mr. Fine worked as a lawyer at Amazon.
In his message, Bezos also hinted that the tabloid company met Saudi requirements, citing an article in The Grouvy Today last year: "After Mr. Trump is as president, he rewarded Mr. Pecker's loyalty with a White House. dinner to which the media officer invited a guest with important ties to the royal family in Saudi Arabia. At the time, Mr. Pecker operated there while seeking financing for acquisitions."
The post has forcefully stated on intelligence assessments that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the macabre assassination of the Saudi dissident – and contributor to Post – Jamal Khashoggi 's world opinion.