Being rich may make you an alluring target for blackmail. But being really, really rich may make you immune.
In an extraordinary blog post published on Medium Thursday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos accused The National Enquirer of attempting to blackmail him by threatening to publish 10 intimate photos unless Bezos stopped an investigation into how the tabloid obtained his private messages and images.
In the post, Bezos reproduced emails that appear to show associates of David Pecker—chair of American Media Inc., the Enquirer’s parent company—demanding that Bezos publicly state that there is no reason to believe the tabloid’s coverage of him is “politically motivated or influenced by political forces.” If he refused, Bezos alleges, the Enquirer’s representatives said the publication would make public intimate photos of him and Lauren Sanchez, a woman with whom he had a romantic relationship.
Bezos is the world’s richest man, with a stake in Amazon valued at roughly $127 billion. In the post, titled “No thank you, Mr. Pecker,” Bezos wrote that “these communications cement AMI’s long-earned reputation for weaponizing journalistic privileges, hiding behind important protections, and ignoring the tenets and purpose of true journalism. 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. I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out.” Representatives for AMI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The post marked a dramatic escalation of Bezos’ feud with the Enquirer, which began last month when the tabloid published a 12-page article containing text messages between Bezos and Sanchez, revealing what the Enquirer said was an affair. The article appeared shortly after Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie Bezos, announced they were getting divorced.
Almost three weeks later, The Daily Beast reported that Gavin de Becker, Bezos’ personal security consultant, was investigating how the tabloid obtained the messages. De Becker later confirmed that he was scrutinizing Michael Sanchez, Lauren Sanchez’s brother, a supporter of President Trump and a business associate of some of Trump’s former staff members, including Roger Stone and Carter Page.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, de Becker said his investigation was ongoing but that “strong leads point to political motives.” In his blog post, Bezos wrote that there are now “several independent investigations looking into this matter.”
Bezos owns The Washington Post, whose editorial board has been critical of Trump’s presidency. The Amazon CEO has also been the target of repeated criticism by the president, in speeches and on Twitter. After the Enquirer published Bezos’ texts, Trump tweeted, “So sorry to hear
the news about Jeff Bozo being taken down by a competitor whose reporting, I understand, is far more accurate than the reporting in his lobbyist newspaper, the Amazon Washington Post.”
The National Enquirer and Pecker have long been friends to President Trump, and for years the tabloid published favorable coverage of him when he was a New York real estate tycoon. In December, AMI admitted to paying Karen McDougal, a woman who alleges she had an affair with the president, $150,000 shortly before the 2016 election to “suppress” her story and “prevent it from influencing the election.” The admission came as part of a deal with prosecutors investigating the 2016 election.
In his blog post, Bezos alleges The National Enquirer is “particularly sensitive” about its connections to the Saudi Arabian government. Last year, AMI produced a 97-page magazine celebrating the country and its leaders, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudi Embassy in Washington was able to review the magazine nearly three weeks before it was published, according to the Associated Press. In October, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated in Istanbul and the CIA reportedly believes the Crown Prince ordered the killing.
Bezos could, perhaps, have published his blog post on an Amazon website or in The Washington Post, but instead chose Medium as his venue. The blogging platform’s policies state that it does not allow “posting copies of private communications between private individuals without the explicit consent of all parties to the communication.” It also prohibits publishing private personal information. Bezos, who not only published the emails but also the email addresses of Pecker’s associates, appears to have violated both of those rules. Medium did not immediately return a request for comment.
Paris Martineau and Issie Lapowsky contributed reporting.