Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos accused attorneys for the National Enquirer's parent company of extortion and blackmail on Thursday, writing in a post on Medium that the attorneys threatened to publish intimate photos of him if he failed to comply with their demands.
After the Enquirer published a story about his extramarital affair with Lauren Sanchez, which broke just after Bezos and his wife announced their divorce last month, the billionaire decided to investigate how the publication took possession of his and Sanchez’s private text messages.
In the process, Bezos and his private investigator, Gavin de Becker, apparently determined the decision to publish the affair story was politically motivated.
AMI, the owner of the National Enquirer, led by David Pecker, recently entered into an immunity deal with the Department of Justice related to their role in the so-called “Catch and Kill” process on behalf of President Trump and his election campaign. Mr. Pecker and his company have also been investigated for various actions they’ve taken on behalf of the Saudi Government.
And sometimes Mr. Pecker mixes it all together:
“After Mr. Trump became president, he rewarded Mr. Pecker’s loyalty with a White House dinner to which the media executive brought a guest with important ties to the royals in Saudi Arabia. At the time, Mr. Pecker was pursuing business there while also hunting for financing for acquisitions…”
Bezos not only heads Amazon but also owns The Washington Post — a fact he acknowledges is a “complexifier”.
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.
Bezos alleges that AMI has threatened to embarrass him by publishing the intimate photos sent via text message to Sanchez unless he and de Becker both state publicly that there was no political motive driving the Enquirer’s story.
But Bezos isn’t playing along.
After receiving a verbal offer on the deal and failing to respond, Bezos’ attorney received an email explaining in detail the nature of each photo AMI has in its possession (see emails below).
Bezos’ response was to go public with their communications. He wrote that he of all people is in a position to take on the likes of AMI:
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? (On that point, numerous people have contacted our investigation team about their similar experiences with AMI, and how they needed to capitulate because, for example, their livelihoods were at stake.)
In the AMI letters I’m making public, you will see the precise details of their extortionate proposal: They will publish the personal photos unless Gavin de Becker and I make the specific false public statement to the press that we “have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”
In closing his post, Bezos makes no effort to hide his disdain for AMI, the National Enquirer, or Pecker’s mode of operation:
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.
Email correspondence Jeff Bezos shared in his Medium post:
From: Howard, Dylan [firstname.lastname@example.org] (Chief Content Officer, AMI)
Sent: Tuesday, February 5, 2019 3:33 PM
To: Martin Singer (litigation counsel for Mr. de Becker)
Subject:. Jeff Bezos & Ms. Lauren Sanchez Photos
CONFIDENTIAL & NOT FOR DISTRIBIUTION
I am leaving the office for the night. I will be available on my cell — 917 XXX-XXXX.
However, in the interests of expediating 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.
In addition to the “below the belt selfie — otherwise colloquially known as a ‘d*ck pick’” — The Enquirer obtained a further nine images. These include:*
· Mr. Bezos face selfie at what appears to be a business meeting.
· Ms. Sanchez response — a photograph of her smoking a cigar in what appears to be a simulated oral sex scene.
· A shirtless Mr. Bezos holding his phone in his left hand — while wearing his wedding ring. He’s wearing either tight black cargo pants or shorts — and his semi-erect manhood is penetrating the zipper of said garment.
· A full-length body selfie of Mr. Bezos wearing just a pair of tight black boxer-briefs or trunks, with his phone in his left hand — while wearing his wedding ring.
· A selfie of Mr. Bezos fully clothed.
· A full-length scantily-clad body shot with short trunks.
· A naked selfie in a bathroom — while wearing his wedding ring. Mr. Bezos is wearing nothing but a white towel — and the top of his pubic region can be seen.
· Ms. Sanchez wearing a plunging red neckline dress revealing her cleavage and a glimpse of her nether region.
· *Ms. Sanchez wearing a two-piece red bikini with gold detail dress revealing her cleavage.
It would give no editor pleasure to send this email. I hope common sense can prevail — and quickly.
From: Fine, Jon [email@example.com] (Deputy General Counsel, AMI)
Sent: Wednesday, February 6, 2019 5:57 PM
To: Martin Singer (Mr de Becker’s attorney)
Subject: *Re: EXTERNAL* RE: Bezos et al / American Media et al
Here are our proposed terms:
A full and complete mutual release of all claims that American Media, on the one hand, and Jeff Bezos and Gavin de Becker (the “Bezos Parties”), on the other, may have against each other.
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.
AM agrees not to publish, distribute, share, or describe unpublished texts and photos (the “Unpublished Materials”).
AM affirms that it undertook no electronic eavesdropping in connection with its reporting and has no knowledge of such conduct.
The agreement is completely confidential.
In the case of a breach of the agreement by one or more of the Bezos Parties, AM is released from its obligations under the agreement, and may publish the Unpublished Materials.
Any other disputes arising out of this agreement shall first be submitted to JAMS mediation in California
Deputy General Counsel, Media
American Media, LLC
Jon P. Fine
Deputy General Counsel, Media
O: (212) 743–6513 C: (347) 920–6541
February 5, 2019*
Martin D. Singer
Laveley & Singer*
Re: Jeff Bezos / American Media, LLC, et al.
*Dear Mr. Singer:
I write in response to your February 4, 2019, letter to Dylan Howard, and to address serious concerns we have regarding the continuing defamatory activities of your client and his representatives regarding American Media’s motivations in its recent reporting about your client.
As a primary matter, please be advised that our newsgathering and reporting on matters involving your client, including any use of your client’s “private photographs,” has been, and will continue to be, consistent with applicable laws. As you know, “the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies . . . for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting . . . is not an infringement of copyright.” 17 USC Sec. 107. With millions of Americans having a vested interest in the success of Amazon, of which your client remains founder, chairman, CEO, and president, an exploration of Mr. Bezos’ judgment as reflected by his texts and photos is indeed newsworthy and in the public interest.
Beyond the copyright issues you raise, we also find it necessary to address various unsubstantiated defamatory statements and scurrilous rumors attributed to your client’s representatives in the press suggesting that “strong leads point to political motives”1 in the publication of The National Enquirer story. Indeed, you yourself declared the “politically motivated underpinnings” of our reporting to be “self-evident” in your correspondence on Mr. de Becker’s behalf to Mr. Howard dated January 31, 2019.
Once again, as I advised you in my February 1 response to your January 31 correspondence,* American Media emphatically rejects any assertion that its reporting was instigated, dictated or influenced in any manner by external forces, political or otherwise. *Simply put, this was and is a news story.
Yet, it is our understanding that your client’s representatives, including the Washington Post, continue to pursue and to disseminate these false and spurious allegations in a manner that is injurious to American Media and its executives.*
Accordingly, we hereby demand that you cease and desist such defamatory conduct immediately. Any further dissemination of these false, vicious, speculative and unsubstantiated statements is done at your client’s peril. *Absent the immediate cessation of the defamatory conduct, we will have no choice but to pursue all remedies available under applicable law.
As I advised previously, we stand by the legality of our newsgathering and reporting on this matter of public interest and concern. Moreover, American Media is undeterred from continuing its reporting on a story that is unambiguously in the public interest — a position Mr. Bezos clearly appreciates as reflected in Boies Schiller January 9 letter to American Media stating that your client “does not intend to discourage reporting about him” and “supports journalistic efforts.”
That said, if your client agrees to cease and desist such defamatory behavior, we are willing to engage in constructive conversations regarding the texts and photos which we have in our possession. Dylan Howard stands ready to discuss the matter at your convenience.
All other rights, claims, counterclaims and defenses are specifically reserved and not waived.