Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Accuses 'National Enquirer' Publisher of 'Extortion' Over Naked Photos in Extraordinary Blog Post
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has accused American Media Inc. (AMI), the publisher of the National Enquirer, of attempting to extort him over leaked naked photos.
In January 2019, the National Enquirer published an exposé into an affair between the billionaire tech exec and the former news anchor and helicopter pilot Lauren Sanchez, and said that it had seen explicit photos of him.
In an extraordinary blog post published on Medium on Thursday, Bezos said AMI subsequently attempted to extort him over these photos. He said the publisher threatened to publish the photos unless he stopped an investigation into the leaks. And it also demanded that he disavow the idea that AMI's investigation into his personal life might have been politically motivated, Bezos said.
"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," Bezos wrote.
Spokespeople for AMI and Amazon did not immediately respond to Business Insider's requests for comment.
Bezos insinuates the National Enquirer may have been politically motivated
AMI has long been accused of having political motives for its news coverage.
Its owner, David Pecker, is an ally of President Donald Trump and has previously engaged in buying negative stories about Trump in order to bury them (a process called "catch and kill"). As such, there has been some speculation that the National Enquirer exposé on Bezos was at least partially motivated by the long-running feud between Trump and Bezos, who owns the Washington Post.
Gavin de Becker, Bezos' security boss who is leading the investigation into the exposé, had previously said "strong leads point to political motives." De Becker has "whatever budget he needed" to carry out this investigation, Bezos wrote.
Bezos doesn't outright say he believes the National Enquirer exposé was politically motivated. But he hints at it, beginning his blog post by recapping AMI's "catch and kill" practices and saying his ownership of the Washington Post means "powerful people who experience ... news coverage will wrongly conclude I am their enemy."
He also hints at a potential Saudi Arabian connection to his investigation into AMI, writing: "Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is 'apoplectic' about our investigation. For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve."
"A few days after hearing about Mr. Pecker's apoplexy, we were approached, verbally at first, with an offer. They said they had more of my text messages and photos that they would publish if we didn't stop our investigation," he added.
AMI's alleged emails have been published
Bezos' comments represent an extraordinary intervention from the 55-year-old CEO into the tabloid scandal. Bezos had so far refrained from commenting, even as de Becker gave media interviews, and he rarely talks to the press.
Bezos' post also contains what he said are copies of the emails sent by AMI, which include explicit descriptions of the intimate photos.
"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,'" Bezos wrote.
"If we do not agree to affirmatively publicize that specific lie, they say they'll publish the photos, and quickly. And there's an associated threat: They'll keep the photos on hand and publish them in the future if we ever deviate from that lie."
These are, Bezos said, some of the terms AMI tried to get him to agree to in return for not publishing the photos:
"1. 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.
"2. 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.
"3. AM agrees not to publish, distribute, share, or describe unpublished texts and photos (the "Unpublished Materials")."
Bezos added that his lawyers believe AMI has no right to publish the photos in any case because he took the original photos in question, giving him the claim to ownership.