Amazon.com founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos is accusing American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, of blackmail. The publisher apparently threatened to publish intimate photographs of the billionaire unless he backed off an investigation he instigated against the tabloid. Bezos made his accusations public in a post to online publishing platform Medium.
In his post, Bezos published emails that he claimed were from executives at the National Enquirer to a lawyer representing his security consultant, Gavin de Becker. Emails from AMI’s deputy general counsel, Jon Fine, detailed a list of terms under which AMI said it would withhold publication of the photos. Bezos wrote that “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?”
Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, revealed they would be divorcing last month a few days after the Enquirer reportedly informed him it would be publishing a story about his relationship with former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez. The article that the tabloid published included what it called “sleazy text messages and gushing love notes” between the two. Bezos decided to investigate how the leak of his private information happened and tapped de Becker to head the investigation.
While it is not clear how the Enquirer acquired the texts between Bezos and Sanchez, the tabloid has said that it acquired the material lawfully. It claims that Bezos’s prominence makes the material newsworthy and that it had the right to publish the material under the “fair use” doctrine of copyright law.
American Media has pledged to thoroughly investigate the extortion claims. In a statement, the company said, “American Media believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos. Further, at the time of the recent allegations made by Mr. Bezos, it was in good faith negotiations to resolve all matters with him. Nonetheless, in light of the nature of the allegations published by Mr. Bezos, the Board has convened and determined that it should promptly and thoroughly investigate the claims. Upon completion of that investigation, the Board will take whatever appropriate action is necessary.”