Jeff Bezos, Amazon chief executive, accused the owner of The National Enquirer on Thursday of trying “extortion and blackmail” to stop his investigation into how his private text messages and photos with his mistress were leaked to the tabloid.
In an extraordinarily personal online post, Mr Bezos said intermediaries of Mr David Pecker, chairman of American Media Inc (AMI), the owner of The Enquirer, had approached him to stop his investigation. Mr Bezos said he had been told that if he refused, the publisher would make risqué and intimate photos of him and his mistress, Ms Lauren Sanchez, public.
Mr Bezos said AMI had wanted him to stop looking into it for political reasons. He pointed to the publisher’s past cooperation with United States President Donald Trump, as well as its connections to the government of Saudi Arabia. Mr Bezos owns The Washington Post, which has relentlessly reported on the murder last year of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident.
“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,” Mr Bezos wrote of AMI, explaining why he had decided to speak out. “I prefer to stand up, roll this log over and see what crawls out.”
Mr Bezos’ online post details a stunning and bizarre clash between the world’s richest man and the nation’s biggest tabloid publisher. In it, all of the country’s obsessions of recent years appear to have collided, from the personal lives of billionaires and sensational tabloid headlines to Mr Trump’s fight with the media.
It has also shown that even for one of the world’s most powerful tech titans and the owner of one of the country’s most influential newspapers, the best means of communications can be a simple blog post. And in a time when Beltway pundits complain that the public has lost its capacity to be shocked, Mr Bezos’ post did exactly that.
The confrontation began last month when Mr Bezos and his wife MacKenzie announced that they were getting divorced. The couple, who have been married for 25 years, disclosed their separation just before The Enquirer published an article exposing that Mr Bezos was having an affair with Ms Sanchez, a former television host who is also married.
The Enquirer article included text messages between Mr Bezos and Ms Sanchez, in which he wrote of his feelings for her and used endearments including “alive girl”.
Mr Bezos, who has kept his personal life largely out of the public eye, said in his post that he had then quickly “engaged investigators to learn how those texts were obtained, and to determine the motives for the many unusual actions taken by The Enquirer”. He said he had turned to Mr Gavin de Becker, his long-time private security consultant, for help.
In recent interviews, including with The Daily Beast and The Washington Post, Mr de Becker has said he was investigating whether Ms Sanchez’s brother, who has said he supports Mr Trump, may have been behind the leak for political reasons.
Those who support the President may have been motivated to move against Mr Bezos since Mr Trump has long criticized the billionaire. Mr Trump has previously linked The Post and Amazon in critical Twitter posts, once declaring the “Fake Washington Post” a “lobbyist” for Amazon.