For years a parade of celebrities, politicians, CEOs and others have attempted to end The National Enquirer’s sleazy and wildly inaccurate “news” reporting with little success.
Now this mainstay of Yellow Journalism has crossed swords with the world’s richest man, and The Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., along with its CEO David Pecker may be a little more troubled about next steps taken by Bezos and federal prosecutors who are now looking into the case.
Bezos describes it best himself in a posting. In part, it reads:
“I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Bezos begins. “Or at least that’s what the top people at the National Enquirer thought. I’m glad they thought that because it emboldened them to put it all in writing. 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.
“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. …
“Federal investigators,” Bezos continues, “and legitimate media have of course suspected and proved that Mr. Pecker has used the Enquirer and AMI for political reasons. And yet AMI keeps claiming otherwise…
“Of course, legitimate media have been challenging that assertion for a long time. …
“I didn’t know much about most of that a few weeks ago when intimate texts messages from me were published in the National Enquirer. I engaged investigators to learn how those texts were obtained and to determine the motives for the many unusual actions taken by the Enquirer. As it turns out, there are now several independent investigations looking into this matter.
“To lead my investigation, I retained Gavin de Becker… his expertise in this arena is excellent…
“Here’s a piece of context: My ownership of the Washington Post is a complexifier for me. 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,” Bezos points out. “Also, The Post’s essential and unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi is undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles. …
“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.
“My lawyers argued that AMI has no right to publish photos since any person holds the copyright to their own photos and since the photos in themselves don’t add anything newsworthy.
“AMI’s claim of newsworthiness is that the photos are necessary to show Amazon shareholders that my business judgment is terrible. I founded Amazon in my garage 24 years ago and drove all the packages to the post office myself. Today, Amazon employs more than 600,000 people, just finished its most profitable year ever, even while investing heavily in new initiatives, and it’s usually somewhere between the #1 and #5 most valuable company in the world. I will let those results speak for themselves.
“OK, back to their threat to publish intimate photos of me. I guess we (me, my lawyers, and Gavin de Becker) didn’t react to the generalized threat with enough fear, so they sent this:
From: Howard, Dylan … (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 DISTRIBUTION
I am leaving the office for the night. …
However, in the interests of expediting 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.’ ” Howard writes.
AMI then proceeds to graphically detail the photos in their possession, choosing to call the whole effort “newsgathering.” Most of us would call it blackmail.
“Well, that got my attention,” Bezos continues. “But not in the way they likely hoped. 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,” Bezos adds.)
“In the AMI letters I’m making public,” Bezos writes, “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.’
“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.
“Be assured, no real journalists ever propose anything like what is happening here: I will not report embarrassing information about you if you do X for me. And if you don’t do X quickly, I will report the embarrassing information.
“Nothing I might write here could tell the National Enquirer story as eloquently as their own words below.
“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. Sincerely, Jeff Bezos”
Bezos includes the e-mails between attorneys for Mr. de Becker, Bezos’ investigator and Jon Fine, deputy general counsel for AMI and Content Chief Dylan Howard.
Among the statements that stand out by AMI attorneys are these:
“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. …
“…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.”
If it’s legitimate newsgathering, why the quid pro quo? Just publish the story.
Clearly, what’s behind all of this is Enquirer publisher David Pecker’s relationship with President Trump and Trump’s alleged financial ties to Saudi Arabia.
But there is yet another complicating factor in all this, as mentioned by Bezos and reported by The New York Times (Feb. 8). “If American Media is found to have broken a law — any law — it would be in violation of a deal with federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York. … Under the deal, the company would not be prosecuted for its Trump-related efforts as long as it stayed out of legal trouble for the next three years.”
Adding to the cloud of suspicion is the fact that “The Trump administration signaled on Friday it was unlikely to meet a deadline to report to Congress on whether it intends to impose sanctions on those responsible for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, prompting an angry backlash on Capitol Hill,” Reuters reports (Feb. 8).
Despite the fact that his own intelligence people have told Trump that it is highly likely that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman not only had knowledge of the death of Khashoggi, but likely ordered his murder, Trump said that he takes the word of bin Salman that he had no knowledge of the incident, let alone sanctioned the killing.
While all the facts have yet to unfold and final judgment should be withheld, this appears to be another example where threats and intimidation are used against individuals and organizations who write or otherwise publicly disclose what continues to crawl out from under “the log” of Trump and company.