In 1993, Princeton graduate Jeff Bezos opened an online bookstore. Browsing books on a website and then receiving them in the mail, he decided, made for a quicker and easier experience. Initially working out of his garage, he warned early investors that there was a 70 per cent chance that Amazon would fail.
Last year, for the first time, the company reached a valuation of $1 trillion (that’s 12 zeros, in case you were wondering). Diversifying into electronics and homewares, the company became a sprawling online marketplace before then expanding into entertainment. Today, Bezos himself is worth $137 billion.
However, according to Bezos, he is being blackmailed by AMI (American Media Inc) and accused them of “weaponising journalistic privileges”. AMI own the National Enquirer which, arguably closer to a tabloid magazine than a newspaper, has been the subject of much controversy. However, being accused of blackmail by the world's richest man puts one in a tricky situation.
Furthermore, Bezos has been remarkably transparent about the situation. “Something unusual happened to me yesterday,” he wrote in a blog post. “Actually, for me it wasn’t just unusual — it was a first. I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse. 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.”
The National Enquirer has written about Bezos before, specifically his breakup from MacKenzie Bezos, from whom he announced his separation last month. Hours after the split was made public, the National Enquirer published details - including private messages - of an apparent affair with former TV host Lauren Sanchez.
Bezos now claims that individuals representing the interests of AMI are trying to blackmail him. The demands, according to Bezos, are that he immediately stops investigating how they obtained personal messages and that he makes a "false public statement" saying their coverage of the reported extramarital affair was not politically motivated.
It’s thought that Bezos’ ownership of the Washington Post, a paper which has not favoured President Trump, has become a key issue. AMI’s boss David Pecker is a close personal friend of the president and has gone to great lengths to try to maintain Trump’s public image.
“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 continues. “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.”
The amount of information the tabloid seems to have is staggering. In explaining the intricate details of specific images, they were able to attempt to commit blackmail, it seems. Copied from the email Bezos claims to have received, the images are described below.
“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.”
The aforementioned “catch and kill” campaign relates to hush money payments made from Trump to ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal. Knowing that Trump was bankrolling the operation, the National Enquirer was able to obtain the story by offering $150,000 to McDougal in exchange for exclusive rights (catch it) then “choose” never to publish the story “kill it”. In fact, the tabloid reportedly had a safe full of secrets relating to Trump's indiscretions. The demands which Bezos claims were made of him are as follows.
“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 acknowlegdement 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’).
4. AM affirms that it undertook no electronic eavesdropping in connection with its reporting and has no knowledge of such conduct.
5. The agreement is completely confidential.
6. 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.
7. Any other disputes arising out of this agreement shall first be submitted to JAMS mediation in California”
AMI have claimed that they “acted lawfully”. However, the National Enquirer has since made a statement to CNBC: "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."
While Bezos attempts to weather the storm, it seems that AMI and the National Enquirer are likely to come off worse. The National Enquirer is known for publishing bizarre headlines about everyone from aliens to politicians. Less journalistically sound than other publications, they will also pay sources. However, it seems that this particular scandal is one they may struggle to outlive, let alone write about. Meanwhile, Amazon stock has dipped over the last 24 hours, but only by a marginal two per cent.