Our tabloid politics suddenly hit a new low—and then got a little better. On Thursday, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive and the owner of the Washington Post, wrote a piece on Medium accusing the National Enquirer and its parent company American Media Inc. of attempting to blackmail him. That’s the low. But Bezos turned down and exposed AMI’s offer. And for that, we should all be deeply thankful.
Bezos wrote that AMI offered not to publish nude and semi-nude photos of him if he and his associates would tell the press that AMI’s previous salacious coverage of him was not politically motivated. In January, the Enquirer published a story exposing Bezos’s extramarital affair with former TV host Lauren Sanchez including private texts messages that Bezos had sent her. That inspired Bezos to launch his own investigation “to learn how those texts were obtained, and to determine the motives for the many unusual actions taken by the Enquirer.”
In response, AMI made him the offer that Bezos details at Medium, complete with the full emails that he received from AMI executives and lawyers.
Of course, President Donald Trump has targeted Bezos as a political enemy, and the National Enquirer’s chairman and CEO David Pecker has a long history of helping Trump by killing off stories that could potentially hurt him. In December, AMI struck an immunity deal with federal prosecutors pertaining to the investigation of Trump’s ex-lawyer, Michael Cohen. That deal may now have been violated.
On Medium, Bezos wrote, “If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?”
He’s dead right. The term “banana republic” is overused these days, but if slimy media corporations succeed in extortion or blackmail to help out their political allies, then that’s exactly what we are. And if the world’s richest man can’t do anything about it, then it’s what we’ll forever be. It’s because Bezos has security consultants and unlimited resources that he was able to fight back against these violations of his privacy. The rest of us would just be left broken and helpless after the humiliation from the Enquirer’s first story.
From a tactical standpoint, of course, AMI was in a bad position. They’d already exposed Bezos’s intimate secrets with their first release of private messages. This meant that by the time they came to him with the proposal, he had less to protect than he once did. It was now AMI that was panicked about exposure. Bezos had the upper hand and he realized it.
Bezos’s bringing AMI’s racket out into the open will make it much harder for another party to try the same thing. And his story might just be the beginning of a cascade of similar revelations. As with all such things, once someone decides that the price for staying silent is too high, others follow suit. Since the Bezos story broke, Ronan Farrow has claimed that he and another journalist were targeted for blackmail by AMI for their reporting on Trump. And Bezos said that “numerous people” have reached out to him claiming to have had “similar experiences” with the Enquirer.
No matter your ideological allegiance or your feelings about the Washington Post, Bezos, or Trump, you’ll be done no favors by a system of political blackmail. No one, on either side of the political divide, is immune until everyone is immune. And Jeff Bezos brought us closer to that reality.