After Jeff Bezos accused the National Enquirer of attempted extortion — with the threat of publishing private nude pics of the Amazon billionaire — American Media, the tabloid’s publisher, said its board has initiated an investigation into the matter.
In a statement Friday morning, AMI reiterated claims that it acted within legal boundaries in obtaining personal texts attributed to Bezos, some which the National Enquirer published last month. Bezos on Jan. 9 announced he was divorcing his wife of 25 years, MacKenzie Bezos, after which the National Enquirer published texts purportedly between Jeff Bezos and his new girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez.
Bezos, in an extraordinary blog post Thursday, accused AMI and the National Enquirer of threatening to publish personal photos the tabloid had obtained — including a “d— pic” of the Amazon founder, as described by AMI’s chief content executive — unless Bezos publicly disavowed any knowledge that the company had pursued the story with a political agenda and ended his investigation into how the Enquirer obtained the texts. In addition, AMI demanded that the Bezos-owned Washington Post cease reporting on AMI’s political ties, according to Bezos’ post.
AMI’s full statement reads, “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.”
The four-member board of AMI is composed of chairman/CEO David Pecker; Evan Ratner and Barry Schwartz, both partners at Chatham Asset Management (a hedge fund that is one of AMI’s owners); and David R. Hughes, CFO of Shore Memorial Hospital in New Jersey.
In a post on Medium titled “No thank you, Mr. Pecker,” Bezos included what he said were three emails from AMI and the National Enquirer execs. In one, AMI chief content officer Dylan Howard described 10 photos the Enquirer had obtained, including a “below the belt selfie — otherwise colloquially known as a ‘d— pick’ [sic]” as well as those showing Bezos in states of undress.
In an email from Jon Fine, AMI’s deputy general counsel for media, to lawyer Marty Singer — who is representing Gavin de Becker, whom Bezos retained to investigate the National Enquirer reporting — Fine demanded that Bezos and his representatives, including the Washington Post, cease and desist in making “unsubstantiated defamatory statements and scurrilous rumors” about AMI’s political agenda, in which case AMI was “willing to engage in constructive conversations regarding the texts and photos which we have in our possession.”
“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,” Bezos wrote in the post. “I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out.”
Bezos suggested that AMI was motivated to unearth and publish damaging info on him because of Pecker’s close ties to Donald Trump, who has attacked the Amazon CEO and the ecommerce giant over the Washington Post’s aggressive coverage of the president.
In addition, Bezos claimed that “an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is ‘apoplectic’ about our investigation” and that “the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve.” He wrote that the Washington Post’s ongoing coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi while in Saudi Arabian custody “is undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles.”
A spokesman for Bezos confirmed Friday that Bezos’ post was authentic but declined further comment, including whether the matter has been referred to law enforcement.
The connection between AMI’s Pecker and Trump is already well established. Last year, AMI signed a cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors in which the company and its executives admitted to arranging for a “catch-and-kill” ploy leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, involving payments to model Karen McDougal to keep her from going public with her claims of an affair with Trump. AMI also admitted that in August 2015, Pecker extended an offer to former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to buy up the rights to negative stories about Trump’s relationships with women in order to suppress publication.
Bezos is the world’s richest individual, with a current personal net worth of $134 billion, per Bloomberg. The 55-year-old mogul owns 16% of Amazon’s shares.