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What's going on with Jeff Bezos, a tabloid magazine, Donald Trump and alleged blackmail?

A heated dispute is ongoing in the US involving some very high profile figures.

Image: UPI/PA Images

A HEATED DISPUTE involving a US tabloid magazine and the world’s richest man has ramped up in recent days, with claims of attempted blackmail and leaked details of extramarital affairs all dominating the headlines across the Atlantic. 

But what exactly is the battle between Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the National Enquirer all about? Who are the main players involved? And what is the link with US President Donald Trump?   

Let’s unpick the drama. 

Bezos vs The National Enquirer

How did this all start? 

Jeff Bezos is the founder and CEO of online retail giant Amazon and is the world’s richest person, with a personal wealth of over $135 billion. 

The National Enquirer is a US tabloid magazine, famed for its trashy celebrity gossip and crime reporting.

At one point it had a weekly circulation of millions, but this has dropped dramatically since many people stopped buying magazines, getting their news on the internet instead.  

The nature of the dispute between the two centres on the Enquirer accessing the private text messages of Bezos, and last month reporting that he had an extramarital affair with former news anchor and entertainment reporter Lauren Sanchez. 

This leak has led to Bezos’ divorce from his long-term partner MacKenzie, which is being labelled “the most expensive divorce of all time”.

What are the latest developments? 

Following on from last month’s scandal, Bezos on Thursday said the Enquirer’s parent company had threatened to publish intimate photographs he sent to his mistress.

In a post on the online platform Medium, Bezos said Enquirer publisher American Media Inc (AMI), led by a man named David Pecker, had threatened to publish the photos if he did not halt an investigation into the motives behind the leak of his affair. 

According to Bezos, The Enquirer had demanded that he and security consultant Gavin de Becker, who is leading the investigation on Bezos’s behalf, publicly state they had “no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces”.

AMI has strongly denied that the reporting of Bezos’ affair was politically motivated. 

De Becker had mentioned in a recent interview with online publication Daily Beast that “strong leads point to political motives”, and that he was interested in Lauren Sanchez’s brother Michael, a vocal supporter of US president Donald Trump with links to his inner circle, as a possible perpetrator of the leak. 

How is Trump involved? 

David Pecker is the CEO of AMI and is a known associate and friend of Donald Trump. 

In his Medium Post, Bezos outlined how Trump and Pecker have cooperated in the past. 

According the The BBC, when Trump announced his presidency bid, the Enquirer endorsed him strongly and took aim at his opponents. 

(The magazine even published an article claiming that Hillary Clinton had “6 MONTHS TO LIVE”.)

US media reports state that Enquirer articles about the race were sent and approved by Trump’s lawyer before they were published, although the magazine has denied this. 

The cooperation also extended to payments to suppress negative stories regarding Trump, which is currently under investigation by US federal prosecutors. 

One such negative story involves a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Trump.

A hush-money payment was made to her along with and a similar one to another woman on the eve of Trump’s 2016 presidential election victory.

Trump is suspected of campaign finance violations because of the these payments on grounds they were made to affect the outcome of the vote and should therefore have been reported to US government campaign monitors.

AMI struck a deal with investigators late last year, saying that it would cooperate with them.   

It admitted that before the election it had paid $150,000 to the ex-model Karen McDougal to silence her allegations of an affair with Trump.

Prosecutors said they would not charge AMI in relation to this. 

Trump vs Bezos 

Bezos is also the owner of The Washington Post newspaper. The paper, Amazon and Bezos himself are all regular targets of Trump on Twitter. 

Last month Trump took aim at Bezos – referring to him as ‘Bozo’ – in what appeared to be an allusion to the reporting of his affair.

“So sorry to hear the news about Jeff Bozo being taken down by a competitor whose reporting, I understand, is far more accurate than the reporting in his lobbyist newspaper, the Amazon Washington Post,” he tweeted.

Hopefully the paper will soon be placed in better & more responsible hands!

Bezos hit back at Trump in his Medium post on Thursday.

“It’s unavoidable that certain powerful people who experience Washington Post news coverage will wrongly conclude I am their enemy,” he wrote in the blog post.

“President Trump is one of those people, obvious by his many tweets.

Also, The Post’s essential and unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi is undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles.

(The Post was one of the leading news outlets in coverage of the murder last year of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Post columnist. Trump has refused to criticise Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been widely accused of ordering the murder.)

So what happens now?

In relation to what he called the blackmail attempt, Bezos said that he would refuse to “capitulate to extortion and blackmail” and that instead he would publish “exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten”. 

His Medium post, entitled “No thank you, Mr. Pecker”, included copies of the emails from AMI.

In the text of the emails, it appears that an AMI official details the contents of 10 photos said to be in The Enquirer’s possession of Bezos and Sanchez.  

Bezos concluded his post by saying:  

Of course I don’t want personal photos published, but I also won’t participate in their well-known practise of blackmail, political favors, political attacks, and corruption. I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out. 

Since then, the Enquirer said yesterday that it would open an internal investigation of the accusations by Bezos.

AMI said said in a statement that it “believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr Bezos” and made “good faith negotiations” with the US billionaire.

“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,” the statement said.

With reporting from - © AFP, 2019

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About the author:

Cormac Fitzgerald

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