Be­zos v. Pecker com­plex­i­fy­ing

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - OPINION - KATHLEEN PARKER

WASHINGTON — As sto­ries go, the face­off be­tween Jeff Be­zos and David Pecker (pag­ing Charles Dick­ens) has all the el­e­ments of a 21st-cen­tury battle royale be­tween good and evil, rep­re­sented by the rich­est man in the world, who hap­pens to own The Washington Post, and the pied piper of sleaze, re­spec­tively. Thank you, God. Such is the stuff of colum­nist prayers — scan­dal, sex, money and, quite pos­si­bly, ex­tor­tion, black­mail and an epic turn of events via shame, re­demp­tion and cul­ture-shift­ing lit­i­ga­tion. The only way the script could be im­proved would be if there were also a Rus­sian con­nec­tion and a bread-crumb path to Don­ald Trump.

Briefly, for those just wak­ing up, Be­zos, creator of Ama­zon, may have proved all too hu­man when he ap­par­ently fell in love with a woman not his wife and, as of­ten hap­pens, fell into a hor­mon­ally in­duced trance dur­ing which he texted her mes­sages and pic­tures.

En­ter Satan — aka an un­known per­son, who ap­par­ently se­cured sev­eral of those mes­sages along with 10 pho­tos and pro­vided them to the Na­tional En­quirer, which is owned by Amer­i­can Me­dia Inc. and where Pecker is pub­lisher. Af­ter some of the texts (but no pho­tos) were pub­lished last month in the En­quirer, Be­zos de­cided to find the thief and asked se­cu­rity ex­pert Gavin de Becker to lead the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Where­upon, the bril­liant minds at the En­quirer ap­par­ently de­cided to threaten Be­zos. In writ­ing.

The gist of the threat was a sug­ges­tion that the pho­tos would be pub­lished un­less Be­zos as­serted that there was no po­lit­i­cal mo­tive to the pub­lish­ing of the texts. Nat­u­rally, one won­ders what else they might be hid­ing at the En­quirer, other than, per­haps, a trove of Trump sto­ries, pho­tos and, pos­si­bly, as­sorted dossiers that have been stashed in a vault. Re­call that AMI cut an im­mu­nity deal with in­ves­ti­ga­tors who were look­ing into Trump’s knowl­edge of the En­quirer’s catc­hand-kill prac­tice, in­clud­ing buy­ing Play­boy model Karen McDou­gal’s story al­leg­ing an af­fair with Trump.

Rather than go fur­ther down the road of threats, al­leged ex­tor­tion and black­mail, Be­zos called Pecker’s hand on Thurs­day, raised him sig­nif­i­cantly, and es­sen­tially said, “No dice.” At great risk of per­sonal shame, Be­zos pub­lished cor­re­spon­dence be­tween re­spec­tive lawyers in an es­say on the on­line pub­lish­ing plat­form Medium.

Ob­vi­ously, tex­ting in­ti­mate pho­tos is not the wis­est move, but few can be shocked that wealth ap­par­ently doesn’t in­su­late one from weak­ness or poor per­sonal de­ci­sions. This doesn’t mean, how­ever, that Be­zos, who founded Ama­zon in his garage 24 years ago, can’t con­tinue to ably func­tion in his ex­ec­u­tive ca­pac­i­ties, as AMI tried to claim as a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for pub­lish­ing the texts. Its ar­gu­ment that Amer­i­cans de­serve to know about the Ama­zon boss’s “judg­ment” made the story, in AMI’s view, “news­wor­thy” and “in the pub­lic in­ter­est.”

Al­ter­na­tively, be­cause Pecker and Trump are old friends — and Trump is no big fan of the Post or Be­zos — Pecker was per­haps mak­ing up to Trump for that pre­vi­ously men­tioned im­mu­nity deal. As for the news­wor­thi­ness of pub­lish­ing per­sonal pho­tos, let’s clar­ify. Ex­pos­ing some­one’s most in­ti­mate thoughts and ex­pres­sions is meant to ap­peal to pruri­ent in­ter­ests and to de­stroy another’s life. Full stop. Bad judg­ment in per­sonal matters is sim­ply that.

Good judg­ment, on the other hand, re­sults in 600,000 jobs — and gro­ceries, books and print­ers de­liv­ered to my front door. There’s no over­lap. Among Be­zos’ other good judg­ments was his de­ci­sion to sink mil­lions of dol­lars into a strug­gling but es­sen­tial news­pa­per, for which we are grate­ful but not in­debted. The im­por­tant point is that Be­zos un­der­stands, ap­pre­ci­ates and in­tends to il­lu­mi­nate the dif­fer­ences be­tween “weaponiz­ing jour­nal­is­tic priv­i­leges, hid­ing be­hind im­por­tant pro­tec­tions, and ig­nor­ing the tenets and pur­pose of true jour­nal­ism,” as he wrote on Medium.

The les­son for Be­zos is writ large enough, but a more-uni­ver­sal les­son begs at­ten­tion. What he is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing — the pos­si­bil­ity of hav­ing one’s in­ti­mate com­mu­ni­ca­tions given a wide au­di­ence — hap­pens ev­ery day to people, in­clud­ing teens with­out the means and ma­tu­rity to with­stand the hu­mil­i­a­tion. Maybe Be­zos, by his will­ing­ness to take such a spot­lighted walk of shame, can set an ex­am­ple for people to be both more pru­dent and braver when there seems to be no way out.

The world will never be free of Peck­ers, yet this par­tic­u­lar one is es­pe­cially malev­o­lent. But when his com­pany al­legedly threat­ened Be­zos and sug­gested that he be­tray the val­ues of the news­pa­per he owns, it is­sued a chal­lenge to karma.

May the flawed pre­vail over the wicked.

KATHLEEN PARKER is a colum­nist with The Washington Post.

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