At­tor­ney says Be­zos threat was ‘jour­nal­ism,’ not black­mail

The Mercury News - - News - By Amy B Wang

Jeff Be­zos, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Ama­zon.com and the world’s rich­est man, has been a con­stant in head­lines over the past few weeks — al­though not nec­es­sar­ily for ei­ther of the at­tributes listed here. Last month, the Na­tional En­quirer pub­lished texts and pho­tos ex­pos­ing Be­zos’ ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair with for­mer tele­vi­sion host Lau­ren Sanchez. The brazen leak of the in­ti­mate mes­sages prompted Be­zos to or­der an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether the su­per­mar­ket tabloid had been po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

On Thurs­day, in an es­ca­la­tion of events, Be­zos, who also owns The Wash­ing­ton Post, pub­lished a bomb­shell Medium post ac­cus­ing the Na­tional En­quirer’s par­ent com­pany, Amer­i­can Me­dia, Inc., of ex­tor­tion and black­mail. He in­cluded emails from AMI lawyers who de­manded Be­zos pub­licly state that the su­per­mar­ket tabloid’s cov­er­age did not rep­re­sent a po­lit­i­cal hit job. If he didn’t, they wrote, the Na­tional En­quirer would pub­lish ad­di­tional ex­plicit pho­tos, in­clud­ing self­ies show­ing Be­zos’s pri­vate parts.

“These com­mu­ni­ca­tions ce­ment AMI’s long-earned rep­u­ta­tion for weaponiz­ing jour­nal­is­tic priv­i­leges, hid­ing be­hind im­por­tant pro­tec­tions, and ig­nor­ing the tenets and pur­pose of true jour­nal­ism,” a de­fi­ant Be­zos wrote in the post. “Of course I don’t want per­sonal pho­tos pub­lished, but I also won’t par­tic­i­pate in their well­known prac­tice of black­mail, po­lit­i­cal fa­vors, po­lit­i­cal at­tacks, and cor­rup­tion. I pre­fer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out.”

Pre­dictably, the blog post lit the in­ter­net on fire. Other me­dia out­lets had a field day with head­lines and bor­der­line

in­ap­pro­pri­ate puns, and the saga snagged the cold open spot on “Sat­ur­day Night Live” Feb. 9.

How­ever, AMI also now faces le­git­i­mate ques­tions about whether its ac­tions were not just sleazy but con­sti­tuted a crime. On Fri­day, the com­pany stated it would “thor­oughly in­ves­ti­gate” the claims made by Be­zos but con­tin­ued to in­sist it had done noth­ing legally wrong.

On Sun­day, Elkan

Abramowitz, an at­tor­ney for AMI chair­man David Pecker, ap­peared on ABC’s “This Week” to dou­ble down on the com­pany’s as­ser­tion of in­no­cence.

“It ab­so­lutely is not ex­tor­tion and not black­mail,” Abramowitz told “This Week” host Ge­orge Stephanopou­los.

In­stead, Abramowitz in­sisted, what AMI was do­ing was jour­nal­ism. He also sug­gested it was Be­zos who had threat­ened the tabloid by in­sin­u­at­ing it was some­how be­ing di­rected by the lead­ers of Saudi Ara­bia.

“So that’s why lawyers sit down and lawyers ne­go­ti­ate to try to re­solve dif­fer­ences,” Abramowitz said of the emails Be­zos had pub­lished. “That’s ex­actly what this was.”

Stephanopou­los pressed him on that point.

“How is that jour­nal­ism, though?” he asked. “If you be­lieve the pho­tos are news­wor­thy, how is it jour­nal­ism to say we’re not go­ing to pub­lish this if you give us some­thing we want?”

Abramowitz ar­gued that the story of Be­zos’ af­fair with Sanchez was al­ready “out there.”

“Is it jour­nal­ism to de­cide not to print a story three times?” Pecker’s lawyer said. “You can make jour­nal­is­tic de­ci­sions as to how many times you’re go­ing to write the same story. That’s not the — the job of the pros­e­cu­tors or any­body else to de­ter­mine.”

TI­MOTHY A. CLARY — AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

The pub­lisher of the Na­tional En­quirer said Fri­day that it would open an in­ter­nal probe over ac­cu­sa­tions of black­mail.

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