Attorney says Bezos threat was ‘journalism,’ not blackmail
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.”
The publisher of the National Enquirer said Friday that it would open an internal probe over accusations of blackmail.