NEW YORK -- The stunning extortion claims made by Amazon and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos against the Trump-friendly National Enquirer tabloid have spotlighted a fierce behind-the-scenes media feud, taking place in an ever more toxic US political climate.
The story recounted by Bezos -- the world’s richest man -- touches on political intrigue, sexual indiscretion, the murder of a Saudi journalist and bitter charges of media bias.
The supermarket tabloid last month reported Bezos had an extramarital affair with a former news anchor, publishing a trove of private text messages.
The report appeared days after Bezos and his wife Mackenzie announced their divorce.
That prompted Bezos to launch an investigation into the Enquirer, and how it was able to obtain such intimate material.
In a post on the online platform Medium, Bezos said Enquirer publisher American Media Inc (AMI), led by David Pecker, a friend of President Donald Trump, was now threatening to publish intimate photos of him, if he did not call off the probe.
“Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten,” Bezos wrote.
He maintained that the Enquirer demanded that he and his security consultant Gavin de Becker, who is leading the probe, publicly state they had “no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”
The revelations appear to show the gossip tabloid trying to smear Bezos — whom Trump has repeatedly attacked as the owner of The Washington Post, a paper he claims is biased against him.
Bezos meanwhile hinted he may have been targeted by pro-Trump forces in part because of the Post’s coverage of the murder of its contributor Jamal Khashoggi, strangled and dismembered by Saudi agents in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate in October.
“The Post’s essential and unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi is undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles,” he wrote.
Although Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is accused of ordering the assassination, the Trump administration has maintained there is no irrefutable evidence of his involvement, while stressing the importance of the strategic partnership between Washington and Riyadh.1
Pointing at connections between Pecker, AMI and the government of Saudi Arabia, Bezos said he learned that “Pecker is ‘apoplectic’ about our investigation,” and that “the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve.”
American Media said in an emailed 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 but had decided nonetheless to “promptly and thoroughly investigate the claims” by the Amazon CEO.