Jeff Bezos accusing National Enquirer/AMI of blackmail and extortion

Jeff Bezos, founder and major shareholder of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post, has accused ‘the top people’ at the National Enquirer/AMI of blackmail and extortion in trying to stop further investigations by the Washington, and to get Bezos to issue a statement saying they have no knowledge of AMI coverage being politically motivated or ‘influenced by political forces’.

AMI owner David Pecker has been a strong supporter of Donald Trump. In December AMI was entered into an immunity deal with the Department of Justice over to their role in the so-called “Catch and Kill” process on behalf of President Trump and his election campaign. If they have acted illegally with the alleged threats that could affect that immunity deal.

Yesterday Bezos posted No thank you, Mr. Pecker

Something unusual happened to me yesterday. Actually, for me it wasn’t just unusual — it was a first. I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse. Or at least that’s what the top people at the National Enquirer thought. I’m glad they thought that, because it emboldened them to put it all in writing. 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.

…I didn’t know much about most of that a few weeks ago when intimate texts messages from me were published in the National Enquirer. I engaged investigators to learn how those texts were obtained, and to determine the motives for the many unusual actions taken by the Enquirer. As it turns out, there are now several independent investigations looking into this matter.

To lead my investigation, I retained Gavin de Becker

Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is “apoplectic” about our investigation. For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve.

A few days after hearing about Mr. Pecker’s apoplexy, we were approached, verbally at first, with an offer. They said they had more of my text messages and photos that they would publish if we didn’t stop our investigation.

My lawyers argued that AMI has no right to publish photos since any person holds the copyright to their own photos, and since the photos in themselves don’t add anything newsworthy.

AMI’s claim of newsworthiness is that the photos are necessary to show Amazon shareholders that my business judgment is terrible.

Email sent Howard, Dylan (Chief Content Officer, AMI) to Martin Singer (litigation counsel for Mr. de Becker) includes:

However, in the interests of expediating this situation, and with The Washington Post poised to publish unsubstantiated rumors of The National Enquirer’s initial report, I wanted to describe to you the photos obtained during our newsgathering.

In addition to the “below the belt selfie — otherwise colloquially known as a ‘d*ck pick’” — The Enquirer obtained a further nine images.

The photos are described.

It would give no editor pleasure to send this email. I hope common sense can prevail — and quickly.

Bezos:

Well, that got my attention. But not in the way they likely hoped. Any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes a back seat because there’s a much more important matter involved here. If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can? (On that point, numerous people have contacted our investigation team about their similar experiences with AMI, and how they needed to capitulate because, for example, their livelihoods were at stake.)

In the AMI letters I’m making public, you will see the precise details of their extortionate proposal: They will publish the personal photos unless Gavin de Becker and I make the specific false public statement to the press that we “have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”

If we do not agree to affirmatively publicize that specific lie, they say they’ll publish the photos, and quickly. And there’s an associated threat: They’ll keep the photos on hand and publish them in the future if we ever deviate from that lie.

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

From an email on Wednesday from Fine, Jon (Deputy General Counsel, AMI) to Martin Singer (Mr de Becker’s attorney)

Here are our proposed terms:

2. A public, mutually-agreed upon acknowledgment from the Bezos Parties, released through a mutually-agreeable news outlet, affirming that they have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AM’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces, and an agreement that they will cease referring to such a possibility.

3. AM agrees not to publish, distribute, share, or describe unpublished texts and photos (the “Unpublished Materials”).

6. In the case of a breach of the agreement by one or more of the Bezos Parties, AM is released from its obligations under the agreement, and may publish the Unpublished Materials.

Whether that constitutes blackmail and/or extortion, or whether it will warrant legal action or investigation, will no doubt unfold.

AMI has issued a statement in response:

“American Media believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos. Further, at the time of the recent allegations made by Mr. Bezos, it was in good faith negotiations to resolve all matters with him. 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. Upon completion of that investigation, the Board will take whatever appropriate action is necessary.”

Pecker is one of four AMI board members.

CNBC: National Enquirer publisher believes it ‘acted lawfully’ on Bezos story, vows to investigate matter

AMI’s assertion that it violated no laws in its reporting matters beyond the Bezos affair. In December, the tabloid publisher struck an immunity deal with federal prosecutors in connection with the $150,000 hush-money payment the supermarket tabloid gave to a Playboy model who claims she had an affair with Trump.

That agreement requires that AMI “shall commit no crimes whatsoever.” If it turns out that Bezos’ blackmail allegations are confirmed, AMI could lose its immunity.

Brett Kappel, a lawyer specializing in political finance and ethics at Akerman LLP, said AMI’s immunity deal could be at risk.

“AMI is looking at the very real possibility that it may be found to have breached the nonprosecution agreement and could be prosecuted both for the crimes that were the subject of the nonprosecution agreement and any subsequent crimes,” Kappel told CNBC.

“In addition, the lawyers involved will almost certainly face disciplinary proceedings by the New York State Bar and could be disbarred,” Kappel added.

Former federal prosecutor David Weinstein told CNBC that Bezos’ accusation “certainly sounds like extortion or blackmail.” But he cautioned that “sounding like something and actually filing charges are two different things. AMI will undoubtedly argue that their statements were simply litigation negotiation strategy.”

This raises the tensions between media and politics in the US. There is big money and big power in both politics and the media there. The whole kaboodle looks dysfunctional and a corruption of power.

Whether this latest move from Bezos lifts a scab or just adds more puss is yet to be seen.