Jeff Bezos Publishes National Enquirer's "Extortion" Letter About "Below the Belt Selfies"
The Amazon billionaire is hitting back against the tabloid and its owner, American Media, alleging that the publication tried to blackmail him by threatening to publish explicit photographs of both him and Lauren Sanchez-Whitesell. In response, AMI says it will investigate the claims.
Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos has done something very few people at his level have ever done: He's published a lengthy essay in his own words, on the blog platform Medium, in an effort to hit back at the National Enquirer and its owner, American Media Inc., alleging that the publication was trying to blackmail him over explicit selfies.
"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," writes Bezos at the start of Thursday's post, which explains the complicated backstory of how the world's richest man has found himself in a legal tussle with one of America's most controversial tabloid publications.
In short: In January, the Enquirer published an 11-page, yearlong investigation into Bezos' relationship with Lauren Sanchez-Whitesell, wife of Endeavor executive chairman Patrick Whitesell. (Days earlier, Bezos and his wife MacKenzie announced on social media that they were divorcing after 25 years of marriage.) The explosive report contained intimate text messages Bezos had sent Sanchez-Whitesell, and almost immediately questions arose as to how the tabloid could've obtained the correspondence.
In his post, Bezos says he launched his own investigation "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."
Bezos continues: "To lead my investigation, I retained Gavin de Becker. I’ve known Mr. de Becker for twenty years, his expertise in this arena is excellent, and he’s one of the smartest and most capable leaders I know. I asked him to prioritize protecting my time since I have other things I prefer to work on and to proceed with whatever budget he needed to pursue the facts in this matter."
Bezos then writes that his team found out that AMI chairman and CEO David Pecker was "apoplectic" about the investigation, and shortly thereafter they were approached 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," he writes.
However, Enquirer editor Dylan Howard then sent a detailed email to de Becker's litigation counsel and high-profile Hollywood attorney Martin Singer. In the email, Howard details nine images that the publication is prepared to publish in addition to a "below the belt" selfie. Those images include: "Ms. Sanchez response [sic] — a photograph of her smoking a cigar in what appears to be a simulated oral sex scene; a shirtless Mr. Bezos holding his phone in his left hand — while wearing his wedding ring. He’s wearing either tight black cargo pants or shorts — and his semi-erect manhood is penetrating the zipper of said garment; a full-length body selfie of Mr. Bezos wearing just a pair of tight black boxer-briefs or trunks, with his phone in his left hand — while wearing his wedding ring; a naked selfie in a bathroom — while wearing his wedding ring. Mr. Bezos is wearing nothing but a white towel — and the top of his pubic region can be seen; and Ms. Sanchez wearing a plunging red neckline dress revealing her cleavage and a glimpse of her nether region."
The email "got my attention," Bezos writes, "but not in the way they likely hoped." Instead, Bezos says, he was willing to sacrifice personal embarrassment in order to point out a much more important matter.
"If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?" he contends. "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.'"
Bezos is referring to headlines surrounding the publication of the Enquirer's initial investigation as being politically motivated. Pecker is known to be close to President Donald Trump, who has blasted Bezos on Twitter on multiple occasions. Meanwhile, Sanchez-Whitesell's brother, Michael Sanchez, is an outspoken supporter of Trump. "AMI, the owner of the National Enquirer, led by David Pecker, recently entered into an immunity deal with the Department of Justice related to their role in the so-called 'Catch and Kill' process on behalf of President Trump and his election campaign," Bezos explains in the essay. "Mr. Pecker and his company have also been investigated for various actions they’ve taken on behalf of the Saudi Government."
As part of the alleged extortion plot, Bezos says that if he does not agree to the "specific lie" that the coverage was not politically motivated, the Enquirer will publish the photos, and even if he and de Becker agree to it now, if they ever deviate from it, the photos will be published at a later date.
"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," Bezos writes. "I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out."
On Friday morning, AMI released a statement saying the company "acted lawfully" but plans to "thoroughly investigate" the claims made by Bezos.
"American Media believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos, it was in good faith negotiations to resolve all matters with him," reads the statement. "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."
Shortly after AMI commented, it was reported by the Associated Press that New York prosecutors began "looking into" the National Enquirer's handling of the Bezos' extramarital affair story and determining whether AMI violated an earlier agreement to not to break any laws in exchange for avoiding prosecution for campaign finance violations.
Authorities gave THR a no comment.
Read Bezos' full post here.
Feb. 8, 11:30 a.m. Updated with report from AP.
Feb. 8, 6:20 a.m. Updated with AMI statement.