7:23pm PT by Chris Gardner
National Enquirer Paid $200,000 for Jeff Bezos Texts, Nude Selfies (Report)
In January, the National Enquirer published 11 pages of content devoted to outing a scandalous, months-long affair between Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos (married to wife MacKenzie for 25 years) and Lauren Sanchez Whitesell (wife of Endeavor executive chairman Patrick Whitesell). Included in the spread were text messages exchanged by the couple as well as a tease that the tabloid was in possession of nude images featuring Bezos.
In the weeks since, the shock value of NSFW images (later confirmed to be in existence by Bezos himself) have been trumped by jaw-dropping revelations in a real-life soap opera of sorts that continues to play out in the press, complete with corporate intrigue, political finger-pointing and discreet romantic meet-ups. A fair amount of ink has been devoted to how the Enquirer obtained texts and images of the world's richest man, a notoriously private executive who even employs his own private security team.
The Wall St. Journal on Monday published a lengthy investigation in which reporters Michael Rothfeld, Joe Palazzolo and Alexandra Berzon answer that question and detail a scheme that puts Michael Sanchez front and center. The brother of Sanchez Whitesell, a Hollywood talent agent who has largely represented conservative news anchors and reality TV stars, is said to have received $200,000 from Enquirer parent company American Media, Inc. in exchange for turning over his sister's private communications with Bezos. The WSJ story follows an earlier report from Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman that stated Sanchez sold the communications for a bit more cash — $250,000. The Daily Beast also cited Sanchez as being the leak.
Per the newspaper, Sanchez refused to "dignify" the claims that he signed a contract with AMI, adding only that the Journal's reporting is based on "old rumors." One rumor that continues to make the rounds is that Sanchez has a long-standing relationship with the Enquirer and has been a source for editors there for quite some time. The Journal states that he has fed information to Enquirer editor-in-chief Dylan Howard.
The paper reports that shortly after Bezos and Sanchez Whitesell began seeing each other, Sanchez began conversations with the Enquirer about the affair. Ultimately, it was Howard who negotiated the deal with Sanchez in a contract that was approved by AMI chief David Pecker. Per the Journal: "In most cases, the company’s source agreements require it to pay for information upon publication; if a story is never published, American Media doesn’t have to pay. By contrast, the contract with Mr. Sanchez stipulated he was to paid upfront, regardless of whether any story was published, the people familiar with the contract said."
The source of the leak has also been a primary focus for Bezos who, in his widely read essay on Medium, revealed that there were multiple investigations ongoing to find out who was responsible for outing his private communications with his mistress, including one spearheaded by his security chief Gavin de Becker. "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 wrote. "I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out."
The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to Sanchez for comment. Though he denied his involvement to The Wall Street Journal, he earlier teased to Vanity Fair's Sherman that he's not completely innocent. “I’m not saying I didn’t do something. Until I go under oath, what I can tell you now is that ever since April 20, when I met Jeff, my only goal has been to protect Jeff and Lauren.”
Sanchez, late Monday night, directed THR to his statement which he posted on Twitter. Read the statement in part below.
"With an abundance of real news, including two horrific terrorist attacks this week, it's surprising WSJ is dedicating resources to old rumors from 'anonymous' sources. I didn't dignify the rumors last month and I'm not going to dignify them now."
March 18, 10:04 p.m.: Updated with Michael Sanchez's statement from Twitter.