By Mike Murphy
Amazon founder says he won't 'capitulate to extortion' in blog post that includes emails from AMI exec
Amazon.com Inc. founder and Chief Executive Jeff Bezos accused the National Enquirer of politically motivated blackmail late Thursday, and published a threatening email from an executive at the supermarket tabloid's parent company.
In (blog post published on Medium ( ), Bezos -- who is also the owner of the Washington Post, a role that Bezos called "a complexifier" in the current situation -- said he received an email this week from American Media Inc., the corporate owner of the Enquirer, threatening to publish more compromising photos of him if he did not call off a Post investigation into potential political motivations behind a previous Enquirer exposé of his romantic life.
In January, the Enquirer published photos and text messages that Amazon's(AMZN)CEO had shared privately with his mistress, and Bezos and his wife subsequently announced they're getting divorced (). In his blog post, Bezos said he hired security expert Gavin de Becker to investigate the leaked photos.
"I engaged investigators to learn how those texts were obtained, and to determine the motives for the many unusual actions taken by the Enquirer," Bezos wrote.
Bezos noted that AMI is run by David Pecker, a longtime friend of President Donald Trump, and has been accused of "catch-and-kill" payoffs to acquire and then suppress stories that could be damaging to Trump (), as well as pro--Saudi Arabia dealings. Trump has repeatedly lashed out at Bezos in tweets over the Post's reporting, and has also campaigned against the post office's pricing of Amazon shipments ( ).
Separately, the Post has been investigating the dismemberment murder of one of its columnists, Jamal Khashoggi, allegedly by the Saudi government.
De Becker's investigation was apparently looking into whether the Enquirer's report about Bezos was politically motivated. Bezos wrote that Pecker was "apoplectic" about de Becker's investigation, especially the potential Saudi angle.
"A few days after hearing about Mr. Pecker's apoplexy, we were approached, verbally at first, with an offer," Bezos wrote. "They said they had more of my text messages and photos that they would publish if we didn't stop our investigation."
In the blog post, Bezos included an email apparently from Dylan Howard, AMI's chief content officer, dated Feb. 5, in which Howard wrote: "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." He goes on to detail the incriminating photos that included explicit "below the belt" selfies.
"I hope common sense can prevail -- and quickly," the Dylan Howard email ends.
"Well, that got my attention," Bezos wrote, noting that, as the world's richest man, "If in my position I can't stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?"
"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,' " he wrote.
"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."
Bezos said that while the photos could prove embarrassing, there is a larger matter at hand and so he has no intention of backing down.
"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."
Amazon shares were down 1% in after-hours trading, and were lower by nearly 1.7% in Friday premarket trades, after falling 1.6% during Thursday's regular session. Amazon's stock is up 14% over the past 12 months, compared with the S&P 500'snearly 5% gain.
-Mike Murphy; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 08, 2019 09:00 ET (14:00 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.