Jeff Bezos has accused the National Enquirer and its parent company, American Media Inc, of “extortion and blackmail” in its reporting over his personal life.
The Amazon founder and chief executive wrote in an extraordinary post, on the Medium website, that the tabloid had threatened to publish intimate photos and text messages between him and Lauren Sanchez, the woman he has been dating, unless he put out a statement denying AMI’s coverage “was politically motivated or influenced by political forces”.
After Mr Bezos announced last month that he was divorcing his wife of 25 years, MacKenzie Bezos, the National Enquirer published a series of stories revealing his relationship with Ms Sanchez, a former news presenter, including text messages between the couple.
The tabloid claimed Mr Bezos had only made his divorce public after learning it was preparing to publish its story, which it said was the product of months of tracking Mr Bezos and Ms Sanchez. Mr Bezos hired investigators to look into how the Enquirer had obtained the texts.
The involvement of AMI had raised suspicions of political motivations. David Pecker, AMI’s chief executive, is a longtime friend and supporter of President Donald Trump, a frequent critic of Mr Bezos.
In December, American Media reached an agreement with the US justice department enabling it to avoid prosecution for paying off a woman to prevent her from making “damaging allegations” about Mr Trump before the 2016 election.
In his post, Mr Bezos included what he said were emails from Dylan Howard, AMI’s chief content officer, and Jon Fine, AMI’s deputy general counsel. The message from Mr Howard described the photos the tabloid had obtained.
Mr Fine’s message was a list of “proposed terms” between AMI, Mr Bezos and Gavin de Becker, his investigator, to reach “a full and complete mutual release of all claims”.
It included a provision that Mr Bezos and Mr de Becker would issue “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.”
Mr Bezos said he was making the correspondence public to defy AMI’s tactics. “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,” he wrote.
An Amazon spokesman confirmed Mr Bezos had written the post. Mr Howard, Mr Fine, and a representative for AMI did not respond to requests for comment.