Jeff Bezos. The National Enquirer. Naked selfies. 

I could not have made this up if you'd paid me--and we haven't even gotten to the part about "extortion and blackmail" yet.

Here are the reported details, which broke late yesterday:

Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos said Thursday that he was the target of an extortion and blackmail effort by the National Enquirer, which he accused of threatening to publish intimate pictures of him unless he backed off an investigation of the tabloid.

In an extraordinary post to the online publishing platform Medium, Bezos said the Enquirer and its parent company, American Media Inc., made the threat after he began investigating how the tabloid obtained text messages that revealed his relationship with former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez.

That's from The Washington Post, which Bezos owns. Yet he posted his account on Medium. And that logistical detail is probably only the 11th-craziest thing about this story.

'No thank you, Mr. Pecker.'

The photos that the Enquirer threatened to reveal included, as Bezos put it, what its chief content officer described as a "below the belt selfie -- otherwise colloquially known as a 'd*ck pick' [sic]" and "a naked selfie [of Bezos] in a bathroom."

There are more, but I'll stop. Bezos listed everything. You can read the rest of the inventory in his statement, if you want more details.

Welcome to America 2019, in which the world's wealthiest (and by many standards, most successful) human being takes to a free website to preempt the public disclosure of private photos he apparently sent to his girlfriend. 

By the way, the headline on the article, addressed to the CEO of the tabloid's parent company, read: "No thank you, Mr. Pecker."

Pecker would be David J. Pecker, the chairman of American Media Inc., parent company of the supermarket tabloid Enquirer, who has reportedly been cooperating with the special counsel's office investigating alleged collusion between President Trump's 2016 campaign and Russia.

'Catch and kill'

Despite his reported cooperation with the special counsel, Pecker has been a vehement supporter of President Trump's. His company allegedly participated in "catch and kill" schemes--paying for the rights to adult film actress Stormy Daniels's story but never publishing it, for example--to quell the issue of Trump's alleged extramarital affairs prior to the 2016 election.

Combine that history, his friendship with Trump, and Trump's antipathy for and attacks on Twitter against Bezos (last month Trump referred to Bezos as "Jeff Bozo" in a tweet),

and we wind up with what The New York Times calls "an alleged scheme that brought international intrigue and White House politics to the publication's exposure of [Bezos's] extramarital affair last month."

Kudos for Bezos

Where and how to weigh in here? At the top, regardless of whatever else is going on, kudos to Bezos for refusing to be blackmailed.

According to his telling in the roughly 2,200-word post on Medium (which quoted directly from the Enquirer and its representatives), the Enquirer's goal was to rebut Bezos's own investigation into how it had previously broken the story of his relationship with Sanchez.

His narrative thread gets a bit complicated, but basically Bezos suggests that the Enquirer's pursuit of him has do with his ownership of the Post, and Trump's disdain for him, along with the Post's investigation into the death of its journalist Jamal Khashoggi, allegedly at the hands of Saudi Arabian assassins in Turkey.

And so, Bezos wrote on Medium:

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.

Show them that they can't hurt you

Sure, there's some tawdry and embarrassing stuff here (again, allegedly). But it's between grown, consenting adults (aged 55 and 49). Whatever's involved was clearly intimate and intended to be kept between two people. 

And we know that Bezos is in the middle of a divorce from his wife of more than 25 years, MacKenzie Bezos. The end of a marriage like that is sad, but it's their business--not ours, unless they choose to take it public. 

So what do you do if you're ever threatened by somebody who says they'll make your private, embarrassing actions public? The gutsiest way to stand up to them and take control is to reveal it all yourself first.

So, I have to give Bezos credit. As he wrote in his post:

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.)

Defuse the fear. Eviscerate the threat. Expose them for their deviousness before they can expose you for your failings. And show them the most intimate view that anyone can possibly see of you: that no matter what they threaten, they can't really hurt you.

Published on: Feb 8, 2019
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