What would you do if you were one of the world's most famous entrepreneurs, in the middle of a divorce in which you stand to lose part of your company, and you received a threat from the nation's most famous tabloid threatening to publish nude pictures of you and your body parts? If you're Jeff Bezos, you publish the threat you received and dare them to follow through.
This is the latest twist in the intricate story of Bezos' love life and imminent divorce, which started out with a highly civilized tweet announcing that after 25 years of marriage, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos were going to divorce but remain best friends. The plot thickened later that same day when tabloids broke the news that Jeff Bezos had in fact been having an affair with TV personality, former anchorwoman and pilot Lauren Sanchez. Then it turned out that the National Enquirer, after what it claimed was an exhaustive campaign in which its reporters relentlessly trailed the couple all over the world, had obtained some very racy texts that Bezos sent to Sanchez, some of them containing very intimate photos. It refrained from actually publishing the photos, but it did publish the words in the texts, which mostly just prove that Bezos is indeed very taken taken with Sanchez.
Bezos responded by launching an investigation into how the Enquirer obtained the texts. At the same time, the Washington Post (which Bezos owns) began investigating whether the Enquirer's reporting was politically motivated. The paper's parent company admitted to paying off a prostitute to keep her from publishing a story about an alleged affair she had with President Donald Trump, and many consider the paper to be a Trump ally. Trump has made his hatred of Bezos plain in many, many tweets.
Meantime, Bezos has been keeping his distance from Sanchez, at least at highly public events. He also canceled a planned Super Bowl ad for his space exploration company Blue Origin, apparently because Sanchez shot some of the video from her helicopter.
The cancellation in itself became a story, as did the hastily thrown together ad for the Washington Post that ran that day. The event prompted me to write a column suggesting that by seeking to avoid bad publicity, Bezos has just been making things worse for himself, and his only options are to stay out of the public eye (as his wife nearly always does) or face the publicity head-on.
He's apparently decided to take that second approach. And so he just published a post on Medium in which he says that the chief content officer for the Enquirer's parent company sent an email to one of Bezos' lawyers threatening to publish those photos and noting that the Post was about to publish its investigation of the Enquirer. The email ends with this sentence: "I hope common sense can prevail--and quickly."
That email was accompanied by two others from lawyers for the Enquirer claiming that the Washington Post's assertion that the tabloid's reporting appeared to be politically motivated was both inaccurate and defamatory. And proposing a strictly confidential agreement in which the Post will cease saying that the Enquirer's motives are political and the Enquirer will hold off on publishing any further texts or photos for as long as Bezos and his employees (the "Bezos Parties") keep up their end of the bargain.
The reason we know all this detail is that Bezos actually included all these emails in their entirety in his post. You'll have to read the post to understand what an extraordinary move that is--especially for someone who clearly doesn't relish embarrassing publicity--because Dylan pulls no punches in his description of the photos. Here's one example:
"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."
The problem, from the Enquirer's point of view, is that while there may be many people who are kinder than Jeff Bezos, and more likable, and maybe even better bosses, there aren't too many who are smarter. He's certainly smart enough to know that, since the photos are out there in the possession of a tabloid that bears him little goodwill, they will likely be published eventually, or else he'll have to do their bidding forever.
He's also smart enough to know that the email gave him a perfect opportunity to de-fang those photos. Dylan's descriptions are so beautifully salacious that the images themselves, if they ever get published, are likely to be anticlimactic. After all, they're just selfies taken with a mobile phone, not the product of a professional pornography studio.
American Media Inc., which owns the Enquirer has not publicly commented on the emails so we only have Bezos' word for its authenticity, although they certainly seem authentic. Bezos ends his post by saying that--while he doesn't want these embarrassing photos to be published--he figures he's in a better position than most people to stand up to the Enquirer's bullying behavior, when others have had to knuckle under for fear of losing their jobs.
And just like that, he completely changed the narrative. He's no longer a self-centered multi-billionaire who sent naked pictures of himself to his mistress while his wife was driving the kids to sports practice. Now he's the standard-bearer for all the poor downtrodden public figures who've been blackmailed by a tabloid because they have something to hide. It was both an incredibly smart and incredibly gutsy thing to do. No wonder he's the richest man in the world.