Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos accused American Media Inc., the parent company of the National Enquirer, of extortion by threatening to publish potentially embarrassing personal photos of him if he did not stop an investigation into how the tabloid obtained other private photos and texts of him and his girlfriend.
In a blog post on the Medium.com website, Bezos revealed what he characterized as "extortion and blackmail" by publishing a series of emails he says were exchanged by his and AMI's attorneys.
"I was made an offer I couldn't refuse," wrote Bezos. "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."
The dispute, and the extraordinary release of an agreement apparently proposed by AMI, stems from the publication last month by the National Enquirer of a story about Bezos and an extramarital affair with former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez.
Bezos ordered his team of private investigators, led by security consultant Gavin de Becker, to find out how the National Enquirer had obtained intimate texts between himself and Sanchez.
In an email purportedly from AMI Chief Content Officer Dylan Howard, he writes to an attorney for De Becker that the company obtained "during our newsgathering" several other unpublished selfie photos of Bezos and Sanchez in sexually suggestive settings.
"...[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 photo obtained during our newsgathering," Howard is quoted as saying.
After describing the photos in detail, Howard concludes, "It would give no editor pleasure to send this email. I hope common sense can prevail--and quickly."
Bezos wrote that AMI intends to 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.' "
In another purported email, AMI Deputy General Counsel Jon Fine agrees not to publish or distribute the materials and to keep the agreement secret. But he also threatens to publish the photos if Bezos and his associates breach the agreement.
In his blog post, Bezos wrote that he's not playing along.
Here's how Bezos describes AMI's proposal:
"Be assured, no real journalists ever propose anything like what is happening here: I will not report embarrassing information about you if you do X for me. And if you don't do X quickly, I will report the embarrassing information."
Howard and Fine haven't responded to email requests for comment.
"These communications cement AMI's long-earned reputation for weaponizing journalistic privileges, hiding behind important protections, and ignoring the tenets and purpose of true journalism," Bezos wrote in his blog post. "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."