Trump, "blackmail" and a Pecker: Bezos offers a scandal with something for everyone Technology

Aeven the Hollywood awards ceremony passed with the usual fashion show on the red carpet, speeches of sincere acceptance and the mixture of rich and famous. So few have found it remarkable when the billionaire Jeff Bezos, managing director of Amazon, was photographed in an after-party with the television presenter and helicopter pilot Lauren Sanchez.

But a few days after the Golden Globes, it would become clear that this image was a crucial clue to the breakup of Bezos' 25-year marriage – and an intricate network of intrigues that now embrace the world of Washington politics, the New York tabloids and Los Angeles showbiz.

Add to this week's mix some disturbing photographs, blackmail charges and a post-all-out blog of Bezos, and the man who gave the world "The Everything Store" delivered "The Everything Scandal" – maybe all the road to the threshold of the American president and his allies in Saudi Arabia.

In an era where every controversy seems to have a connection with Donald Trump, there was obviously a link with him. Speculation was widespread because the most powerful man in the world had armed a supermarket tabloid to go after the richest in the world. After all, Trump, 72 and Bezos, 55, have a sharp rivalry, at least in the mind of the president.

Bezos, who founded Amazon as an online bookseller in 1994 and bought the Washington Post in 2013, now has a value of 136 billion dollars, a fortune that drives Trump crazy. For three years Trump attacked him on Twitter, spuriously accusing Amazon of evading taxes at the expense of the post office and the Post of traffic of "false news". But Bezos remained calm and refused to bite, probably irritating the president even more.

Bezos's personal life was subjected to careful scrutiny a month ago in an almost Trumpian style, however. On January 9, three days after the Golden Globes, he used Twitter to announce his divorce from the novelist MacKenzie Bezos. The next day, the National Enquirer's tabloid revealed Bezos's extra-marital affair with Sanchez, 49, a former host of So You Think You Can Dance? now about to divorce her husband.

Covering over 11 pages, Enquirer said that his reporters followed Bezos and Sanchez "through five states and 40,000 miles" and followed them in private jets, shrewd limousines, helicopter rides, romantic hikes, shelters to five-star hotel, intimate dinners and "quality time" in the hidden love nests. "The tabloid reported that Bezos sent" dull text messages and flashy love notes "to Sanchez.

It is safe to assume that no previous US president would have passed comments. But Trump could not hide his sense of schadenfreude. "I'm so sorry to hear the news that Jeff Bozo is being shot down by a competitor whose report, as I understand it, is much more accurate than that of his lobbyist, the Amazon Washington Post," has gloated on Twitter. "We hope the card will soon be put into better and more responsible hands!"

It was not the end, anyway.

With almost unlimited resources at his disposal, Bezos hired a group of private investigators to find out how Enquirer had got his hands on his text messages and photos. David Pecker, owner of the Enquirer and longtime friend of Trump, was "apoplectic" when he learned that the tables had been shot, according to the Bezos blogpost, and threatened to publish other material unless Bezos called his investigators.

Dylan Howard, editor of The Enquirer, would have sent an alert e-mail of nine intimate images in harrowing terms. They included a "selfie under the belt – otherwise colloquially known as a madman".

According to Bezos's report, Pecker's team made an offer: the Enquirer would have agreed not to publish the photos if Bezos and his investigators issued a public statement "stating that they have no knowledge or basis" to suggest that the tabloid coverage was "politically motivated or influenced by political forces".

Bezos has announced that he will divorce his wife McKenzie after 25 years of marriage.



Bezos has announced that he will divorce his wife McKenzie after 25 years of marriage. Photograph: Jerod Harris / Getty Images

Bezos refused and punched the bully. "Obviously I do not want to publish personal photos, but I will not participate in their well-known practice of blackmail, political favors, political attacks and corruption," he writes. "I'd rather get up, close this register and see what it crawls out."

His blogpost, published on the neutral Medium website under the title "No thanks, Mr Pecker", reversed the screenplay and gained widespread approval. Journalist Carl Bernstein, who reported the Watergate saga, told CNN that Bezos "acted heroically in this case, stating that neither he nor the Post will be intimidated." Nicholas Thompson, editor of Wired, wrote on Twitter: "Surprising that the National Enquirer was so repugnant that the entire network is rooting for a billionaire who was arrested for a relationship."

Others have been struck by the epic, multifaceted nature of the scandal and by how it captures the spirit of the times. Robinson Meyer wrote in Atlantic magazine: "In little more than 2,000 words, Bezos seemed to tear every news from the newspaper and tie them into an eternal neon braid: the powerful power of the billionaires, the impoverishment of American journalism, the thin spot of pornography that smartphones have stratified on reality – all this, and President Donald Trump (who is a close friend of David Pecker, CEO of AMI), and the murderous corruption and calamity of journalists of the Saudi government, that Bezos claims is wrapped in his story "for reasons yet to be understood".

The trail of crumbs to Trump and Saudi Arabia is circumstantial and tempting. The Enquirer has long been engaged in "catch-and-kill" agreements on behalf of the New York property magnate, paying negative stories to make sure they never see the light of day.

These included Trump's alleged affairs with adult film actor Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen MacDougal. The parent company American Media Inc (AMI), admitted the criminal conduct last year in a plea bargain with federal prosecutors, receiving immunity in exchange for testimony against Trump's legal fixer Michael Cohen. Secondly, prosecutors are evaluating whether Enzoir's quarrel with Bezos has violated the cooperation and non-prosecution agreement.

Meanwhile, in his blog, Bezos suggested that the Washington Post report on the murder of its editorialist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi government critic, may have made him a Pecker target. AMI has produced a brilliant pro-Saudi tabloid, he emphasizes.

He also noted that Pecker and AMI have been "investigated for various actions they have undertaken on behalf of the Saudi government" and adds cryptically that "for reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to strike a particularly sensitive nerve" . Trump has also been criticized for his intimate relationship with the Saudi government and for the lack of demand for answers on Khashoggi's death.

On Friday AMI said its board of directors ordered a quick and in-depth investigation and will take "any appropriate action needed". Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told CBS's Face the Nation program: "It sounds like a lyrical music soap, I watched it on TV and I read it in the newspaper. We have nothing to do with this. "

But as of Friday night, there had been an unusual response from the White House: silence.

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