The publisher of the National Enquirer has insisted it “acted lawfully” amid claims that it threatened to publish revealing photographs of Amazon chief Jeff Bezos unless his private investigators backed off the US tabloid.
American Media said it will investigate Mr Bezos’s allegation that it threatened to publish the pictures unless he stopped pursuing how the tabloid obtained his private exchanges with his mistress.
The Enquirer published a story last month that included lurid texts between Mr Bezos and former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez.
Since then, private investigators have been looking into how the Enquirer got the texts.
Mr Bezos said he was the target of “extortion and blackmail” by American Media, but the company said it engaged in “good faith negotiations”.
American Media said its board of directors had ordered a prompt and thorough investigation and will take “whatever appropriate action is necessary”.
Bezos, who is also owner of the Washington Post, detailed his interactions with American Media (AMI) in a blog post on Thursday on Medium.com.
The billionaire did not say the tabloid was seeking money, but claimed it wanted him to make a public statement that the tabloid’s coverage was not politically motivated.
His accusations add another twist to a high-profile clash between the world’s richest man and the leader of America’s best-known tabloid, a strong backer of President Donald Trump.
Mr Bezos’s investigators have suggested the Enquirer’s coverage of his affair was driven by dirty politics.
“Of course I don’t want personal photos published, but I also won’t participate in their well-known practice of blackmail, political favours, political attacks and corruption,” he wrote of AMI, in explaining his decision to go public.
“I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out.”
The company has admitted in the past that it engaged in what is known as “catch-and-kill” practices to help Mr Trump become president. He has been highly critical of Mr Bezos and the Post’s coverage of the White House.
The Bezos affair became public when the Enquirer published a January 9 story about his relationship with Ms Sanchez, who is also married. Mr Bezos then hired a team of private investigators to find out how the tabloid got the texts and photos the two exchanged.
Several days ago, someone at AMI told his team that the company’s chief executive David Pecker was “apoplectic” about the investigation, Mr Bezos said.
AMI later approached Mr Bezos’s representatives with an offer.
“They said they had more of my text messages and photos that they would publish if we didn’t stop our investigation,” Mr Bezos wrote.
The photos include a “below the belt selfie” of Mr Bezos, photos of him in tight underwear and wearing only a towel, and several revealing photos of Ms Sanchez, according to the emails Mr Bezos released.
According to the emails, a lawyer for AMI offered a formal deal on Wednesday: the tabloid would not post the photos if Mr Bezos and his investigators would release a public statement “affirming that they have no knowledge or basis” to suggest the Enquirer’s coverage was “politically motivated or influenced by political forces”.
Mr Bezos said he decided to publish the emails sent to his team “rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail”, despite the “personal cost and embarrassment they threaten”.
In its January 9 story, the Enquirer said reporters followed Mr Bezos and Ms Sanchez “across five states and 40,000 miles” and “tailed them in private jets, swanky limos, helicopter rides, romantic hikes, five-star hotel hideaways, intimate dinner dates and ‘quality time’ in hidden love nests”.
It reported that that he sent “sleazy text messages and gushing love notes” to Ms Sanchez, months before he announced he was splitting up with his wife MacKenzie.