So why on earth would the Enquirer do something like this?
Why the tabloids have really gone after Jeff Bezos
Stories about tycoons having secret love affairs is news. But my suspicions were triggered when I saw how much acreage AMI’s National Enquirer devoted to its exclusive last month – the cover and 11 inside pages. As the editor of People magazine for eight years, I can assure you that a cover story on Mr Bezos’s love life is newsstand poison.
He may be rich, but he lacks the requisite glamour and beauty essential to sell lots of magazines, regardless of his selfie artistry. This big a splash wasn’t based on some bonanza in US supermarket sales.
So what was it based on? Let’s the review the options:
Donald Trump and the Mueller probe
Last autumn, AMI boss David Pecker entered into a deal with special prosecutor Robert Mueller and his investigators looking into Russian influence in the 2016 election.
In exchange for avoiding criminal charges, Mr Pecker and other execs agreed to detail how AMI worked with Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to pay for and then bury the stories of two women who’d slept with Mr Trump. News of Mr Pecker’s co-operation with Mr Mueller upset the President, who had long considered the fellow New Yorker a pal.
Was Mr Pecker targeting Mr Bezos – owner of the Trump-tormenting Washington Post – to get back into Mr Trump’s good graces? Mr Trump’s own tweet delighting in Mr Bezos’s embarrassment – and calling the Enquirer more honest than the Post – lends credence to this theory.
When Mr Trump won in 2016, Mr Pecker sought to exploit his (then) close relationship with the President-elect. He managed to get close to Saudi Arabian officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, promising White House access in exchange for potential financial help for AMI.
The arrangement included a fawning, four-colour magazine touting the wonders of the kingdom, produced by the AMI staff. Without Mr Trump’s friendship, Mr Pecker would seem to be of little use to the Saudis as an emissary. Unless …
Jamal Khashoggi/Washington Post
Unless AMI, on behalf of Saudi interests or even with their help, sought to target Mr Bezos to punish him for the Post’s aggressive reporting into the death of their former columnist, Khashoggi. In his Medium posting last week, Mr Bezos said it was his investigation into the leaking of his texts and pictures that seemed to agitate AMI officials.
In the AMI extortion letter, Mr Bezos was told he had to publicly state that he had “no knowledge or basis for suggesting that” AMI’s reporting was “politically motivated or influenced by political forces”.
By the grubby standards usually employed in these shakedown letters, that’s a pretty odd request.
Proof? Nowhere near it, not yet anyway. But AMI’s shameless attempt to hustle Mr Bezos has already launched a federal investigation, according to published reports. In exchange for his plea deal last fall, Mr Pecker and AMI had promised to behave themselves. The Bezos shakedown may have violated that agreement, and could spell more criminal charges for Mr Pecker.
Last June, I wrote about the potential dangers inherent in Mr Pecker’s purchase that month of 13 celebrity magazines. The deal gave him a virtual monopoly on the gossip/celebrity market, with an audience of 38 million.
“What’s to stop him from using those titles from launching unfounded attacks on Mr Trump’s political foes, his Hollywood critics, unwanted immigrants?” I asked then.
I’m still asking – and more urgently. Late last year, AMI and Mr Pecker purchased the largest magazine distributor in the US, giving them enormous control of the actual metal “pockets” that hold magazines in supermarkets, drug stores and other outlets throughout the US. It’s an unprecedented amount of influence.
With that kind of leverage, it’s a wonder whether anyone with lesser means than Mr Bezos will be able to stand up when AMI comes after them.
b) AMI’s Enquirer protected Trump in myriad other ways, from paying off a doorman with a salacious Trump rumor to publishing false stories that his opponent Hillary Clinton was gravely ill just as Trump’s political fixer, Roger Stone, was suggesting that bogus line of attack.
c) That while the Enquirer was aiding and protecting Trump it was also — according to reports — holding onto a remarkable source of protection: a safe containing damaging stories about the president it had buried over the years.
The yeoman’s work that Pecker’s Enquirer had performed on behalf of Trump’s election — combined, possibly, with the treasure trove of dirt inside of that safe — meant it was time to cash in on the newfound connections of the man who went in just a decade from scamming Trump Vodka and Trump University to running a global superpower. And no connection was worth more than the vast wealth of Saudi Arabia.l
Clearly, there is some kind of Hacking Incorporated that’s on the rise in the Persian Gulf. Which brings us back to the question of why AMI was demanding not only that Bezos drop its investigation of the hacking but to state that the probe found no political motivation behind its article on the Amazon chief. Any link between the Bezos phone hack and the Saudis or their allies (UAE, Team Trump) would be devastating — but what if de Gavin is on the trail of something darker? Like the truth behind Khashoggi’s murder? Or — given the ties between Team Trump, the Saudis, UAE and ex-Israeli intelligence that go back to the summer of 2016 — the truth behind the election of an American president?
Remember, AMI signed an agreement with federal prosecutors to avoid prosecution in the Michael Cohen-Karen McDougal plot that included a promise to refrain from criminal activity for three years or else the deal was off and AMI, and presumably Pecker, could be charged in the Cohen case. Why, then, would they take the insane risk of opening that can of worms with a threat to Bezos that could meet the legal definition of blackmail? They must be hiding something very bad.
Here I’ll note that an attorney for AMI went on TV Sunday to insist that the source for the Enquirer story was not connected to the Saudis or Trump. Duly noted — although AMI’s past track record for honesty is not good. Meanwhile, Trump is ignoring a congressionally mandated deadline to find if the Saudis violated human rights in Khashoggi’s murder. And a top Saudi official just warned that linking MBS to Khashoggi’s murder would be crossing “a red line.”
Again, what is everyone here so afraid of?