10 February 2019
Only two pieces of news deserving comment this week, one rather more parochial than the other.
The parochial news is that East Devon’s MP was seen in public in East Devon, visiting the donkey sanctuary (whoever just sniggered, report to me after class), something newsworthy enough to have been reported in the local paper.
Trump is lurking in the shadows behind the other news, that the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos (who could afford to buy Trump’s business ‘empire’ with what he keeps in his petty cash box), has reportedly been subjected to “extortion and blackmail” by David J Pecker, chief executive of American Media Inc (AMI). Pecker is a long-term friend of Trump’s and, after Trump’s election, “he rewarded Mr. Pecker’s loyalty with a White House dinner to which the media executive brought a guest with important ties to the royals in Saudi Arabia” (as reported in the New York Times on 23 August last year).
What you need to know first is that Pecker is the controlling force behind AMI, which publishes the National Enquirer; Bezos owns Amazon and the Washington Post, the paper that uncovered Watergate and whose columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi Arabia. The Washington Post is respected for its impartial and accurate reporting while the National Enquirer publishes stories like “Angelina Loses – the Kids Choose Brad” and “Robert Blake Murdered my Mom” (and might even have originated the famous headline “Hitler’s Bus Found on Moon”).
AMI recently entered into an immunity deal with the Department of Justice relating to their role in the so-called “Catch and Kill” process on behalf of Trump and his election campaign. Pecker and AMI have also been investigated for various actions they’ve taken on behalf of the Saudi Government.
(Before starting on the story itself, I must first declare another of my prejudices: I would like Amazon a lot more (and would buy a lot more from them) if they paid full UK taxes on their UK profits, rather than transferring most of them to Ireland by way of an inequitable – but entirely legal – administration fee.)
Anyway, Bezos hit the headlines in some red-top papers in January after he and his wife, MacKenzie, announced they were divorcing and, shortly afterwards, the National Enquirer published “intimate text messages” revealing Bezos’s relationship with Lauren Sánchez, a former TV anchor.
Bezos immediately hired investigators “to determine the motives for the many unusual actions taken by the Enquirer”, including their publication of intimate text messages sent by him and how those texts were obtained. His brief to the investigators was to waste as little of his time as possible and do whatever was necessary with no limit to the costs that might be incurred.
The investigation upset Pecker who was, according to an AMI leader, “apoplectic” about Bezos’s investigation and, for reasons that still aren’t clear, the Saudi angle seemed to hit a particularly sensitive nerve. AMI’s lawyers then wrote to Bezos threatening to publish other material if he didn’t back off.
Taking the only possible response to any attempt at blackmail, Bezos then called Pecker’s bluff in a blog post on 7 February in which he incorporated the full text of their threatening email (which included explicit details of the material they held) and, amongst other things, said:
“Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten.
“The [Washington] Post’s essential and unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi is undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles.
“A few days after hearing about Mr. Pecker’s apoplexy, we were approached, verbally at first, 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 … [I] didn’t react to the generalized threat with enough fear, so they sent an email on 5 February [saying they could] “describe to [me] the photos obtained during [their] newsgathering”.
“If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?
“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.”