Read: Why is the National Enquirer so obsessed with Jeff Bezos?
This email motivated Bezos to publish the correspondence. On Wednesday, he wrote in the Medium post, the National Enquirer made him an offer it thought he couldn’t refuse. “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,” he wrote.
In a statement sent to reporters Friday, AMI said it believed that it had acted lawfully in reporting on Bezos, and that at the time the emails were published, it had been “in good faith negotiations to resolve all matters with him.” Still, the company said its board had convened and would launch an investigation into the claims made by Bezos, and take action if appropriate.
It would be difficult for Bezos to prove that the Enquirer’s emails are actually extortion, said Stuart Green, a law professor at Rutgers University. The law defines extortion as using a threat to obtain a property benefit. So even if Bezos can prove that threats were made, it will be harder to show that the Enquirer would have obtained something tangible had Bezos agreed to say publicly what AMI wanted him to. “I guess you could make the argument that a Bezos statement has economic value to the Enquirer,” Green said, but it’s far from an easy case.
It’s unclear why the Enquirer was so worried about Bezos’s allegations. Since Pecker has already gotten immunity from prosecutors, he seemingly has nothing to lose. But the Enquirer essentially ceded typical First Amendment protections in its deal with prosecutors, a decision that Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, said “essentially signaled the Enquirer is not a real news organization.”
“They are very worried about their reputation,” Levinson said, “so in an effort to be respected they’re engaging in the most disrespectful kind of behavior. That is not the way any real news publication functions—it’s thuggery.”
The tabloid may be trying to appear more legitimate now. AMI promised that it would distribute “written standards” to employees about federal election laws, and is apparently trying to introduce more intense vetting into its properties, which include OK!, Us Weekly, and In Touch.
Of course, Bezos also gains something by exposing this conversation with the Enquirer, even if he is highlighting the existence of embarrassing and explicit photos. He has been under scrutiny of late for the way Amazon treats its employees. His Medium post portrays him as a victim, and as someone who wants to stand up for legitimate news organizations by supporting The Washington Post and by shedding light on the Enquirer’s shady practices.
That strategic positioning hasn’t gone without notice. As Kristin Kanthak, a professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh, put it on Twitter: “You know we are at a disgusting moment in our nation’s history when the billionaire sending out dick pics is the HERO of the story.”