A surprise divorce announcement by the world’s richest man, steamy texts, a private investigation, claims of blackmail — and a suspicion that politics are behind it all. These aren’t plot points in a movie coming soon to Amazon Prime. They’re the increasingly surprising events swirling around Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder.
Mr. Bezos raised the stakes on Thursday when he accused The National Enquirer and its publisher, American Media Inc., of trying to extort him. In a blog post, he said the company had threatened to publish lewd photos of him if he did not say publicly that the tabloid’s earlier reporting on him was not motivated by politics.
The story will probably get wilder. Before it does, here’s a primer on Mr. Bezos’ divorce, the National Enquirer, and why the battle between them could have implications for President Trump.
The world’s richest man is getting a divorce
Before Mr. Bezos published his bombshell post on the online platform Medium, he lit up Twitter on Jan. 9 with the surprise announcement of his separation and planned divorce from his wife of 25 years, the novelist MacKenzie Bezos:
The reasons for the divorce and the motive behind the Twitter post were a mystery until the next day, when The Enquirer’s Jan. 28 issue appeared on supermarket racks. The cover called Mr. Bezos “sleazy” and included the logo of the newspaper he has owned since 2013, The Washington Post.
The article itself included some highly personal text messages he had sent to a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair, Lauren Sanchez, a former host of the Fox show “So You Think You Can Dance” who is married to a powerful Hollywood figure, Patrick Whitesell, the co-chief executive of the agency William Morris Endeavor. There were also paparazzi photos of Mr. Bezos and Ms. Sanchez on an airport tarmac and “gazing into each other’s eyes” in a Santa Monica restaurant.
Mr. Bezos subsequently opened a private investigation to determine why he had been targeted by The Enquirer. He directed his longtime personal security chief, Gavin de Becker, to find out how the tabloid had obtained the texts. Mr. de Becker’s firm questioned Ms. Sanchez’s brother, Michael Sanchez, about whether he might be the source, according to The Daily Beast.
On Tuesday, The Post weighed in on the melodrama involving its owner with a lengthy article headlined “Was tabloid exposé of Bezos affair just juicy gossip or a political hit job?” “Depending on whom you believe,” the article said, “The Enquirer’s exposé on Bezos’s affair was a political hit inspired by President Trump’s allies, an inside job by people seeking to protect Bezos’s marriage, or no conspiracy at all, simply a juicy gossip story.” The Post described Ms. Sanchez’s brother as a “pro-Trump Hollywood talent manager” whom Mr. de Becker considered as a possible source of the texts.
A tabloid titan’s links to President Trump
David J. Pecker, American Media’s chairman, has a longstanding allegiance to Mr. Trump.
According to federal prosecutors, he used The Enquirer to help protect Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign. In addition to defending Mr. Trump in its pages and lashing out at his rivals during the 2016 race, the tabloid was involved in a so-called catch-and-kill scheme to bury damaging allegations.
American Media admitted to federal prosecutors that it had helped orchestrate hush-money deals involving two women who said they had had affairs with Mr. Trump: the former Playboy model Karen McDougal and the pornographic film star Stormy Daniels. Mr. Pecker reached an immunity deal with prosecutors in exchange for providing them with information.
Reporters for The Post have investigated American Media and Mr. Trump. And American Media has lucrative relationships with Saudi Arabia, which Mr. Bezos, without elaborating, noted in his post on Thursday.
Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is “apoplectic” about our investigation. For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve.
Mr. Bezos also said that his ownership of The Post had made him a target.
It’s unavoidable that certain powerful people who experience Washington Post news coverage will wrongly conclude I am their enemy.
President Trump is one of those people, obvious by his many tweets. Also, The Post’s essential and unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi is undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles.
Mr. Trump vs. Mr. Bezos
Mr. Trump has made no secret of his animosity toward Mr. Bezos. After the news of the Amazon mogul’s pending divorce and The Enquirer’s exposé, he coined a new nickname for a man he considers an antagonist.
Long before that, the president had often used Twitter to criticize Amazon, The Post and Mr. Bezos. One of Mr. Trump’s favorite tropes is to conflate Amazon and the newspaper, as he did on Jan. 13, although The Post is owned by Mr. Bezos personally.