Simple Blackmail

Trump and Putin – Trump and the wall and the next government shutdown – Trump giving Afghanistan back to the Taliban and giving Syria to Russia – Trump ending NATO and the EU too, if possible – the Trump and Kim bromance – Trump and those ungrateful uppity black folks – Trump closing the borders and putting massive tariffs on everything from everywhere – Trump shutting down all congressional inquiries because that’s no more than “presidential harassment” and the Republicans never did anything like that to Obama – and “fake news” – especially “fake news” about climate change (a hoax invented by the Chinese) and the Mueller investigation (a witch hunt) – that’s the daily diet, the news that never changes all that much. It may be that Donald Trump is a Russian agent after all, or an unwitting (dumb as a rock) tool of the Russians, or maybe he’s just in way over his head, but it doesn’t much matter. The public has been overwhelmed. There’s too much of this. No one wants to hear any more of this. Let it go. Let him be who he is.

The nation needed new news to chew on. That’s what the nation got. But it was coming. Jeff Bezos owns Amazon. He may be the richest man in the world, and he bought the Washington Post. He likes the idea of a well-funded free press that looks into things and keeps everyone on their toes – so he bought that famous newspaper and funds everything they do. He doesn’t tell them what to write – he hasn’t time for that – he just likes the idea of them doing their thing, a good thing. And that drives Donald Trump crazy. Bezos is a thousand times richer than Donald Trump. And he can prove it. And Bezos’ Washington Post keeps reporting on Trump’s many scandals, and was all over Saudi Arabia for murdering a journalist who wrote for them – and Trump was okay with that and he loves those Saudis. They buy luxury condos in his Manhattan skyscrapers. They buy whole floors. When he bought the Plaza Hotel back in the eighties, and then went bankrupt, a Saudi prince bought the hotel from him – all cash, lots of cash – and solved that problem – and another Saudi prince bought his giant luxury yacht that the bank was about to seize – solving anther little problem. The Saudis have been good to him and now the new crown prince over there is his son-in-law’s best friend forever. Jared is part of the family there now – or he’s being used. That’s what Bezos’ Washington Post reports. And that angers Trump. Bezos is the enemy. Someone should do something about Bezos.

Someone did. And the new news is that they failed:

The richest man on earth accused the nation’s leading supermarket tabloid publisher of “extortion and blackmail” on Thursday, laying out a theory that brought together international intrigue, White House politics, nude photos and amorous text messages.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the owner of The Washington Post, made his accusations against American Media Inc., the company behind The National Enquirer, in a lengthy post on the online platform Medium.

It seems that the National Enquirer thought they had Bezos nailed:

Last month, The Enquirer published an expose of Mr. Bezos’ extramarital affair with Lauren Sanchez, a former host of the Fox show “So You Think You Can Dance.”

The headline of Mr. Bezos’ post – “No thank you, Mr. Pecker” – targeted David J. Pecker, the head of the tabloid company. In the sometimes digressive text that followed, he accused American Media of threatening to publish graphic photographs of Mr. Bezos, including a “below-the-belt selfie,” if he did not publicly affirm that The Enquirer’s reporting on his affair was not motivated by political concerns.

“Well, that got my attention,” Mr. Bezos wrote of the threat.

It seems that they did have him nailed:

The inciting event in this battle of American titans was the Jan. 28 edition of The Enquirer, which hit supermarket racks on Jan. 10, one day after Mr. Bezos and his wife of 25 years, MacKenzie, announced that they would be getting a divorce. The tabloid devoted 11 pages to the story of Mr. Bezos’ affair with Ms. Sanchez, calling it “the biggest investigation in Enquirer history!”

The Enquirer boasted that it had tracked the couple “across five states and 40,000 miles,” furtively observing them as they boarded private jets, rode in limousines and repaired to “five-star hotel hideaways.” The article was illustrated with paparazzi shots of the unwitting couple as they stepped onto a tarmac and arrived together at what the tabloid called “their beachfront love nest in Santa Monica.”

The tabloid also published amorous text messages that Mr. Bezos had sent to Ms. Sanchez. “I am crazy about you,” he wrote, according to The Enquirer. “All of you.”

Yeah, well, who the hell cares about these two people? That was the mystery here, and that may be a Trump mystery:

Tech executives are not the usual subjects of Enquirer covers, and the story set off speculation in Washington and New York media circles that the tabloid’s aggressive coverage of Mr. Bezos was tied to the closeness of Mr. Pecker, The Enquirer’s chief, and the White House. That alliance came fully to light last year in the legal drama involving hush payments to women alleging affairs with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Pecker were longtime friends – but the relationship between the two was said to be frayed in recent months, when American Media’s leadership entered into a deal with federal prosecutors looking into the company’s role in the hush payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign. Mr. Pecker and his associates had helped orchestrate the deals involving two women who alleged past affairs with Mr. Trump in “catch and kill” deals: the former Playboy model Karen McDougal and the porn star Stormy Daniels.

Pecker may have been trying to show Trump that he was still Trump’s guy, so Bezos decided to look into that:

After The Enquirer made his private life public, giving Twitter wags and late-night hosts the chance to weigh in on his high-flown texting style, Mr. Bezos sprang into action, starting his own investigation of the tabloid’s motives and how it had come to possess his texts to Ms. Sanchez.

The Amazon founder, who at last count was worth $136 billion, suggested that he would spare no expense in taking the fight to the tabloid publisher. Leading the investigation was Gavin de Becker, Mr. Bezos’ longtime security chief, whom Mr. Bezos said he had instructed “to proceed with whatever budget he needed to pursue the facts in this matter.”

It was a bold move for someone who has often tried to evade the spotlight, even amid the frequent insults hurled his way by Mr. Trump, who has labeled the newspaper that Mr. Bezos purchased in 2013 as “The Amazon Post” and recently called him “Jeff Bozo” in a tweet.

But he’s not the Bozo here:

Mr. de Becker confirmed to The Daily Beast on Jan. 31 that he was leading the investigation into the matter of how the Enquirer had obtained the text messages. Not long afterward, The Post prepared an article exploring competing theories about the motivation behind the publication of the tawdry tale.

That’s what changed everything:

American Media made the next move, offering Mr. Bezos an offer that it wrongly assumed he could not refuse. And if he did say no? A future issue of The Enquirer would make him very unhappy, with the selfies and more of the steamy texts it had apparently obtained.

“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,” Mr. Bezos wrote. “I prefer to stand up, roll this log over and see what crawls out.”

And that’s what he did. He published every single threat sent to him by AMI – including the texts and photos they had threatened to publish – every single one of them. Now they had nothing. In fact, they had less than nothing:

By using Medium to reveal The Enquirer’s backstage maneuvers, Mr. Bezos – one of the world’s most powerful tech titans and the owner of one of the country’s most influential newspapers – showed the best means of communications can be a simple blog post.

Sometimes rambling – while also showing the occasional flair of tabloid columnists of yore – the Bezos post pulled together random strands of the yearlong legal drama involving the president, American Media and the allegedly illegal payments to women.

They really should not have messed with this guy:

Federal prosecutors with the Southern District of New York determined that the American Media payment was an illegal corporate contribution. Because the company cooperated with prosecutors, the authorities did not bring charges. But they made American Media sign onto a non-prosecution agreement, in which it affirmed that it had made the payment to “influence the election.”

That agreement, signed in September, stipulated that AMI “shall commit no crimes whatsoever” for three years, and that if it did, “AMI shall thereafter be subject to prosecution for any federal criminal violation of which this office has knowledge.”

If American Media’s threat to publish the personal photos of Mr. Bezos is determined to have been criminal, it would find its deal with federal prosecutors in jeopardy.

They screwed themselves:

American Media appeared to warn Mr. Bezos away from raising any political speculation in an email to Mr. de Becker’s attorney, which he shared on Medium. In the letter, which he quoted in full, a lawyer for the company, Jon Fine, demanded that Mr. Bezos state publicly that he had “no knowledge or basis for suggesting that” American Media’s “coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.” Mr. Fine has worked as a lawyer at Amazon.

In his post Mr. Bezos also appeared to imply that the tabloid company was doing the bidding of Saudi Arabia, quoting from a New York Times report last year: “After Mr. Trump became president, 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. At the time, Mr. Pecker was pursuing business there while also hunting for financing for acquisitions.”

Pecker did want Saudi money to expand the business. The Saudis did hate Bezos, for this:

The Post has been reporting determinedly on intelligence assessments that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the grisly murder of the Saudi dissident – and Post global opinion contributor – Jamal Khashoggi.

Pecker would get Bezos to back off on that, and shut down Bezos’ Post on any embarrassing Trump reporting. Think of it as a bulletproof joint Trump-Saudi blackmail threat that would neuter this guy. Mohammed bin Salman might prefer to dismember this man in an embassy basement, but that’s not Trump or Pecker’s style. Simple blackmail would do for now – but Bezos ruined that. He put it all out there. Then they had nothing. Rats!

Josh Marshall saw this:

Jeff Bezos published a letter on Medium that is, frankly, one of the most stunning things I’ve ever read. It is also extremely important, far beyond the celebrity gossip of a billionaire caught in an affair or compromising photographs.

Put simply, we’ve known for a couple years now that in addition to being the tabloid we’ve known for decades, the National Enquirer also weaponizes embarrassing information on behalf of Donald Trump and presumably others. They’ve already been obliged to enter into a non-prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors in New York over their role in the hush money payments on behalf of Donald Trump in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign. When the Enquirer published the story of Jeff Bezos’s affair several weeks ago it was an obvious question whether this was some sort of hit on behalf of Donald Trump since Trump has made Bezos one of his top public enemies.

And obvious questions have obvious answers:

Bezos published correspondence which appears to clearly show AMI (the Enquirer’s parent company) trying to blackmail him. Put simply, the Enquirer lays out in some detail that it has various dick pics of Bezos and semi-nude photographs of his girlfriend. If Bezos doesn’t stop his investigation and publicly announce that his investigators found that the Enquirer did nothing wrong, they’ll publish the photos.

And that will ruin one of Trump’s biggest enemies, but some plans just don’t pan out:

Ex-prosecutors who I think know what they’re talking about are saying this probably isn’t blackmail by a criminal standard. So let’s assume that’s true – but what it does show is that AMI is precisely the criminal enterprise, weaponizing pseudo-journalism and cash payoffs on behalf of wealthy associates, as we’ve come to suspect.

Bezos’ also hints pretty clearly that there may be evidence that the Saudis are somehow behind what happened. Remember, Trump hates Bezos because he owns the Washington Post. Whether he believes that Bezos actually calls the shots in the Post’s reporting I have no idea. But that’s the source of Trump’s ire. Jamal Khashoggi also had a column with the Post. The Post has taken the lead in pushing for justice on Khashoggi’s behalf. So the Saudis have a big beef too. And of course Trump appears to have his own corrupt ties to the de facto rulers of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

So it all comes together:

Now, in theory, maybe AMI just wants Bezos to back off. No one likes being scrutinized by private investigators even if you’re just sleazy and not criminal. But the hyper-aggressive nature of AMI’s actions here tells me there’s something much bigger in play here.

Think of it this way. Trump and the Saudis finally have their weapon against “fake News” and the press in general, the “enemy of the people” to both Trump and the Saudis. They have the massive Pecker Blackmail Machine out there collecting everything from everywhere. They’ll find something, somehow, which worries Marshall:

I give Bezos credit. This is a very bold move at the cost of substantial personal embarrassment. But the malign role of AMI in American public life has an importance that goes far beyond that. This looks to me like a very, very big deal.

It is a big deal. This president has a secret weapon – the massive Pecker Blackmail Machine. He can destroy you with a snide nickname. If that doesn’t work, he can destroy you with a single sarcastic tweet. If that doesn’t work, it’s blackmail. He’ll find something, or in a pinch, make up something. You want to argue policy? You want to argue about the law? Go ahead. It won’t make a difference. If the nickname doesn’t get you, the Tweet of Death will – and if that doesn’t get you, there’s blackmail. There’s something in your past. There always is. You’re toast.

That seems to be the plan:

Ronan Farrow said Thursday that he and “at least one other prominent journalist” who had reported on the National Enquirer and President Trump received blackmail threats from the tabloid’s parent company, American Media Inc., over their work.

Farrow’s allegation came just hours after Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos published a remarkable public post accusing the National Enquirer of attempting to extort and blackmail him by threatening to publish intimate photos unless he stopped investigating the publication. Bezos owns the Washington Post.

In a tweet Thursday night, Farrow wrote that he and the unnamed journalist “fielded similar ‘stop digging or we’ll ruin you’ blackmail efforts from AMI.” Last April, Farrow published a story in the New Yorker about the Enquirer’s “catch and kill” practice – in which stories are buried by paying off sources – that benefited Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Farrow added that he “did not engage as I don’t cut deals with subjects of ongoing reporting.”

They’ll get around to him later, and he’s not so special:

In response to Farrow, former Associated Press editor Ted Bridis tweeted, “We were warned explicitly by insiders that AMI had hired private investigators to dig into backgrounds of @AP journalists looking into the tabloid’s efforts on behalf of Trump.”

Everyone knew what was happening. Trump is a different kind of president. He has AMI working for him. AMI has its private investigators. Simple blackmail will keep the press in line – except for Jeff Bezos. Trump now has an even bigger problem with him.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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