Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the owner of The Washington Post, accused the nation’s leading supermarket tabloid, The National Enquirer, of blackmail on Thursday, laying out an alleged scheme that brought together international intrigue and White House politics to the publication’s exposure of his extramarital affair last month.
It was an unusual move by Mr. Bezos, who had largely avoided the spotlight even as he became the world’s richest man, despite the frequent attacks from President Trump, who has labeled his newspaper The Amazon Post and recently called him “Jeff Bozo” in a tweet.
The Enquirer pushed the multibillionaire into the headlines with its Jan. 28 edition, which hit newsstands and supermarket racks on Jan. 10. The tabloid devoted 11 pages to the story of Mr. Bezos’ affair with Lauren Sanchez, a former host of the Fox show “So You Think You Can Dance,” calling it “the biggest investigation in Enquirer history!”
The Enquirer boasted in the article that it had tracked the couple “across five states and 40,000 miles,” observing them as they boarded private jets, rode in limousines and repaired to “five-star hotel hideaways.” The article also included amorous text messages that Mr. Bezos had sent to Ms. Sanchez.
Mr. Bezos is hardly the sort of character the Enquirer typically puts on its cover, and the story set off speculation in Washington and New York media circles that the coverage was tied to The Enquirer’s alliance with the White House. The relationship between the tabloid’s owner, American Media Inc., and the president had been frayed by a cooperation deal struck by The Enquirer’s leadership with prosecutors looking into its role during the 2016 campaign, when it helped orchestrate the payment of hush money to women who alleged past affairs with Mr. Trump.
After seeing his texts in the tabloid’s pages, Mr. Bezos sprang into action, starting his own investigation into the tabloid’s motives as The Post prepared an article speculating on its potential political agenda. His tying of The Enquirer’s motive to politics, Mr. Bezos alleged in a post on Medium on Thursday, prompted associates of David J. Pecker, the chairman of American Media Inc., to threaten to publish graphic photos it had apparently obtained, as well as more of the steamy text messages.
“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 of A.M.I., explaining why he had decided to speak out. “I prefer to stand up, roll this log over and see what crawls out.”
Mr. Bezos said A.M.I. had political reasons for wanting him to stop looking into its decision to publish the article. He pointed to the publisher’s past cooperation with Mr. Trump, as well as its connections to the government of Saudi Arabia. The Washington Post has relentlessly reported on the murder last year of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident.
Mr. Bezos’ online post details a stunning and bizarre clash between the world’s richest man and the nation’s biggest tabloid publisher. In it, all of the country’s obsessions of recent years appear to have collided, from the personal lives of billionaires and sensational tabloid headlines to Mr. Trump’s fight with the media.
[Our media columnist examined the unlikely power of The National Enquirer in December.]
It has also shown that even for one of the world’s most powerful tech titans and the owner of one of the country’s most influential newspapers, the best means of communications can be a simple blog post. And in a time when Beltway pundits complain that the public has lost its capacity to be shocked, Mr. Bezos’ post did exactly that.
Amazon declined to comment. A.M.I. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The confrontation began last month when Mr. Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, announced that they were getting divorced. The couple, who have been married for 25 years, disclosed their separation just before The Enquirer published an article exposing that Mr. Bezos was having an affair with Ms. Sanchez, who is also married. The Enquirer article included text messages between Mr. Bezos and Ms. Sanchez, in which he wrote of his feelings for her and used endearments including “alive girl.”
[Who Is MacKenzie Bezos? Her divorce has made the novelist, and her private life, a public fascination.]
Mr. Bezos said in his post that he had then quickly “engaged investigators to learn how those texts were obtained, and to determine the motives for the many unusual actions taken by The Enquirer.”
Mr. Bezos said he had turned to Gavin de Becker, his longtime private security consultant, for help. In recent interviews, including with The Daily Beast and The Washington Post, Mr. de Becker has said he was investigating whether Ms. Sanchez’s brother, who has said he supports Mr. Trump, may have been behind the leak for political reasons.
Those who support the president may have been motivated to move against Mr. Bezos since Mr. Trump has long criticized the billionaire. Mr. Trump has previously linked The Post and Amazon in critical Twitter posts, once declaring the “Fake Washington Post” a “lobbyist” for Amazon.
Mr. de Becker did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In Mr. Bezos’ post on Thursday, he also published several emails between Mr. de Becker’s lawyer, Martin Singer, and A.M.I.’s lawyer, Jon Fine, and chief content officer, Dylan Howard. The emails detail explicit photos The Enquirer had obtained of Mr. Bezos and Ms. Sanchez but hadn’t run, and went on say A.M.I. would not publish the photos if Mr. Bezos stopped his investigation and publicly said he did not think the leak had been politically motivated.
In one email that Mr. Bezos disclosed, Mr. Howard wrote that The Enquirer had obtained photos of Mr. Bezos and Ms. Sanchez as part of its “newsgathering.” Included, Mr. Howard wrote, were photos that showed Ms. Sanchez simulating an oral sex scene and Mr. Bezos clad in just a white towel.
“Nothing I might write here could tell the National Enquirer story as eloquently as their own words,” Mr. Bezos wrote of releasing the emails.
He added that any personal embarrassment from the revelations took “a back seat because there’s a much more important matter involved here.”
“If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion,” he wrote, “how many people can?”