Video report by ITV News Correspondent Emma Murphy
The world's richest man and Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos has said the National Enquirer threatened to publish revealing photographs of him unless his private investigators backed off the US tabloid.
Mr Bezos - who owns the Washington Post - detailed the revelations in a post on the Medium.com website. He says he was the target of “extortion and blackmail” by the publisher of the Enquirer.
After the tabloid published a story about his extramarital affair last month, Mr Bezos ordered a team of private investigators to get to the bottom of how the Enquirer obtained risque texts between the executive and former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez.
Since then, there has been a public relations battle.
Earlier this week, the tabloid’s editor, Dylan Howard, emailed a lawyer for Mr Bezos’ longtime security consultant in order to describe photos the Enquirer “obtained during our newsgathering”.
The photos include a “below the belt selfie” of Mr Bezos, photos of him in tight boxer-briefs and wearing only a towel, and several revealing photos of Ms Sanchez, according to the email Mr Bezos released in his blog post.
According to emails Mr Bezos posted, a lawyer for American Media Inc (AMI), the Enquirer’s parent company, offered a deal on Wednesday – the tabloid would not post the photos if Mr Bezos and his investigators released a public statement “affirming that they have no knowledge or basis” to suggest that the Enquirer’s coverage was “politically motivated or influenced by political forces”.
Mr Bezos’ investigators have suggested the Enquirer’s coverage of his affair was politically motivated.
Mr Bezos has been the target of criticism from US president Donald Trump over the WashingtonPost’s critical coverage of the White House, and AMI has admitted it engaged in what is known as “catch-and-kill” practices to help Trump become president.
That admission was part of a deal between AMI and federal prosecutors, who agreed to not pursue charges against the company for secretly assisting Mr Trump’s campaign by paying £82,000 to a Playboy model for the rights to her story about an alleged affair with the then-candidate. The company then intentionally suppressed the story until after the election.
Last month, the Enquirer reported Mr Bezos sent “sleazy text messages and gushing love notes” to Ms Sanchez, months before Mr Bezos announced he was splitting up with his wife, MacKenzie.
Reporters for the Enquirer followed Mr Bezos and Ms Sanchez “across five states and 40,000 miles” and “tailed them in private jets, swanky limos, helicopter rides, romantic hikes, five-star hotel hideaways, intimate dinner dates and ‘quality time’ in hidden love nests”, the tabloid said in its story. The January 9 story carries the bylines of Mr Howard and two reporters.
In his blog post on Thursday, Mr Bezos said he decided to publish the emails sent to his team “rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail”, despite the “personal cost and embarrassment they threaten”.
A lawyer for AMI did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment on Thursday.