February 8, 2019


The National Enquirer Picked the Wrong Man to Bully (Timothy L. O'Brien, February 8, 2019, Bloomberg)

There's another important wrinkle here: Pecker is a longtime friend, political supporter and confidant of President Donald Trump, and Bezos, Amazon and the Washington Post have been repeated targets of the president's ire. Trump has complained that Amazon gets preferential tax and postal rates; in December the U.S. Postal Service proposed rate hikes on shipping services Amazon and other companies use after Trump ordered an audit of the agency's rates (the USPS has said the proposed hikes were not in response to Trump's criticisms of Amazon). The Washington Post, of course, has published seminal and award-winning coverage of Trump's political and business dealings as well as his shortcomings, legal perils, and personal life.

Pecker guided the Enquirer's coverage of Trump down a very different path than the Post. Back in the summer of 2015, shortly after Trump announced his presidential bid, Trump and his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, met with Pecker to talk about how best to bury negative news stories about Trump's extramarital relationships with women. Pecker, who entered into a cooperation agreement with authorities in 2018 that granted him immunity from prosecution, has told law enforcement officials that he agreed to purchase possibly damaging stories about Trump and never publish them in the Enquirer -- a practice known as "catch and kill." Among those stories were accounts of Trump's sexual encounters with a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal. Cohen's payments to McDougal (and to another woman, a former porn star named Stormy Daniels) triggered a federal investigation of possible campaign finance fraud.

Pecker may be sitting on years of Enquirer stories about Trump that were never published and would presumably be of interest to authorities. It's not clear if Bezos's revelations on Thursday night will complicate matters for Pecker.

Under AMI's own agreement to assist law enforcement, the company won't be prosecuted and must cooperate for three years. Signed last September, the agreement clearly states that if the company engages in any criminal acts after that date then it could be prosecuted for "any federal criminal violation" that authorities already know about. That fact, Trump's presence, and all of the other very obvious politics floating around this collision of money, power and gossip, may explain why AMI tried to wring a false statement out of Bezos in exchange for not publishing the new photos. Specifically, AMI demanded, per Bezos's Medium post, that he assert publicly that he has "no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI's coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces."

Ah, but AMI has tried to bully the wrong person. Bezos is the world's richest man, he has ample resources and a spine, and he's willing to put his own reputation in play before the Enquirer does -- in order to make a point and to discover how the publication got his texts and photos.

Posted by at February 8, 2019 6:17 PM