Supermarket tabloid National Enquirer has long employed hardball tactics in pursuit of salacious scoops about Hollywood celebrities and politicians, while simultaneously covering up embarrassing stories about its friends, including President Donald Trump and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But the tabloid may have underestimated the wrath of its latest target: the world's richest man, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com and owner of The Washington Post.
The National Enquirer last month revealed that Bezos had been engaged in an extramarital affair with Lauren Sanchez, a former local Fox TV anchor in Los Angeles and wife of a prominent Hollywood talent agent. Bezos unleashed private investigators, giving them an unlimited budget, to learn how the National Enquirer got photos and text message exchanges between him and Sanchez.
The Enquirer bristled over the investigation, and tried to get Bezos to back down. Instead, Bezos published an extraordinary blog post this week, accusing the tabloid and its parent company, American Media Inc., of "extortion and blackmail," alleging it threatened to publish more embarrassing pictures unless he abandoned his investigation of the leaks.
"I think they met their match in Bezos," said Dan Ives, a technology analyst with Wedbush Securities. "This remains a heavyweight fight. The public, the broader tech industry, and D.C. insiders are watching closely."
On Friday, American Media said it was investigating the billionaire's allegations and that it "believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting" of the Bezos story.
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Federal prosecutors in New York also are examining Bezos' allegations, according to two sources familiar with the review but not authorized to discuss it. Prosecutors are looking at whether AMI violated a recent agreement in which AMI pledged not to commit any crimes for three years.
The Bezos drama quickly dragged American Media Chairman David Pecker, whose close ties with Trump already have come under scrutiny, back into the spotlight.
American Media owns numerous supermarket tabloids and gossip magazines, including Us Weekly, the Star and the Globe.
Bezos' blog post noted that his ownership of the Post may have brought another level of complexity to the situation, and alleged that the coverage of his extramarital affair may have been politically motivated.