Bezos 'blackmail' opens floodgates to tabloid accusations
One of America's most influential tabloid publishers was last night bracing itself for a slew of potentially devastating accusations, after an attempt to silence the world's richest man appeared to have spectacularly backfired.
Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, shocked the US last Thursday with his account of how American Media Inc (AMI), publishers of the National Enquirer, attempted to block his investigation into its business network through "extortion and blackmail".
He told how the company threatened to publish explicit photographs unless he stopped probing how the magazine - and its network of connections leading all the way to the White House - obtained text messages between him and his mistress, Lauren Sanchez.
Journalists and celebrities have since come forward to accuse AMI of similar "blackmail" propositions.
"I and at least one other prominent journalist involved in breaking stories about the Enquirer's arrangement with Trump fielded similar 'stop digging or we'll ruin you' blackmail efforts from AMI," wrote Ronan Farrow on Twitter. Farrow is working on a book entitled Catch and Kill, detailing AMI's attempts to silence people.
Lachlan Cartwright, a reporter with The Daily Beast, said he was threatened with a $5m (€4.4m) lawsuit unless he stopped reporting on Bezos's attempt to find the source of the Enquirer scoop.
Terry Crews, an actor in US sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine, said AMI had attempted to blackmail him too.
"AMI, tried to silence me... by fabricating stories of me with prostitutes - and even went so far as creating fake receipts," he wrote on Twitter. "I called their bluff by releasing their threats online. They blinked."
Whoopi Goldberg was among the actors named by The Daily Beast as being a target, with two AMI figures plotting to blackmail her in exchange for withdrawing a story about rumours that she had been diagnosed with cancer. It was unclear whether Goldberg was ever approached by the pair.
The accusations have lifted the lid on AMI's tactics, and are raising expectations that more revelations may emerge.
One private investigator, who spent years working on jobs for AMI and other tabloids, said he regularly used the tactic. "The Enquirer had some people who would go to a celebrity and say, 'unless you give in to a one-on-one interview that would amount to a fluff piece with us, we're going to report XYZ'," he said.
"The celebrity would then acquiesce to their demand. The nice way of calling it was a quid pro quo - but really it was blackmail."
Prosecutors are investigating whether the effort to blackmail Bezos could result in legal action against AMI and its chairman, David Pecker. He was granted immunity in exchange for AMI's co-operation in investigations into "hush money" paid to silence women alleging affairs with Trump.