Saturday 16 February 2019

Bezos brazens out Trump's pal

Amazon boss dips into his billions in battle with the publishers of 'The National Enquirer'

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE: From left, Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Larry Page (Google), Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook), Mike Pence (US vice president), Donald Trump (US president), Peter Thiel (PayPal)
MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE: From left, Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Larry Page (Google), Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook), Mike Pence (US vice president), Donald Trump (US president), Peter Thiel (PayPal)
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

In a sense there is something comforting about the scrap between Jeff Bezos and The National Enquirer. It shows that blogging is back - you just need something interesting to write about.

Like perhaps geopolitical revenge porn.

Last month the National Enquirer revealed details of the divorce of Bezos from his wife of 25 years, the novelist MacKenzie Bezos.
Last month the National Enquirer revealed details of the divorce of Bezos from his wife of 25 years, the novelist MacKenzie Bezos.

The Amazon billionaire's fightback against what he called an 'extortion' attempt by Donald Trump's favourite tabloid gave instant succour to million of parents this past week. For now we know: dick pics aren't just for teenagers and they won't disqualify anyone from anything. Because the richest man in the world makes them, too.

And why would he act ashamed when the most powerful man in the world can brazen out porn star revelations? Merely photographing your own genitals and emailing them to someone willing is almost respectable by comparison.

We are living in a new reality and the lesson of it all seems to be that we can relax about monitoring kids' phone use. They can be CEO or president even while everyone is tittering about their bits. No level of selfie lewdness is going to hold them back.

Bezos vs The Enquirer has also shown that villainy is all relative. Bezos may the worst of all tech bosses - thanks to Amazon being a corporate parasite on society and treating its workers fairly shoddily - but set against the sewer morals of the guys who run the Enquirer, he actually looked a bit martyr-like. There's taking a dick pic and then there's holding that pic over someone's head - and in our new, dignity-free moral order, it's an important distinction.

Bezos sounded positively righteous in his hilariously prim letter about the whole scandal, entitled No Thank You, Mr Pecker. If this were scripted drama that name might have been dismissed as too 'on the money' but Pecker is in fact the real, non-porn moniker of the publisher of the National Enquirer.

Last month the magazine revealed details of the divorce of Bezos from his wife of 25 years, the novelist MacKenzie Bezos. They released a joint, slightly Gwyneth Paltrow-ish separation statement ("we remain cherished friends…" etc), the peaceable vibe of which was very much ruined when The Enquirer's edition of January 28 appeared.

The cover called Bezos 'sleazy' and screamed of "text sex and wild romps on his private jet!" It also attacked the newspaper he has owned since 2013 - The Washington Post.

The article itself included some floridly romantic text messages he had sent to his love interest, Lauren Sanchez, a former host of the TV show So You Think You Can Dance.

Ironically, her brother Michael Sanchez is a friend to powerful Trump advisors Roger Stone and Carter Page, and she is married to a powerful Hollywood figure, Patrick Whitesell, the co-CEO of a tinseltown management agency.

The Enquirer piece was accompanied by shots of Bezos and Sanchez on an airport tarmac and "gazing into each other's eyes" in an LA restaurant. Bezos wasn't having that and hired a private investigator to find out how the tabloid had obtained his private texts.

The New York Post stirred the pot by asking: "Was tabloid expose of Bezos affair just juicy gossip or a political hit job?"

That was a reference to the Enquirer's allegiance to President Trump - its publisher has admitted to federal prosecutors that it had helped orchestrate hush-money deals involving two women who said they had had affairs with Trump - and the suspicion that it may be striking a blow for the president against the Bezos-owned Washington Post, one of Trump's harshest media critics.

American Media Inc (AMI), the publisher of the Enquirer also has lucrative business interests in Saudi Arabia. The Washington Post has been critical of the Middle Eastern Kingdom and its whitewashing of the murder of one of the paper's journalists, Jamal Khashoggi.

Trump, who has declined to criticise the Saudis, has made no secret of his dislike of Bezos. After the news of the Amazon mogul's pending divorce and the Enquirer's expose, he coined a nickname for a man he considers an enemy: Bozo.

As Bezos' own investigation gathered steam and he began to makes noise about the motivations of the Enquirer, AMI made the next move. It made Bezos an indecent proposal: The Enquirer would agree to not publish additional photos (one of the alleged emails refers to "a photograph of Sanchez smoking a cigar in what appears to be a simulated oral sex scene") if Bezos publicly backtracked and said that there was no reason to believe that the Enquirer's coverage of Bezos and Sanchez was politically motivated.

This email prompted Bezos to publish the correspondence. "Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I've decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten," he explained, after which the Pecker headlines all but wrote themselves.

Legal experts can differ about whether AMI's threat really rose to the level of extortion, as Bezos alleges, but one thing everyone could agree on was that the Amazon chief's unlikely reinvention as a victim comes at an opportune time for him.

You know we are at a low moment in modern history when an unloved multibillionaire sending out dick pics while wearing his wedding ring still gets to be the hero of the story. The only slight silver lining to it all is that Bezos's sort-of embarrassment has probably put the fear of God into other loathsome billionaires.

The penis-themed Trump presidency may forever haunt us - but at least we may yet be spared the nude shots of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet.

Sunday Independent

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