Bezos is the latest celebrity to experience the National Enquirer's fist-free tactics

0
5

Amazon.com
Inc.


AMZN -1.05%

The statement by its founder Jeff Bezos that the National Enquirer attempted to blackmail him after getting embarrassing photos of the tycoon shocked some observers, but this might sound familiar to other celebrities who have mixed up with the tabloid. supermarkets, including fitness guru Richard Simmons and talk show host Dr. Phil. Mr. Bezos' long online publication on February 7 included threatening letters from Enquirer, which fit into the logic of the newspaper: it sometimes collects damaging information or claims about individuals and uses them. as ways to advance the publication. interests, instead of printing it.

In some cases, Enquirer tries to win the favor of celebrities by acquiring the rights of a negative story about them and then burying it – a practice known as "catch and kill" – as it He did it at least twice for Donald Trump. In other cases, as in the case of Mr. Bezos, the Enquirer is accused of using the material he has obtained in the hope of gaining the upper hand in enmity with a famous person.

In 2017, Simmons filed a defamation suit against Enquirer's parent company, American Media LLC, alleging that the tabloid had falsely reported that he had undergone a sex reassignment operation. Enquirer undertook to gather damaging information about this 70-year-old man, renowned for his aerobics classes and promoting weight loss programs, said people familiar with the subject.

Dylan Howard, head of American Media content, in a portrait of 2016.

Dylan Howard, head of American Media content, in a portrait of 2016.

Photo:

Lucas Jackson / Reuters

The Enquirer sent a journalist and a videographer to Spain, where they paid $ 50,000 to someone who had to say something in front of the camera that would embarrass Mr. Simmons, the people said. The story was never published but was used to threaten Mr. Simmons in the hope that he will drop his case, two people said.

Photographers for the tabloid continued to follow Mr. Simmons, who was told to travel with a cardboard box on his head, said the people. The investigator released the photos with the following title: "Richard Simmons: A Reclusive Star Head in a Box".

Last summer, a judge rejected Simmons' First Amendment-based trial and sentenced him to pay American Media's court fees. He appealed and the legal dispute continued until both parties settled the case in November, according to court records. The director and agent of Mr. Simmons did not respond to calls for comment.

Dr. Phil McGraw, a self-help advisor to television, has met a similar pressure campaign after committing a $ 250 million defamation action in 2016 against the tabloid and other securities. American Media. Mr. McGraw had been annoyed for years with the cover of Enquirer, but the critical point was an article accusing him of mistreating his wife, a charge denied by the couple, according to the lawsuit.

While a court battle was imminent, Enquirer has threatened to publish other articles that it finds harmful, according to sources close to the case. None of these articles have ever been published. Both parties settled the lawsuit two months after filing.

Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, of MSNBC, who claimed to have been warned that the Enquirer was planning to publish a negative article about them unless they "beg the president to make the story richer".

Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, of MSNBC, who claimed to have been warned that the Enquirer was planning to publish a negative article about them unless they "beg the president to make the story richer".

Photo:

Robin Platzer / Twin Images / Zuma Press

Mr. McGraw's lawyer, Lin Wood, stated that "the trial was resolved to the mutual satisfaction of all parties".

In June 2017, Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, hosts of the morning show on MSNBC, who were publicly arguing with President Trump, said in a Washington Post column that White House advisers had warned them that the Enquirer would publish a negative story about their vice-president. -radar romance "unless we ask the president to make sure that the story is enriched." The couple said that he had made no such request to the president, and Enquirer published the article.

In a statement, American Media said that the company "denies any allegation that it would have behaved inappropriately during its press conference." American Media declined to comment on any specific allegations regarding this article. In a television interview, a tabloid editor's lawyer denied that the company had tried to blackmail Mr. Bezos.

The Enquirer has over the years acquired a number of prejudicial stories about famous people, some of whom have never existed, according to the subject's regulars. At one point, he maintained a safe in his offices located in lower Manhattan, containing a pile of contracts related to such transactions, said the population.

David Pecker, publisher of National Enquirer, faces accusations by Jeff Bezos about blackmail and political favors. Jason Bellini, WSJ, describes in detail the genesis of recent controversies Pecker. Photo: Getty

Daily journalism involves concessions between reporters and sources, but major news outlets do not sanction the tactics used by Enquirer, including sources of payment and collecting information on a topic to make money or promote the interests of the company.

The man who spearheads this tactic for Enquirer is Dylan Howard, head of content at American Media, according to current employees and former employees. The Australian Australian joined the company in 2009 and resigned in 2012 after the company investigated complaints of sexual harassment, said former staff members.

A 2013 archive photo of Richard Simmons, a fitness instructor on television, whose complaints against the National Enquirer ended in November.

A 2013 archive photo of Richard Simmons, a fitness instructor on television, whose complaints against the National Enquirer ended in November.

Photo:

Evan Agostini / Associated Press

American Media said it conducted a review of the case by a third party at that time and found no truth in the allegations. After a one year hiatus, Mr. Howard returned to the position of editor in chief of Enquirer before overseeing all the gossip titles of the company in his current role.

Mr. Howard has earned a reputation as a relentless gossip giver, distributing money for stories and pursuing celebrity groups like revealing Charlie Sheen's HIV status and unveiling sealed court documents that described racist rants from the ex-professional wrestler Hulk Hogan.

Mr. Howard did not respond to requests for comment.

Critics doubt how it works, but Enquirer has published some big hits that followed, including reports on an extramarital affair involving former presidential candidate John Edwards, who led him to be accused of violations of campaign financing by attempting to conceal this case. he had fathered a child out of wedlock. A lawsuit is over with a jury suspended for most counts. At the end of the trial, Mr. Edwards said that he had committed "a horrible crime, but he had made a mistake," but denied having violated the campaign finance law.

In Mr. Bezos' online publication, he said that Enquirer was concerned about his investigation into the source of his story revealing the extramarital affair of Amazon's CEO and the idea that his coverage was politically motivated. . American Media has denied having political motives.

Mr. Bezos is the owner of the Washington Post, whose cover of the Trump administration has been criticized by the White House. American Media CEO David Pecker is a long time friend of Trump.

A few days after Enquirer published his presentation on Bezos, Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter that he was "so sorry to hear the news that Jeff Bozo was caught by a competitor whose reporting, I understand, is far more accurate than his lobbyist newspaper, Amazon Washington Post," Mr. Trump said earlier this week. he was not aware that Enquirer had reported to Mr. Bezos.

Mr. Bezos' message included, according to him, emails from Mr. Howard. The message he quoted from Mr. Howard and dated February 5 contained mournful descriptions of nine photos allegedly obtained by Enquirer, including a "selfie under the belt" of Mr. Bezos and a "naked selfie in a room bath ".

"It would not please the publisher to send this e-mail. I hope that common sense will prevail – and quickly, "concluded Mr. Howard's e-mail.

According to Mr. Bezos' message, American Media's lawyer, Jon Fine, has published a long list of terms of sale, stating that the company would not publish the photos if Mr. Bezos publicly claimed that He did not know that Enquirer's cover was politically motivated.

American Media said its board was initiating an investigation into the company's stock and would take appropriate action.

Federal prosecutors are examining whether American Media has acted in a manner that violates a non-suit agreement the company entered into with the government in the case against Michael Cohen, former Trump's personal attorney, reported the Wall Street Journal. In August, Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to criminal charges, including campaign funding violations, resulting from "capture and destruction" attempts by US media to buy damaging stories about the president's alleged affairs.

Michael Rothfeld contributed to this article.

Write to Lukas I. Alpert at lukas.alpert@wsj.com