<p>El presidente ejecutivo de Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos, acus&oacute; a la empresa matriz del National Enquirer de extorsi&oacute;n y chantaje (Los Angeles Times).</p>

El presidente ejecutivo de Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos, acusó a la empresa matriz del National Enquirer de extorsión y chantaje (Los Angeles Times).

(Los Angeles Times)

Jeff Bezos, owner of The Washington Post and said to be the world's richest man, has accused the gossip-mongering National Enquirer of attempted extortion and revealed details from his own extramarital affair rather than allowing the Enquirer to smear him with them.

Mr. Bezos, in a statement reported in a long page-one account in his own newspaper of the tabloid's attempt, quickly earned praise from other journalism outlets for standing up to the Enquirer's publishing firm, American Media Inc.

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He reported that the threat of extortion came after he had begun investigating how the Enquirer had obtained evidence of the affair with a former Los Angeles television anchor, Lauren Sanchez, which eventually led to divorce from his wife. Mr. Bezos accused the tabloid publisher of blackmail, by threatening to publish intimidating photos unless he dropped his own investigation, which he declined to do.

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Mr. Bezos' willingness to disclose the existence of the salacious material himself was a startling event of political self-immolation, applauded by other journalistic outlets that have long regarded gossip and other scandal-mongering as a plague on the news business generally.

Mr. Bezos, who has adopted a hands-off policy toward the reportorial content of The Post, obviously has the financial resources to take such a stand against attempted extortion. He wrote that the Enquirer had pressed him and his investigators to state falsely that they had "no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI's coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces." He flatly refused

Rather, he released what he said were AMI executives' emails suggesting the publication of salacious photos of Mr. Bezos and Ms. Sanchez, if he did not back off. In one, Enquirer Editor in Chief Dylan Howard wrote in a thinly veiled threat: "I wanted to describe to you the photos obtained during our news gathering," adding "It would give no editor pleasure to send this email. I hope common sense can prevail — and quickly. "

FILE- In this Sept. 13, 2018, file photo Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, speaks at The Economic Club of Washington's Milestone Celebration in Washington. Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man and CEO of Amazon, is publicly accusing The National Enquirer in a blog post of trying to blackmail him by threatening to release more intimate photos of him unless he calls off an investigation into how that information was obtained in the first place. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
FILE- In this Sept. 13, 2018, file photo Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, speaks at The Economic Club of Washington's Milestone Celebration in Washington. Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man and CEO of Amazon, is publicly accusing The National Enquirer in a blog post of trying to blackmail him by threatening to release more intimate photos of him unless he calls off an investigation into how that information was obtained in the first place. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File) (Cliff Owen / AP)

Mr. Bezos wrote that Howard's threat "got my attention," adding that "any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes a back seat because there's much more important matter involved here. If in my position I can't stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?"

Two days after the Enquirer told Mr. Bezos it would break the story of his affair, Mr. Bezos and his wife MacKenzie disclosed their plans to divorce. When the Enquirer ran what they called "sleazy text messages and gushing love notes" between Mr. Bezos and Ms. Sanchez, Mr. Bezos hired investigators to find out how the material had been leaked, and took his stand publicly.

All this drama took place in the context of the fact that AMI's top executive, David Pecker, is longtime friend of President Trump, who has been an open critic of Mr. Bezos, owner of Amazon as well as The Post, which has been a sharp editorial critic of the man in the Oval Office.

The Post reported last Tuesday that Mr. Bezos and investigators suspected the source of text and photo leaks was Lauren Sanchez's brother, Michael, a California public relations executive close to Mr. Pecker. Michael Sanchez was quoted in The Post as saying the Enquirer was out to do "a takedown" of Mr. Bezos and the Post "to make Trump happy."

Dino Sajudin was paid for signing over the rights to a rumor he'd heard about Trump's sex life.

Mr. Bezos himself wrote: "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 also noted an earlier non-prosecution agreement that AMI had struck with the Justice Department, suggesting the intended blackmailers might now face federal legal trouble ahead.

The whole bizarre episode casts Bezos as a press-freedom champion in the current era of a president characterizing American journalism as "the enemy of the people." At the same time, Mr. Trump works to pollute legitimate news gathering by labeling it as "fake news," while repeatedly trafficking in it himself with his serial lies and misrepresentations.

Not many public figures have the financial resources to take a stand against gossip journalism displayed by Jeff Bezos in this rare example of personal self-disparagement, in the cause of trying to clean up one conspicuous trash can within constructive journalism's ranks.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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