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This is about how The Daily Beast and Washington Post were used by Jeff Bezos during his personal affair drama in early 2019. It’s an exploitation of how the media is supposed to operate.
Donald Trump was right. Jeff Bezos had his associate Gavin de Becker do an investigation about how his personal texts between himself and his mistress Lauren Sanchez got into the hands of National Enquirer. Becker spun a tale to Daily Beast and Washington Post about potential hacking, a vendetta orchestrated by Donald Trump, and maybe the Saudis.
None of that ever happened. As someone who actually had some lingering faith in the integrity of journalism, what I’m about to go over sucked away all the dignity the fourth estate had left.
It comes as a relief to me that someone over at the Wall Street Journal saw the same things I did in an excerpt from Bloomberg. It’s called “The Untold Story of How Jeff Bezos Beat the Tabloids” and presents the owner of The Washington Post as a victor in a battle against the media machine. We’re led to believe that Jeff Bezos was pressured by the National Enquirer to come clean about an affair he had with one Lauren Sanchez. That somehow it was a hitjob from Trump.
The Enquirer did acquire photos and texts from Bezos’ spicy love life. Yet, there was no blackmailing nor political intrigue of the sort that Bezos and his trumped-up investigation implied. It was simply Jeff Bezo’s girlfriend’s brother. He got $200,000 from the National Enquirer. That’s it. Nor was there any nudes of Bezos, that was a lie. What happened was Amazon founder Jeff Bezos used his outlet the Washington Post as a deflection to springboard a false narrative.
Mr. Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.’s article for the WSJ is a good starting point. But I think it warrants a further examination.
These outlets added to the cloud of political chaos that was rampant during the Trump administration, and the pushback against the former President.
It was first on January 9th, 2019 that Amazon’s Jeff Bezos announced his divorce from his wife MacKenzie. It was later that same day that National Enquirer revealed the affair. Both Bezos and his mistress Lauren Sanchez cheated on their spouses. The tabloid trailed the duo’s private getaways.
They also revealed they acquired “raunchy messages and erotic selfies” backing up the scandalous tale. “Our reporters snapped the braggadocios billionaire and his raven-haired lover, 49, doing the dirty on their spouses together no fewer than six times in 14 days,” Enquirer said.
It’d be later that month on the 28th when the full 11-page scoop hit newsstands.
Nobody would still be talking about this story from over two years ago if it weren’t for how Jeff Bezos reacted to it. The standard public relations approach that’s recommended whenever a scandal like this breaks is to go quiet. A more typical approach to when someone’s private life hits the tabloids is to wait for it to blow over.
But that’s not what Jeff Bezos did. He went for the exact opposite. There was a lot at stake from the National Enquirer’s standpoint during this time, which made the mood of everything more intense.
On February 7th, 2019 Jeff Bezos released a Medium post where he shares the emails from National Enquirer’s side. What Bezos calls blackmail and extortion was simply a proposed agreement that the outlet wouldn’t publish them if Jeff’s people stopped making accusations about political influence campaigns.
Here are Jeff Bezos’ own words.
“Here’s a piece of context: My ownership of the Washington Post is a complexifier for me. It’s unavoidable that certain powerful people who experience Washington Post news coverage will wrongly conclude I am their enemy. President Trump is one of those people, obvious by his many tweets. Also, The Post’s essential and unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi is undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles.”
But just days later The Daily Beast reported there weren’t any Saudis or political hit jobs. It was just Lauren Sanchez’s brother.
It’s generous of Jeff Bezos to mention Washington Post as a factor though!
With Sally Buzbee being recently named The Washington Post‘s new executive editor (and the first chosen under the ownership of Jeff Bezos) it presents us with an opportunity to dive into Jeff’s mindset as the owner of the outlet.
In August 2013 Jeff Bezos bought Washington Post for $250 million. “Mr Bezos is buying the paper and its other print properties in a personal capacity. The Post has been owned by the Graham family for 80 years.”
It put the big tech firm Amazon in a unique position compared to its competitors in Facebook, Twitter, and Google.
In an in-depth piece from WIRED several years ago, we’re told that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had a meeting with News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch. This is in the crazy summer before the 2016 election shock that Donald Trump won the presidency. The narrative at the time was that the internet world needed to start cracking down on misinformation.
To begin such a push: Murdoch gave Zuckerberg strong “encouragement.” By that meaning: he threatened to lobby the hell out of Google and Facebook if they didn’t start putting their thumbs on the scales of social media for “authoritative sources.”
“Zuckerberg traveled to Sun Valley, Idaho, for an annual conference hosted by billionaire Herb Allen, where moguls in short sleeves and sunglasses cavort and make plans to buy each other’s companies. But Rupert Murdoch broke the mood in a meeting that took place inside his villa. According to numerous accounts of the conversation, Murdoch and Robert Thomson, the CEO of News Corp, explained to Zuckerberg that they had long been unhappy with Facebook and Google. The two tech giants had taken nearly the entire digital ad market and become an existential threat to serious journalism. According to people familiar with the conversation, the two News Corp leaders accused Facebook of making dramatic changes to its core algorithm without adequately consulting its media partners, wreaking havoc according to Zuckerberg’s whims. If Facebook didn’t start offering a better deal to the publishing industry, Thomson and Murdoch conveyed in stark terms, Zuckerberg could expect News Corp executives to become much more public in their denunciations and much more open in their lobbying. They had helped to make things very hard for Google in Europe. And they could do the same for Facebook in the US.”
The point is it’s rare to come across reports of CEOs behind media outlets threatening to use their reporters directly for the sake of power.
When Marc Benioff of Salesforce decided to buy TIME magazine, it was suggested to be an impulse purchase. That sort of emotional detachment serves as a contrast to how Bezos acquired The Washington Post.
The way Donald Graham of Washington Post approached Jeff Bezos to buy the paper indicates how he needed to be convinced. The Amazon head needed to be compelled to do so and appreciate the power of the paper. But it’s through this rationale that we see the mutually beneficial relationship. “If this were a financially upside-down, salty snack food company, the answer would be no. But as soon as I started thinking about it that way, I started to realize this is an important institution…” Bezos pondered.
Jeff came around to loving the paper, but he had to upgrade its business model for the internet age. This is how Washington Post and Jeff Bezos are connected. “It is the newspaper in the capital city of the most important country in the world. The Washington Post has an incredibly important role to play in this democracy. There’s no doubt in my mind about that.”
Jeff was optimistic about making the Washington Post go global. The transformation centered around seizing the “free global distribution” dynamic the internet provides. “The old model relied on generating a high revenue per reader. Their new focus would forego revenue per reader in favor of acquiring more readers. In other words, a volume play.”
It became profitable by 2016 and remained as much over the next few years. In September 2017 they crossed one million digital-only subscribers and by early 2021 was approaching three million. With Bezos on board, they added more than 250 new employees alongside developing a “brand new content management system” to accommodate the outlet.
The public comments of Bezos convey a proactive owner of the Washington Post. “When I’m 90, it’s going to be one of the things I’m most proud of, that I took on the Washington Post and helped them through a very rough transition.”
Alongside giving an impromptu biography of Amazon’s growth as a company, the viewer is left coming away from watching this September 2018 interview thinking Jeff is a pragmatic guy. He defended the Washington Post and thought it was “dangerous” for Trump to criticize its reporting. This despite the fact (given how Jeff Bezos rationalized buying The Post, to begin with) the Amazon leader sees the press as a tool to serve his ends.
From body language alone, you can see he’s an aggressively enthusiastic executive. For a genius who graduated top of his class, Bezos makes it clear that the friends he surrounds himself with fill in the gaps to his knowledge.
To set the tone for what role Jeff Bezos has, The New York Times makes a few key points. The first being that Bezos meets biweekly with The Post‘s publisher. The second being that the main reason the Graham family handed Jeff the keys to the kingdom was on the promise Jeff Bezos would modernize the outlet.
Now that Jeff Bezos isn’t leading Amazon’s day-to-day (all in the minds of many he’ll remain a forever CEO), The Times notes that Bezos has more time to focus on The Post.
As for the size of the Washington Post, this year’s visitor numbers hit 100 million monthly. Its main competitor is The New York Times. They’ve got 26 locations around the world. Their print edition had top levels of circulation back in the 1980s and 1990s. But the shifting landscape put the publisher at a tough crossroads. Their inclusion of the paywall in June 2013 marked the pivot point. The previous management’s direction beforehand tried doubling down on being primarily Washington focused.
That’s the significance of Jeff Bezos coming on board. The shift from a few subscribers paying more money per head, to a large base of cheap digital subscriptions. Their timing was impeccable. The Washington Post rode the Trump wave of heightened interest in politics. On both ends they got exclusives: at the start of the Trump era it was the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, and at the end (at the beginning of 2021) they got an exclusive about Georgia’s Secretary of State.
In May 2016 Martin Baron (former executive editor) denied statements made by GOP nominee Donald Trump that Jeff Bezos uses The Washington Post to push agendas. “As the individual who oversees The Washington Post’s news staff, I can say categorically that I have received no instructions from Jeff Bezos regarding our coverage of the presidential campaign — or, for that matter, any other subject,” Baron said.
Not much further thought was given to the matter at the time. Trump had a habit of openly criticizing many different outlets. The fact it was an election year made the public move on quicker than usual.
Fast forward to March 2018 and President Trump called out Amazon in claiming the US Postal Service lost “billions of dollars” shipping packages for them. Trump also called The Washington Post Amazon’s de facto “lobbyist.” In terms of the former claim, what the former President asserted used to have merit in terms of income taxes. But the company had since then quickly caught up on that. When it comes to the Postal Service, Amazon’s partnership with them was “reviewed annually by the Postal Regulatory Commission” and profitable.
However, the point about The Washington Post still stood. It’s the shortest paragraph tucked away in the end of this New York Times piece I’m citing.
“People close to Mr. Trump say that his disdain for Amazon (and, by association, for Mr. Bezos) is often set off by his anger at negative articles in The Washington Post. On Friday, the newspaper published a report detailing how Mr. Trump’s legal battles have affected his business empire. The Post, as it noted in another article on Saturday, operates independently of Amazon.”
So now we come to the Bloomberg article that kicked this whole thing off.
Bezos in the background had to balance his work life with his failing marriage and affair. The Saudi element came into play after Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination. The Bloomberg story says Jeff’s marriage fell apart with his wife MacKenzie because he got absorbed into the Hollywood lifestyle. She wasn’t into that scene as much.
So in came Lauren Sanchez, who was more of a socialite. However, Jeff needed to pretend his wholesome marriage was still a thing for PR’s sake. Lauren Sanchez got to know the Amazon founder because of her work with Jeff’s Blue Origin company.
That’s how Lauren’s brother Michael got involved. Michael, Lauren, and Jeff all had dinner in West Hollywood in April 2018. The brother was super surprised about how Jeff Bezos and Lauren Sanchez were so willing to openly cheat on their spouses like this. Michael saw the sexting taking place from Jeff to Lauren because Lauren shared some of the raunchy stuff with him.
In mid-2018 National Enquirer was thirsty for a hit story because their last few years of sales were declining. Michael Sanchez knew Andrea Simpson of American Media Inc., and that’s how the ball got rolling on that. Michael kept it vague at first, saying it was a “friend” with the details, but that they wanted a six-figure payout. On October 18th, 2018 there was a $200,000 contract signed between Sanchez and AMI. A stipulation was he remained anonymous as the source.
A worthwhile quote that spells it out. There were no Saudis. There was no political hatchet job done on behalf of President Trump.
“There would later be an abundance of speculation about how the Enquirer got the Bezos-Sanchez story—including unproven allegations that Sanchez’s ex-husband, Patrick Whitesell, was involved, as well as international intrigue involving Saudi Arabia. But Howard, Robertson, and Simpson would all later submit in federal court that Michael Sanchez was the sole source of all the information and compromising material they received during the investigation.”
So Jeff Bezos is confirmed for just being paranoid. David Pecker (AMI publisher) loved the story so much that he wanted it to be bulletproof to protect from lawsuits. By late November 2018, the Enquirer was following Jeff Bezos and Lauren Sanchez around on their getaways.
To clarify. Michael Sanchez never had explicit Jeff Bezos nudes. Only general photos as well as the sexts.
Fast forward to January 7th, 2019. That’s when Enquirer sent a request for an interview to Jeff Bezos. Bezos got his security consultant Gavin de Becker involved. Amazon PR crafted a public statement about Jeff’s divorce. Michael Sanchez tried to broker a ceasefire between Bezos’ camp and AMI/National Enquirer. But Jeff wanted to go for the jugular. That’s how Daily Beast got involved.
As much, it’s worthwhile to quote these paragraphs directly from the Bloomberg article as they’re that important.
“After a series of phone calls and text messages with Michael, de Becker sensed something was amiss. To publicize his suspicions, de Becker turned to Daily Beast Co., the media company run by Barry Diller, a friend of Bezos’. In an article on Jan. 31, the Daily Beast revealed that de Becker had identified Michael as a possible culprit. But he also floated an alternative scenario—one that cast Bezos as a patron of truth-telling journalism and the adversary to the fact-challenged U.S. president. He claimed the Enquirer’s investigation was tied to Trump’s campaign against the Post, opining in the article that ‘strong leads point to political motives.'”
Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng of The Daily Beast laid the groundwork with a piece on January 30th, 2019. The basic details were made public. Jeff Bezos’s personal security team wanted to know how Jeff’s texts to his mistress Lauren Sanchez got into the hands of National Enquirer. The piece speculates politically charged motivations being behind it.
The Daily Beast adds that the investigation was “taking place independent of Amazon.” That’s at the very least misleading the public.
“That avenue of investigation stems from Bezos’ new role as a punching bag for President Donald Trump. The president gleefully promoted the Enquirer’s story, using it to hammer Bezos over his ownership of The Washington Post, which Trump frequently maligns as a hostile advocacy arm of Amazon.”
However, nothing is said about separating The Daily Beast and/or The Washington Post from being a propaganda arm for Bezos here. Instead, the Beast just blames Trump and notes that National Enquirer chief executive David Pecker knows the former President fairly well. The Russiagate inquiry into Trump put a strain on the pair’s relationship.
In addition, nothing was mentioned of Lauren Sanchez’s brother Michael. That’d come in the follow-up the next day. We’re introduced to Gavin de Becker. The Daily Beast gets direct information from him about Michael being a person of interest, and that Becker was looking into Trump associates like Roger Stone and Carter Page as well. Stone tried to preempt The Daily Beast by telling Infowars that the outlet would accuse him “of conspiring with the Trump administration to hack Bezos’ phone.”
The outlet here claims that was false. At most Stone and Sanchez talked about the Enquirer story after it went live. Sanchez told Becker that he believed it was “Deep State” people who did it. We also learn that he’s a gay Trump supporter. For Sanchez’s line of work, he and Carter Page did have a business relationship, as Sanchez got Page into Politicon the previous year.
The Bloomberg story continues, and it’s again worth emphasizing (bold added by me):
“There was no evidence behind this insinuation, but it shifted the advantage to Bezos. AMI’s boss, Pecker, fretted that even a rumor about the paper’s involvement in a political plot against a renowned billionaire might undermine its nonprosecution agreement. He implored Howard to settle the feud with Bezos’ camp and to secure an acknowledgment that the investigation wasn’t politically motivated and that the Enquirer hadn’t used illegal means in scoring the story.”
Jeff Bezos used the media to his advantage to do National Enquirer dirty.
What Bloomberg describes next is AMI and Enquirer being extremely worried about accusations of a political hit-job. That’s exactly what Jeff Bezos and Washington Post pushed for, in terms of narrative.
“But Bezos’ team instead pressed their advantage. In a Washington Post article published that night, de Becker once again identified Michael as a possible culprit and charged that the leak was ‘politically motivated.’ After the article was published, Pecker called Howard to say that Melchiorre, the hedge fund manager, was “ballistic” and again pressured Howard to stop the madness. Howard then started negotiating directly over the phone with de Becker. Suspicious and wary, both recorded the phone calls.”
The Washington Post story on February 5th, 2019 piggybacks off of the groundwork laid by The Daily Beast. I’ll stop short of calling this media collusion even though the implication is there. Gavin de Becker tells Washington Post that Michael Sanchez is the main person of interest.
Michael Sanchez lies (multiple times) to the outlet and even says he launched his own investigation into National Enquirer’s story. Any statements pointing to a Trump-motivated political hatchet job by him are deflection, as established by Bloomberg‘s reporting now. To that effect, Michael Sanchez offered theories about “Deep State” actors and tech companies to throw the scent off his trail. But for Washington Post‘s part, they still ran with that speculation.
To hit the Sanchez making red herrings point even further, he accuses Bezos’ own Gavin de Becker of being the potential National Enquirer leaker. “Michael Sanchez said de Becker has asserted a “strange control” over Bezos and Lauren Sanchez and has “forced” the two to stay physically apart from each other since the Enquirer’s article appeared.”
It didn’t help that National Enquirer previously did have a track record of working with the Trump campaign back in 2016. With the “catch and kill” campaign American Media bought a story for $150,000 from former Playboy model Karen McDougal about an “alleged affair” she had with Donald Trump.
But that was taken into consideration with the Jeff Bezos story. “According to three people familiar with the tabloid’s discussions, the Enquirer was ready to publish a story on Bezos and Lauren Sanchez in early autumn but held off because Pecker, a longtime associate and supporter of the president, wanted to wait until after the midterm elections and did not want to feed the public impression that he was a tool for Trump. One of those people said the Enquirer published only when it was confident in its reporting.”
National Enquirer threatened to sue The Daily Beast if they made accusations that Trump allies were involved in leaking Bezos’ affair. But Gavin de Becker did the same to National Enquirer, New York Post, and The Sun if they ran with the notion that Becker failed “to protect Bezos’s privacy.”
Gavin de Becker told Washington Post he focused on “political motives” in the case of Michael Sanchez simply on the basis that he’s “associate of people like Roger Stone, Carter Page and Scottie Nell Hughes.”
At least The Washington Post has the decency to disclose (albeit buried) in the piece that they have a business relationship with Gavin de Becker. They reveal “one of the security consultant’s employees serves as the newspaper’s director of security at its Washington headquarters.” The Post’s vice president for communications said their partnership with Gavin de Becker’s company “allows us to utilize their vast resources and training programs rather than trying to build them in-house.”
Bezos had the opportunity to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest on this alone but went forward with using his outlet to report on the story surrounding him personally, regardless.
To finish it off, Gavin de Becker was allowed to further push misinformation in a March 2019 Daily Beast article. There was (confirmed) no hacking by the Saudis but Becker was allowed to make that implication anyway.
Here’s the kicker. “The National Enquirer’s lawyer tried to get me to say there was no hacking,” Gavin de Becker’s Daily Beast article starts off with.
Let’s turn back to Washington Post‘s story from the beginning of February 2019.
“Bezos’s longtime private security consultant, Gavin de Becker, has concluded that the billionaire was not hacked. Rather, de Becker said in an interview, the Enquirer’s scoop about Bezos’s relationship with former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez began with a “politically motivated” leak meant to embarrass the owner of The Post — an effort potentially involving several important figures in Trump’s 2016 campaign.”
The Daily Beast‘s March 2019 assertion by Becker is directly debunked by what he previously told Washington Post.
It hits the point home of the dirty tactics from Jeff Bezos’ people. The only reason that Gavin de Becker was allowed to run his op-ed was that Jeff Bezos was friends with The Daily Beast’s parent company owner Barry Diller.
One more time. Who are we supposed to believe?
Gavin de Becker says in his Daily Beast piece: “Our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone, and gained private information. As of today, it is unclear to what degree, if any, AMI was aware of the details.”
However the recent Bloomberg article says: “An unfavorable media narrative crystallized almost immediately in which Mohammed bin Salman’s regime had learned of Bezos’ relationship with Lauren and alerted the Enquirer or even supplemented the information it received from her brother. Considering Pecker’s unsuccessful courtship of the Saudi kingdom for financing, that possibility might make certain logical sense if you squinted hard enough. But there was no hard evidence to support the hypothesis—only a fog of overlapping events, weak ties among disparate figures, and more strange coincidences.“
A bunch of chaos to sort out, ain’t it? However at the end of the day, it’s made clear: Donald Trump didn’t do a hit job on Jeff Bezos, if anything Bezos ended up smearing Trump by unnecessarily dragging the former President into this mess in the first place.
Trump had nothing to do with any of this. As much, this episode raises questions about The Washington Post‘s reporting overall. If they were susceptible to running baseless claims about what happened here, who’s to say the outlet hasn’t had other misconduct on other stories?
It’s a question worth asking given the current circumstances.
As in February 2021, Jeff Bezos announced he’d be stepping down as Amazon’s CEO and becoming a simple executive chairman instead. The bottom line for what this means is Bezos still has say in “big decisions” but is now free from the day-to-day stuff.
“Bezos is transitioning from CEO to an executive chairman role that will allow him to focus on early initiatives and new products, while also freeing him up to focus on his other passions like Blue Origin and The Washington Post,” wrote Business Insider.
The point of this piece is an exercise in analysis of Big Tech CEO words versus their actions. When Apple CEO Tim Cook disavowed Nazis in the aftermath of Charlottesville, how does that compare to when Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey gave $10 million to Ibram X Kendi?
I could go on to compare and contrast those two things, but I’ll leave it up for you to ponder.