Former 'National Enquirer' Editor On Bezos' Extortion Accusation

Feb 8, 2019
Originally published on February 8, 2019 1:43 pm
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A story that involves the richest man in the world, blackmail and a tabloid with a link to the president of the United States.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah. Last night, Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos, wrote an explosive blog post accusing the National Enquirer of threatening to publish details of an extramarital affair and intimate photos of him unless Bezos stopped investigating the tabloid. Bezos had hired a private investigator to figure out how private text messages between him and his girlfriend were leaked.

MARTIN: This gets more complicated when you consider that the publisher of the National Enquirer, David Pecker, has been a close ally of President Trump's, and Bezos owns the Washington Post, a newspaper that's been aggressive in its reporting of the president. We're going to talk now with someone who understands the inner workings of the National Enquirer and its parent company, AMI. Jerry George was a senior editor and LA bureau chief for the publication. He joins us now from Los Angeles. Thanks so much for being with us.

JERRY GEORGE: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: I guess I'd start off by just asking your reaction when you saw Jeff Bezos' blog post.

GEORGE: Well, I - initially, I was struck by how foolish American Media was in that it narrowly escaped federal prosecution the last time around, during the investigation regarding the payoffs to the women that the president allegedly had affairs with.

MARTIN: Right. You're talking about Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model. The National Enquirer and David Pecker, the head of it, was implicated in the hush money payments made on the president's behalf.

GEORGE: Exactly. For them only to go back to the trough and attempt to extort Jeff Bezos over another marital infidelity, it just seemed very bold and very foolhardy.

MARTIN: Have you known the National Enquirer or AMI to engage in blackmail?

GEORGE: Not in blackmail, no. And I feel that - you know, I mean, there's a certain amount of arm-twisting in all journalism, but never to this extent.

MARTIN: Although we should just note that journalist Ronan Farrow now also's saying that AMI tried to blackmail him for some of his reporting. In his blog post, Jeff Bezos wrote that his ownership of the Washington Post has made him a political target. President Trump has attacked the Post and Bezos specifically because he hasn't liked the coverage about him. Do you think this allegation of blackmail is connected to Bezos' ownership of the Post?

GEORGE: Well, I think that, you know - pardon the vernacular - but I think President Trump has had a hard-on for Bezos for many years stemming from, you know, professional rivalry and the ownership of the Post. He's continually taking pot shots at him at every opportunity. So I think it's only natural that, you know, as things intensified, he went to his pal David Pecker and said, listen, can you turn up the heat on this guy? And that's how this thing developed.

MARTIN: We should say we can't confirm that. We are trying to be careful about the kinds of connections that we can draw. AMI has yet to make a statement. How do you think the company is going to go forward?

GEORGE: I think that they're going to lay low and be contrite for a while until they absolutely have to make some sort of apology.

MARTIN: Jerry George was the LA bureau chief for the National Enquirer. Thanks so much for your time.

GEORGE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.