DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos is going punch for punch with the National Enquirer and its parent company, AMI. In a post on the blog site Medium last night, Bezos accused the Enquirer's owner, David Pecker, of trying to blackmail him. Bezos writes, quote, "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," end quote. Now, Bezos also implied that he was being targeted because he owns The Washington Post, which has been dogged in its reporting about President Trump. I do just want to note here that Amazon is a funder of NPR. Let's turn now to NPR's Uri Berliner. Hi, Uri.
URI BERLINER, BYLINE: Hey, David.
GREENE: So remind me that - the Enquirer had already published some personal text messages about Bezos, but I mean, it sounds like they had a lot more on him.
BERLINER: That's right. They said they had a lot more. And these photos in particular were lewd, sexually suggestive pictures of - selfies of Jeff Bezos and Lauren Sanchez, the woman that he was allegedly having an extramarital affair with. And Bezos said that he was threatened by AMI because of this investigation that he launched into how the National Enquirer came into possession of these personal texts and photos.
GREENE: OK. So he was investigating with a suspicion that there might've been some political motivations that - in this first publication of those text messages. And he's saying the Enquirer was saying, stop this investigation, or we'll publish more. And he actually published some emails that he says are from the parent company of the Enquirer. What exactly do they say?
BERLINER: Yeah, this is quite extraordinary. Jeff Bezos says, OK. You're going to publish these photos of me. I have these emails from AMI officials, and here's what they say. And it's clear from these emails - if they are from AMI - that they want Bezos - they're eager for Bezos to stop investigating this leak. One of them proposes some terms to Bezos that - to end the dispute. It says it'll agree not to publish any of the texts or photos in return. Bezos would have to say that AMI's coverage of his affair was not politically motivated. The other email describes the suggestive photos in some graphic detail. This is apparently intended to convince Bezos to back off. But yeah, as you mentioned, Bezos, in his post, suggests there's a political motivation here.
GREENE: Well, let's talk about the politics and the possible political motivation 'cause that's what makes this story even more extraordinary - I mean, all the players here.
BERLINER: Yeah, exactly. I mean, these are plot twists reminiscent of a John Grisham novel, but in some ways, they're more sensational. You have Jeff Bezos, the world's richest man, the founder - the CEO of Amazon and the owner of The Washington Post. And then there's David Pecker, the head of AMI. And Pecker isn't just a publisher. He's been a longtime ally of Donald Trump. You know, as you may remember, the National Enquirer acknowledged that it paid some hush money to a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, who said she had an affair with Trump. She was paid $150,000 right during the 2016 political campaign.
GREENE: So much going on here, including, as you mentioned, Bezos' ownership of the Post, which he says is a complexifier (ph) for him. That's not a word we use that often. What did he mean?
BERLINER: Yeah, I don't know what - exactly what that word means.
BERLINER: But he - I don't know, like, if it's any word you use, but...
BERLINER: But what he's - but what he says, basically, is that, yes, owning The Washington Post can be complicated. You get into conflicts. But he also says that he is very proud of owning the Post and that, you know, it's a critical institution with a critical mission. And he says his support of that mission is something that he'll look back on when he's 90 years old and reviewing his life and be very proud of.
GREENE: Well, still, we don't want to connect too many dots that shouldn't be connected, but so many interesting players here with a lot of influence. It's just an extraordinary story. NPR's Uri Berliner. Thanks so much.
BERLINER: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.