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. I'm joined now by Brian Stelter. He is a longtime media reporter and the host of "Reliable Sources" on CNN.
Brian, thanks so much for being with us.
BRIAN STELTER: Hey. Thank you.
MARTIN: Can you say more about what exactly the National Enquirer and its parent company was holding over Bezos?
STELTER: Yeah. It seems they were trying to shut him up, trying to silence the richest man in the world. And you've got to go back a few months in this story. Bezos had been married for a long time to MacKenzie Bezos. They were going through a trial separation. Bezos was seeing another woman, a woman named Lauren Sanchez. And the Enquirer was hot on his tail. The Enquirer was following Bezos and Sanchez around, taking pictures of them, preparing to expose this relationship.
So one morning in January, we were all surprised when Bezos announced his divorce. A few hours later, the Enquirer comes out with this story about the relationship. And you might've thought that was the end of this, you know? There was going to be an interesting divorce proceeding, but that was it. It turns out that Bezos asked his security chief to investigate how his relationship leaked, how his text messages to Sanchez leaked, how his photos with Sanchez leaked.
The investigation led the security chief to conclude that it was a politically motivated hit job, which makes you think about President Trump and his connections to the Enquirer, et cetera. That investigation by Bezos is apparently what led the Enquirer to try to shut him up, to try to say, we have these pictures. We are ready to publish them. But hey, if you come out and say this wasn't politically motivated, we'll make your embarrassing photos go away.
MARTIN: Right. Let's talk a little more about what they were demanding of him. I mean, they wanted him not just to stop the investigation. They wanted him to put in writing that the National Enquirer was not pursuing him for any kind of political smear.
STELTER: Right. And this is, of course, all according to Bezos' blog post that he published. He's printed some of the emails and letters from American Media, from the Enquirer's owner. You know, the allegation here is that his Washington Post - of course, he owns The Washington Post - was looking into what happened with the leak, was looking into the Enquirer.
That angered the Enquirer. It led the Enquirer's lawyers to threaten to publish the photos. And that is what Bezos calls extortion and blackmail. But this obviously shows how the supermarket tabloid world works. And I think Bezos is being really credited with standing up to this attempt and exposing it. It reminds me of that old line about sunlight being the best disinfectant.
MARTIN: This isn't just about his ownership of the Post, though - or, at least, according to Bezos. I mean, he writes in this Medium blog post that David Pecker, the publisher of AMI and the National Enquirer, has...
MARTIN: ...Business ties to Saudi Arabia and that that is somehow a part of this.
STELTER: It seems like Bezos is hinting that there's something more going on here. And maybe even he doesn't understand all of it yet. What we know for sure is that Pecker has tried to ingratiate himself with the Saudis. They published a really fawning magazine all about the Saudi crown prince last year. It kind of came out of nowhere on supermarket stands. We know that Pecker has sought funding - financing from the Saudis. And, of course, we know about the Trump administration's cozy relationship with the Saudis.
And then on the other side, you put Jamal Khashoggi, a contributor for the Post - murdered. And, of course, Bezos has supported the Post in its efforts to hold Saudi accountable. Unfortunately, we don't know exactly how these connect. But Bezos is hinting that there's a Saudi component to this story.
MARTIN: Brian Stelter, host of "Reliable Sources" on CNN. We appreciate your time.
STELTER: Thank you.
MARTIN: And we should note Amazon is an underwriter of NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.