JEFFREY P. BEZOS has chosen to expose what lies behind the National Enquirer’s claim to be a practitioner of newsgathering. In a piece Thursday evening, the Amazon chief executive, who also owns The Post, said he would not accept demands made by the Enquirer under the threat of publishing embarrassing photographs it had allegedly obtained of him. “I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out,” he wrote. The result is likely to be ugly — but the cause of honorable journalism will benefit from it.
Mr. Bezos has already been the subject of one Enquirer exposé, covering his relationship with television personality Lauren Sanchez and including intimate text messages between the two. Mr. Bezos tasked an investigator with determining how his private messages had been obtained. The Post, too, pursued the story, though independently and not at the owner’s behest.
His probe, according to Mr. Bezos, led to the demands from the Enquirer and its parent company, American Media Inc., which were brazenly put into writing by one of its lawyers. The company demanded that Mr. Bezos stop his private investigation and state publicly that the Enquirer’s coverage was not politically motivated; the investigator has speculated that the exposé was undertaken to please President Trump, for whom the paper has done dirty work in the past. AMI executives also implied, not so subtly, that Mr. Bezos should squelch The Post’s coverage.
AMI now says it is investigating Mr. Bezos’s claims. But the documents plainly show that it was engaged not in legitimate journalism, but a form of extortion. Federal prosecutors, including those in New York who struck an agreement with AMI granting it immunity for “catching and killing” negative stories about Mr. Trump, will determine if that deal or other laws have been broken. But much else is already clear.
First, the Enquirer’s campaign against Mr. Bezos was far from an isolated incident. Reporter Ronan Farrow said soon after Mr. Bezos’s post went live that the tabloid had told him to “stop digging or we’ll ruin you” as he worked on a story last spring for the New Yorker about its efforts to aid Mr. Trump. The Daily Beast and a former editor at the Associated Press claim they experienced similar attempts at intimidation. This is an insidious model of intimidation and corruption masquerading as journalism.
The Enquirer appears to believe all news organizations operate as it does; it took for granted that Mr. Bezos would or could stifle The Post’s reporting. In fact, neither The Post nor the vast majority of U.S. media operate that way. Mr. Bezos has eschewed any role in directing the paper’s coverage from the beginning of his tenure as owner — and the writers and editors in the newsroom would reject any attempt by him to do so.
The Enquirer likes to portray itself as a member of the Fourth Estate, only more nimble and aggressive than most. Mr. Bezos’s action has exposed the truth: that its business lies not in honest journalism but in sleazy tactics and dirty tricks. We may learn more about the origin and motivations of its assault on Mr. Bezos as investigations continue. But what has crawled out so far is telling.