As stories go, the face-off between Jeff Bezos and David Pecker (paging Charles Dickens) has all the elements of a 21st-century battle royale between good and evil, represented by the richest man in the world, who happens to own the Washington Post, and the pied piper of sleaze, respectively.
Thank you, God.
Such is the stuff of columnist prayers – scandal, sex, money and, quite possibly, extortion, blackmail and an epic turn of events via shame, redemption and culture-shifting litigation. The only way the script could be improved would be if there were also a Russian connection and a bread-crumb path to Donald Trump.
Briefly, for those just waking up, Bezos, creator of Amazon, may have proved all too human when he apparently fell in love with a woman not his wife and, as often happens, fell into a hormonally induced trance during which he texted her intimate messages and pictures.
Enter Satan – aka an unknown person, who apparently secured several of those messages along with 10 photos and provided them to the National Enquirer, which is owned by American Media Inc. and where Pecker is publisher. After some of the texts (but no photos) were published last month in the Enquirer, Bezos decided to find the thief and asked security expert Gavin de Becker to lead the investigation. Whereupon, the brilliant minds at the Enquirer apparently decided to threaten Bezos. In writing.
The gist of the threat was a suggestion that the photos would be published unless Bezos asserted that there was no political motive to the publishing of the texts. Naturally, one wonders what else they might be hiding at the Enquirer, other than, perhaps, a trove of Trump stories, photos and, possibly, assorted dossiers that have been stashed in a vault. Recall that AMI cut an immunity deal with investigators who were looking into Trump’s knowledge of the Enquirer’s catch-and-kill practice, including buying Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story alleging an affair with Trump.
Rather than go further down the road of threats, alleged extortion and blackmail, Bezos called Pecker’s hand on Thursday, raised him significantly, and essentially said, “No dice.” At great risk of personal shame, Bezos published correspondence between respective lawyers in an essay on the online publishing platform Medium.
Obviously, texting intimate photos is not the wisest move, but few can be shocked that wealth apparently doesn’t insulate one from weakness or poor personal decisions. This doesn’t mean, however, that Bezos, who founded Amazon in his garage 24 years ago, can’t continue to ably function in his executive capacities, as AMI tried to claim as a justification for publishing the texts. Its argument that Americans deserve to know about the Amazon boss’s “judgment” made the story, in AMI’s view, “newsworthy” and “in the public interest.”
Alternatively, because Pecker and Trump are old friends – and Trump is no big fan of the Post or Bezos – Pecker was perhaps making up to Trump for that previously mentioned immunity deal. As for the newsworthiness of publishing personal photos, let’s clarify. Exposing someone’s most intimate thoughts and expressions is meant to appeal to prurient interests and to destroy another’s life. Full stop. Bad judgment in personal matters is simply that.
Good judgment, on the other hand, results in 600,000 jobs – and groceries, books and printers delivered to my front door. There’s no overlap. Among Bezos’ other good judgments was his decision to sink millions of dollars into a struggling but essential newspaper, for which we are grateful but not indebted. The important point is that Bezos understands, appreciates and intends to illuminate the differences between “weaponizing journalistic privileges, hiding behind important protections, and ignoring the tenets and purpose of true journalism,” as he wrote on Medium.
The lesson for Bezos is writ large enough, but a more-universal lesson begs attention. What he is experiencing – the possibility of having one’s intimate communications given a wide audience – happens every day to people, including teens without the means and maturity to withstand the humiliation. Maybe Bezos, by his willingness to take such a spotlighted walk of shame, can set an example for people to be both more prudent and braver when there seems to be no way out.
The world will never be free of Peckers, yet this particular one is especially malevolent. But when his company allegedly threatened Bezos and suggested that he betray the values of the newspaper he owns, it issued a challenge to karma.
May the flawed prevail over the wicked.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is email@example.com.
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