🔒 The Bezos pictures and journalism: Big questions – The Wall Street Journal

DUBLIN – The story of Jeff Bezos’ d***-pics has many angles. There is a political angle given the relationship between US president Donald Trump and the proprietors of the National Enquirer, who seem to have been trying to blackmail Bezos using the aforementioned nude selfies. Trump has repeatedly targeted Bezos in tweets and public statements, so some think this looks like an escalation of that feud. There’s the question of how the Enquirer obtained the pictures – were their methods illegal? Was the government involved? And, of course, there are some important questions related to journalism. The Enquirer has managed to get away with a lot of bad behaviour by claiming that it is a news organisation and therefore entitled to the sweeping protections that the US constitution and courts afford to journalists. Critics have long said that this is just a shield and that the Enquirer is more of an advertiser-sponsored vehicle for blackmail and political manipulation. The Bezos case seems set to test the Enquirer’s claims to journalistic integrity (if the pics are newsworthy, they should be published and not used as a blackmail threat, surely?) and to pose broader questions about how the news media gather their information.  – Felicity Duncan

Bezos vs. the Enquirer Could Be a Watershed

By John D. Stoll

(The Wall Street Journal) What to make of the battle between Jeff Bezos and the National Enquirer, which we will delight in calling the affair of Bezos, Pecker and de Becker? Under any circumstance, the world’s richest man cheating on his wife with a sexy helicopter pilot, supported by racy texts and photos, would be a story for the National Enquirer. Tasteful Americans may wish it weren’t so, but Mr. Bezos is a public figure in the Supreme Court’s definition. His private life is presumably fair game.
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Weird enough was the Bezos-owned Washington Post on Wednesday rolling out a long and seemingly embarrassed story giving vent to Mr. Bezos’ theory that the tabloid’s January hit piece was politically motivated at the behest of Donald Trump or maybe the Saudis. Never mind that the expert hired by Mr. Bezos to investigate the leaking of his private messages apparently came up with nothing except a theory that the pro-Trump brother of Mr. Bezos’ paramour might be involved. (The brother has denied it.)

The National Enquirer’s proprietor, David Pecker, is a known crony of Mr. Trump’s. Many of the paper’s readers are probably Trump fans. That certainly would have made the story more juicy to the Enquirer. But this doesn’t prove anything: The story would have been juicy in any case.

The whole business got even weirder on Thursday when Mr. Bezos revealed an email exchange in which an Enquirer official denied political motivation and sought a public statement from Mr. Bezos acknowledging as much in return for the paper not publishing the racy photos and texts that its original story had alluded to.

From this we might conclude Mr. Pecker is sensitive to the allegation that its story was politically motivated. Yet the strongest whiff here is of Mr. Bezos energetically pushing the political narrative even though his proclaimed blank check to his security expert, Gavin de Becker, had produced no real evidence.

It is easy to sympathize with Mr. Bezos in his horror at finding his private text messages and selfies in the hands of a scurrilous publication like the Enquirer. But I suspect he also thinks it would be really, really convenient to turn the story into a Trump political scandal rather than a Bezos sexting and infidelity scandal.

From the Enquirer’s perspective, Mr. Bezos’ pockets are superhumanly deep. He controls the Washington Post. Mr. Pecker, already in legal trouble over Trump dealings, might well find it worrying to have someone of Mr. Bezos’ heft pounding away at the narrative that the Enquirer was not doing what it always does, and is legally entitled to do, shamelessly trafficking in the scandals of the rich and famous. Instead, it was conducting a character assassination on behalf of Mr. Trump or the Saudis, possibly in cahoots with official hackers of Mr. Bezos’ phone or message traffic.

Here’s the problem, and it will be interesting to see how our First Amendment-honoring media react to it: The paper’s story about Mr. Bezos’ philandering and sexting is sleazy but true and fair game under the protections afforded the press. What’s more, compared with a lot of what’s published as “news” these days, it’s extremely well supported with documentary evidence. Whereas the narrative Mr. Bezos is promoting is speculative. Even if the pro-Trump brother was involved, the story would have been delicious to the Enquirer if there had been no Trump connection. Every story has a source, and sources have motives.

To be sure, everything about the Enquirer is unseemly, including its alleged attempt to blackmail Mr. Bezos to drop his campaign to paint its journalistic efforts as something other than the expected scandal mongering of a supermarket tabloid. But I’m not sure it falls out quite the way Mr. Bezos thinks it does. At least it doesn’t unless the giant McGuffin floating through the Washington Post’s account pans out—the speculation that official agents were involved in hacking Mr. Bezos’ phone.

It’s not impossible: How many news stories—say, the leak of Democratic National Committee emails or various dumps of offshore banking records—begin with government spy agencies? It’s a question that needs to be asked more often. In fact, the whole subject of how particular news stories are sourced needs to be a subject of journalistic inquiry itself if we are to keep our institutions (and Adam Schiff) honest. But the fact remains: The world’s richest man moon-eyed and cheating on his wife will always be right up the Enquirer’s alley.

One more thing: Mr. Bezos says of the alleged blackmail attempt: “Be assured, no real journalists ever propose anything like what is happening here: I will not report embarrassing information about you if you do X for me.”

Alas, he might be surprised to learn that this tack is often used by journalists with their sources. In fact, use of secret sources practically always entails some such explicit or implicit bargain. He might also want to check with Gary Hart, who might feel that he was given a choice of dropping out of the 1988 presidential race or having details of his private life published that were known by the Post’s Bob Woodward because Mr. Hart had been living in Mr. Woodward’s house at the time.