- Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos name-checked American Media, Inc. CEO and National Enquirer Publisher David Pecker in a Medium post that said the National Enquirer tried to blackmail him.
- Bezos’ mention of Pecker sparked headlines that harped on the double entendre, but it’s just the latest controversy involving the longtime media boss.
- Once called the “bad boy of magazine publishing,” Pecker is a successful media boss who was most recently also at the center of a controversy surrounding President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who is going through a messy divorce following allegations of an affair, alleged in a widely-read Medium post that the National Enquirer tried to blackmail him by threatening to publish intimate text messages and photos. In the post, Bezos name-checked American Media CEO and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker.
Though many publications took aim at the double entendre of Pecker’s name and the materials Bezos was threatened with, the incident wasn’t the first time the media mogul made headlines.
The ‘bad boy of magazine publishing’
Pecker was a trained accountant who went to work for CBS, which had a family of magazines that included Road & Track, Field & Stream, and Modern Bride. He eventually advanced within the company before striking a deal to buy out CBS’ magazines and heading to Hachette Filipacchi Magazines.
Pecker has been a media heavyweight since the 1990s, when he served as president and CEO of Hachette, which published magazines like Elle and Car and Driver.
The company’s other ventures included “George,” a political magazine printed from 1995-2001 that was initially headed by John F. Kennedy, Jr., and “Trump Style,” a quarterly magazine distributed at Trump properties that reportedly first established Pecker’s relationship with President Donald Trump.
Pecker was known for his business acumen which boosted sales and redeemed the provocative manager, who the New York Times once called the “bad boy of magazine publishing.”
The publications’ rise under Pecker came in handy for his relationship with Trump when the businessman launched a run as a Reform Party candidate in 2000 and was granted a favourable profile in “George.”
Pecker was a regular guest at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach Florida in the 1990s, which he later marveled about to the New Yorker in July 2017.
After taking over as CEO of American Media, Inc. in 1999, the company’s chief publication, The National Enquirer, made national headlines when a staff photographer died from anthrax exposure in a mailing scare after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Anthrax was found in AMI’s Boca Raton, Florida offices and Pecker led the charge in representing the company in public appearances with federal investigators.
One of The Enquirer’s other notable political stories was its exhaustive investigation and original coverage of former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards’ affair with Rielle Hunter months before Edwards admitted he had fathered a child with Hunter.
Pecker’s intersections with Trump
Though his political donation history doesn’t indicate any strong favour for either party, Pecker’s relationship with Trump continued to pop up in coverage that furthered the then-real estate mogul’s political interests.
After nearly a decade spent growing AMI’s inventory of publications, Pecker again lent the company’s influence to Trump’s political career, as the Enquirer endorsed his presidential run in 2011.
In 2015, Pecker was reportedly in the room with Trump and his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen as they devised strategies for quashing reports on accounts from women who say they had affairs with Trump, one of the most widely reported instances of the campaign embracing “catch-and-kill” tactics for negative stories.
The New York Times reported that a person close to the campaign said Trump and Cohen were present at a February 2015 meeting at Trump Tower where it was proposed that AMI could float embarrassing information about former President Bill and then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for the upcoming election.
AMI categorically denied any such meetings in a statement to the Times. Cohen was sentenced in December 2018 to three years in prison on fraud and lying charges by special counsel Robert Mueller.
In August 2018, Pecker reportedly entered into an immunity deal with federal prosecutors who were looking into hush payments from Trump’s campaign to women who said they had affairs with Trump, which Cohen told investigators were made at Trump’s direction.
After several cover stories that took aim at Bezos’ large wealth, The Enquirer published a story one day after his divorce announcement that detailed Bezos’ relationship with television host Lauren Sanchez that was characterised as an affair.
In a Medium post weeks later, Bezos took aim at Pecker, accusing AMI of threatening to publish private text messages and photos, including a “below-the-belt selfie,” unless Bezos would retract his previous statements that the story about his affair was the result of political motivation.
As “context,” Bezos writes that his ownership of the Washington Post and its reporting on the murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi had created personal enemies for him, one of whom is President Trump, and that Pecker was “apoplectic” or very angry about his investigation into the Enquirer.
Bezos said he refused AMI’s condition that they wouldn’t publish the photos was that Bezos and his investigator would state that the Enquirer’s coverage had “no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces,” which Bezos writes would be “false.”
After Pecker’s decades of admiring and promoting Trump, his participation in the special counsel investigation has reportedly frayed his relationship with the president and complicates the likelihood of Bezos’ claim that the story against him was the Enquirer “weaponizing journalistic privileges.”
In a statement hours after Bezos’ post, AMI insisted the Enquirer had “acted lawfully” in its reporting and doubled down behind its “negotiations” with Bezos.
As next steps remain unclear, Pecker’s track record of coverage and the publisher’s word are weighed against Bezos’ accusation.
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