Jeff Bezos annihilated the National Enquirer’s bid to blackmail him, using a playbook perfected by pop stars, Kim Kardashian, and ordinary women

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Getty Images
  • Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Thursday accused the National Enquirer’s parent company of trying to extort him with intimate photos.
  • Rather than abide by the company’s terms, Bezos went public about the compromising images and rejected any deal with it.
  • Plenty of other people – though none so rich – have been caught in the same dynamic.
  • The singer Sia, Kim Kardashian, and ordinary people have all responded to attempts to shame them by refusing to be ashamed.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos went public on Thursday evening with the latest developments in his extraordinary feud with the publisher of the National Enquirer, the tabloid that last month revealed his affair and arguably expedited his divorce.

In an excoriating blog post on Medium, Bezos published emails from lawyers on behalf of the Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., threatening to publish compromising photos of him unless he did as they asked.

Read more:
Read all the emails Jeff Bezos says the National Enquirer sent to ‘blackmail’ him

He is being praised almost universally for taking a stand against a morally bankrupt strategy, which he framed as a perversion of the journalism he champions through his ownership of The Washington Post.

But his strategy for getting ahead of blackmail in the form of explicit pictures is by no means new – it has been perfected over the years, mostly by women.

The singer Sia, who reacted to an attempt to exploit a nude photo by publishing it herself. Getty Images / Andrew H. Walker

Actresses, social-media stars, and ordinary people have also been threatened with leaks of explicit photos of themselves, and many similarly decided to beat their extorters by going public.

In 2017, the pop star Sia became aware of somebody trying to demean her with a naked photo and offering to sell it to her fans. So she published it on Twitter, adding, “Save your money, here it is for free.” The response was overwhelmingly supportive.

A few months later, Ninel Conde, a Mexican telenovela actress with a huge following, did the same thing.

In English, her post says: “Say NO to extortion. I’m exposing before they do, so they can’t carry on trying to exploiting images of public figures! There’s nothing wrong with a reference image for my nutritionist. So I’m posting it here first.”

Arguably, one of the earliest examples of this was from one of the world’s most recognisable faces, Kim Kardashian West.

In 2007, a years-old sex tape that Kardashian – then a mid-tier celebrity who appeared often in gossip magazines but not a superstar – made with her boyfriend at the time, the singer and rapper Ray J, was published without her consent.

Kim Kardashian Ray J 2002
A 2002 photo of Kim Kardashian with her boyfriend at the time, Ray J. Stefanie Keenan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

According to “Kim,” a 2015 biography by the celebrity writer Sean Smith, Kardashian considered the tape a “humiliation” and something that could ruin her family.

But she ultimately struck a deal with the distributors, embraced her actions, got her cut of the profits, and used it as a platform to become one of the most famous women on earth.

Reflecting on the tape in a 2016 blog post, cited by Elle magazine, she said she “lived through the embarrassment and fear, and decided to say who cares, do better, move on.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kardashian’s route was in every way more explicit that taken by Bezos, who has so far dealt only in words.

But the message remains the same: If you try to use my shame against me, I will refuse to be ashamed.

It isn’t just celebrities who have done this – ordinary women, with no access to public-relations advisers, expensive lawyers, or an adoring fan base, have also decided to go public about extortion attempts.

Taruna Aswani, an Indian-born woman living in Maryland, received blackmail threats in 2016 from an anonymous man who demanded that she send him explicit material or else he would publish hacked nude images.

Instead of agreeing, Aswani got ahead of him, writing on her Facebook page to friends and family about being a victim of attempted exploitation.

Taruna Aswani
A screenshot from a video interview with Taruna Aswani — who was widely praised for her response to an extortion attempt — broadcast by the German news service Deutsche Welle. Deutsche Welle

She said: “I do this so that other women may take a lesson to stand up to bullies … and may get the confidence to stand up as well in case he is known to us and is targeting all of us, but we’re either too scared, ashamed or clueless in how to manage or handle such situations.”

Bezos was clearly scared too, though he overcame it. In his Medium post, he wrote that he took some solace in his enormous resources as the world’s richest man.

“If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?” he said.

We don’t know whether Bezos, when he decided to stand up to the Enquirer, had Aswani in mind, or Sia, or Kardashian.

But consciously or not, he took the same path that led these women to victory. And on their shoulders, he won too.