Amazon CEO says Enquirer threatened to publish revealing pictures

Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos. (AFP file photo)
Updated 08 February 2019
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Amazon CEO says Enquirer threatened to publish revealing pictures

LOS ANGELES: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said Thursday he was the target of “extortion and blackmail” by the publisher of the National Enquirer, which he said threatened to publish revealing personal photos of him unless he stopped investigating its acquisition of other private images and messages and unless he declared its coverage wasn’t politically motivated.
Bezos, who is also owner of The Washington Post, detailed his interactions with American Media Inc. in an extraordinary blog post Thursday on the Medium.com website.
After the tabloid published a story about his extramarital affair last month, Bezos ordered a team of private investigators to get to the bottom of how the Enquirer obtained risque texts between the executive and former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez. Since then, there’s been a public relations battle.
Bezos’ investigators have suggested the Enquirer’s coverage of his affair was politically motivated. Bezos has been the target of criticism from President Donald Trump over the Post’s critical coverage of the White House, and AMI has admitted that it engaged in what’s known as “catch-and-kill” practices to help Trump become president.
That admission was part of a deal between AMI and federal prosecutors, who agreed to not pursue charges against the company for secretly assisting Trump’s campaign by paying $150,000 to a Playboy model for the rights to her story about an alleged affair with the then-candidate. The company then intentionally suppressed the story until after the 2016 election.
Several days ago, someone at AMI told Bezos’ team that the company’s CEO David Pecker was “apoplectic” about Bezos’ investigation, Bezos said. AMI later approached Bezos’ representatives with an offer.
“They said they had more of my text messages and photos that they would publish if we didn’t stop our investigation,” Bezos wrote in the post.
Bezos wrote that this week, the tabloid’s editor, Dylan Howard, emailed an attorney for Bezos’ longtime security consultant to describe photos the Enquirer “obtained during our newsgathering.” The photos include a “below the belt selfie” of Bezos, photos of him in tight boxer-briefs and wearing only a towel, and several revealing photos of Sanchez, according to the email Bezos released in his blog post.
According to the emails, an attorney for AMI offered a formal deal Wednesday: The tabloid wouldn’t post the photos if Bezos and his investigators would release a public statement “affirming that they have no knowledge or basis” to suggest the Enquirer’s coverage was “politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”
Bezos said he decided to publish the emails sent to his team “rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail,” despite the “personal cost and embarrassment they threaten.”
AMI didn’t demand any money from Bezos, the world’s richest person — only that he call off his investigation and issue a statement saying the coverage wasn’t political.
A spokesman and an attorney for AMI did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
In its Jan. 9 story, the Enquirer reported that Bezos sent “sleazy text messages and gushing love notes” to Sanchez, months before Bezos announced he was splitting up with his wife, MacKenzie. Reporters for the Enquirer followed Bezos and Sanchez “across five states and 40,000 miles” and “tailed them in private jets, swanky limos, helicopter rides, romantic hikes, five-star hotel hideaways, intimate dinner dates and ‘quality time’ in hidden love nests,” the tabloid said in its story. The story carries the bylines of Howard and two reporters.
After the story ran, Bezos ordered his longtime security consultant, Gavin de Becker, to lead the probe into how the Enquirer obtained the lewd text messages. His private investigators have concluded that Bezos’ phone wasn’t hacked. Instead, they’ve been focusing on Sanchez’s brother, according to a person familiar with the matter.
De Becker and his team suspect Michael Sanchez, a talent manager who touts his support of Trump and is an acquaintance of Trump allies Roger Stone and Carter Page, may have provided the information to the Enquirer, the person said. The person wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Sanchez, who is also his sister’s manager, has declined to speak with The Associated Press on the record and did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Thursday. In a tweet, he said de Becker “spreads fake, unhinged conservative conspiracy theories” and “’dog whistle’ smears.”
AMI was a focus of the federal investigation into campaign finance violations by Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen. Cohen pleaded guilty to several federal crimes and admitted that he had made a deal, on Trump’s behalf, in which the Enquirer helped Trump’s presidential bid by paying $150,000 to former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal to buy and bury her story.
In September, the Justice Department agreed to a non-prosecution agreement with AMI, which requires the company and some top executives, including CEO David Pecker and Howard, to cooperate with authorities.
De Becker is now trying to find a way that federal prosecutors in Manhattan — where the non-prosecution agreement was signed — could investigate the text message scandal, the person familiar with the matter said, though it wasn’t immediately clear what, if any, crime the prosecutors would be asked to look into.


Netflix to roll out cheaper mobile-only plan for India

Updated 18 July 2019
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Netflix to roll out cheaper mobile-only plan for India

  • India is among the last big growth markets for the company
  • Netflix faces competition from Amazon’s Prime Video and Walt Disney Co’s Hotstar
Netflix said on Wednesday it would roll out a lower-priced mobile-only plan in India within the next three months to tap into a price-sensitive market at a time the streaming company is losing customers in its home turf.
India is among the last big growth markets for the company, where it faces competition from Amazon.com Inc’s Prime Video and Hotstar, a video streaming platform owned by Walt Disney Co’s India unit.
Netflix lost US streaming customers for the first time in eight years on Wednesday, when it posted quarterly results. It also missed targets for new subscribers overseas.
“India is a mobile-first nation, where many first-time users are experiencing the Internet on their phones. In such a scenario, a mobile-only package makes sense to target new users,” said Tarun Pathak, analyst at Counterpoint Research.
The creator of “Stranger Things” and “The Crown” said in March that it was testing a 250-rupee ($3.63) monthly subscription for mobile devices in India, where data plans are among the cheapest in the world.
The country figures prominently in Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings’ global expansion plans.
“We believe this plan, which will launch in the third quarter, will be an effective way to introduce a larger number of people in India to Netflix and to further expand our business,” the company said in a letter to investors released late on Wednesday.
Netflix currently offers three monthly plans in India, priced between 500 rupees ($7.27) and 800 rupees $11.63).
It has created a niche following in the country by launching local original shows like the thriller “Sacred Games” and dystopian tale “Leila,” which feature popular Bollywood actors.
The second season of “Sacred Games” is set to release in August.
In contrast, Hotstar, which also offers content from AT&T Inc’s HBO and also streams live sports, charges 299 rupees ($4.35) per month. Amazon bundles its video and music streaming services with its Prime membership.
“We’ve been seeing nice steady increases in engagement with our Indian viewers that we think we can keep building on. Growth in that country is a marathon, so we’re in it for the long haul,” Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said.