A salacious tabloid newspaper with a conservative owner and a history of unscrupulous methods finds itself under the microscope, forcing a national reckoning about the intersection of journalism, politics, celebrity and sleaze.
That’s what happened seven years ago at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World in London. The paper folded in 2012 amid a phone hacking scandal that turned U.K.’s media and political establishment upside down.
But it could also describe – minus the phone hacking – the controversy engulfing the National Enquirer.
The Florida-based supermarket tabloid has mixed celebrity gossip, true crime and conspiracy theories for decades. But its association with President Donald Trump – and its new attacks on Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos – is shining a harsh light on the underbelly of tabloid journalism.
And now a legal fight with the world’s richest person could prove devastating for a company that has faced financial challenges, including substantial debt and the loss of revenue from print sales confronting even mainstream newspapers.
In a blog post Thursday, Bezos alleged that lawyers for the National Enquirer’s parent company – American Media Inc. – tried to blackmail him into getting the Washington Post to drop its investigation into the company’s ties to Trump.
Bezos announced Jan. 9 that he and his wife were divorcing after 25 years of marriage. Later that same day, the National Enquirer published photos and texts showing Bezos involved in an extramarital affair with a former news anchor.
Bezos hired a private investigator to discover how the National Enquirer got his texts.
That wasn’t the end of it.
In emails released by Bezos Thursday, the National Enquirer told him that it had even more compromising photos, including what it euphemistically described as a “below-the-belt selfie.” It threatened to publish the photos unless Bezos publicly stated that he has “no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AM’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”
AMI has denied any wrongdoing, saying it “believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos.” In a statement Friday, the company said its board of directors would open an investigation into the allegations.