Breaking News Emails
In the hours after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos publicly accused the National Enquirer's parent company of "extortion and blackmail," several prominent names in journalism and one Hollywood star alleged the tabloid giant had tried to intimidate or threaten them, too.
The allegations could put even more scrutiny on the company, American Media, and its chief executive, David Pecker, a longtime ally of President Donald Trump. Pecker has been accused of buying controversial stories about Trump to keep them private — a media industry practice known as "catch and kill."
Investigative journalist Ronan Farrow said in a tweet Thursday night that he and "at least one other prominent journalist" who had reported on the link between the National Enquirer and Trump received what he characterized as "stop digging or we'll ruin you" blackmail threats from AMI.
"I did not engage as I don't cut deals with subjects of ongoing reporting," Farrow said in the tweet.
In a direct response to Farrow's tweet, former Associated Press investigative editor Ted Bridis said: "We were warned explicitly by insiders that AMI had hired private investigators to dig into backgrounds of @AP journalists looking into the tabloid's efforts on behalf of Trump."
Bridis added: "Never saw evidence of this either way, and it didn't stop our reporting."
In a separate tweet about the allegations Bezos made in his post on the blogging site Medium, Bridis said AMI, the National Enquirer and its lawyers "tried to shut down public interest reporting on tabloid's work on behalf of Trump."
In an article published Thursday night, the Daily Beast's Lachlan Markay reported that the publication and "a member of its staff were threatened by AMI's attorneys." The article did not characterize the alleged threats in detail.
"Imagine if Pecker and his pals put as much effort into getting scoops as they do into threatening people," Daily Beast editor in chief Noah Shachtman told NBC News on Friday. "It's the latest reminder — as if we needed one — that there's nothing too low for this crowd."
Another such accusation comes from Dino Sajudin, a former doorman for one of Trump's buildings in New York City. Sajudin's lawyer, Marc Held, told NBC News in a statement that Sajudin was threatened by AMI, which he said had paid him $30,000 to keep quiet about a relationship between Trump and a Playboy Playmate.
Sajudin's agreement included a $1 million penalty if he spoke out.
"AMI threatened Dino Sajudin that speaking up would have detrimental, life changing consequences for him and his family," Held said in the statement.
AMI said in a statement Friday that its board would investigate Bezos' allegations but that the company believed it acted lawfully. A company spokesperson declined to comment further.
One notable accusation against AMI came from outside the news industry. The actor Terry Crews tweeted that AMI allegedly tried to "silence" him as well:
Crews has alleged that William Morris Endeavor agent Adam Venit grabbed and squeezed his crotch at a 2016 party. Venit denied the allegation in court documents. Crews and Venit agreed to settle the actor's civil lawsuit in September. Venit did not admit to the allegations but did take responsibility for the situation in a letter of apology to Crews.
The flood of accusations against AMI recalled a 2017 op-ed article, published in The Washington Post, by MSNBC "Morning Joe" co-hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, who wrote that "top White House staff members warned that the National Enquirer was planning to publish a negative article about us unless we begged the president to have the story spiked."
"We ignored their desperate pleas," the MSNBC anchors wrote.
The Washington Post, which Bezos owns, has reported exhaustively on Trump, including the ongoing federal investigations into his 2016 presidential campaign and administration. Trump has repeatedly attacked the Post and Bezos, suggesting that the Amazon chief was using the newspaper as a political weapon.
Pecker's ties to Trump stirred speculation that the National Enquirer's investigation of Bezos' extra-marital affair with Lauren Sanchez, who is now his girlfriend, was politically motivated. Pecker's link to Trump has been the focus of extensive reporting and an investigation by federal prosecutors.
According to the emails that Bezos published on Medium, which have not been independently reviewed by NBC News, AMI threatened to publish texts from Bezos and Sanchez that included photos of a sexual nature.
In exchange for withholding the photos, AMI demanded that Bezos stop the Post from reporting on the alleged political motivations behind its initial reporting on his relationship with Sanchez.
Bert Fields, an entertainment lawyer who has represented a variety of celebrities, including Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, said he has battled with AMI before.
"I had many, many, many encounters, as you can imagine, with American Media," Fields said. "I’ve had really good relationships with their general counsel who I thought acted reasonably. I can’t say the same for the management of the company. I’ve had numerous fights with them.”
Fields added the Bezos letter goes beyond what he's seen from the company in the past.
"In some instances, we’ve had an informal agreement when they are going to publish something bad about a particular client, they would check the story with me," Fields said. "But that’s their general counsel, as distinguished from their management. You can see how they dealt with Bezos."
"Writing this letter, to me, is disgusting. To say we’re going to expose things about you unless you something nice about us or stop saying un-nice things about us, that’s just beyond the pale.”