National Enquirer vs. Bezos


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FILE- In this Sept. 13, 2018, file photo Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, speaks at The Economic Club of Washington's Milestone Celebration in Washington. Bezos says the National Enquirer is threatening to publish nude photographs of him unless his private investigators back off the tabloid that detailed the billionaire’s extramarital affair (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

FILE- In this Sept. 13, 2018, file photo Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, speaks at The Economic Club of Washington's Milestone Celebration in Washington. Bezos says the National Enquirer is threatening to publish nude photographs of him unless his private investigators back off the tabloid that detailed the billionaire’s extramarital affair (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)


Bezos says Enquirer threatened to publish revealing pics

By MICHAEL BALSAMO and ZEKE MILLER

Associated Press

Friday, February 8

LOS ANGELES (AP) — 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 how the tabloid obtained his private exchanges with his mistress.

Bezos, who is also owner of The Washington Post, detailed his interactions with American Media Inc., or AMI, in an extraordinary blog post Thursday on Medium.com. The billionaire did not say the tabloid was seeking money — instead, he said, the Enquirer wanted him to make a public statement that the tabloid’s coverage was not politically motivated.

Bezos’ accusations add another twist to a high-profile clash between the world’s richest man and the leader of America’s best-known tabloid, a strong backer of President Donald Trump. Bezos’ investigators have suggested the Enquirer’s coverage of his affair — which included the release of risque texts — was driven by dirty politics.

“Of course I don’t want personal photos published, but I also won’t participate in their well-known practice of blackmail, political favors, political attacks, and corruption,” Bezos wrote of AMI, in explaining his decision to go public. “I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out.”

A spokesman and an attorney for AMI did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

But the company has admitted in the past that it engaged in what’s known as “catch-and-kill” practices to help Trump become president. Trump has been highly critical of Bezos and the Post’s coverage of the White House.

The Bezos affair became public when the Enquirer published a Jan. 9 story about his relationship with Lauren Sanchez, a former TV anchor who is also married. Bezos then hired a team of private investigators to find out how the tabloid got the texts and photos the two exchanged.

Several days ago, someone at AMI told Bezos’ team that the company’s CEO David Pecker was “apoplectic” about the 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.

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 emails Bezos released.

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.”

It does not appear that AMI demanded any money from Bezos — only that he call off his investigation and issue a statement saying the coverage wasn’t political.

In its Jan. 9 story, the Enquirer said reporters 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.”

It 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. The story carries the bylines of Howard and two reporters.

But Bezos was suspicious about how the tabloid could have possibly gotten access to his private exchanges.

Bezos usually stays out of the public eye, frequently delegating announcements and public Amazon business updates to his executives. He doesn’t even speak on the company’s quarterly financial earnings call with analysts.

His personal investigators, led by his longtime security consultant, Gavin de Becker, 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’s relationship with Trump has gotten the company into hot water in the past. It admitted to “catch-and-kill” practices as part of a deal with federal prosecutors, who agreed to not pursue charges against the company.

AMI acknowledged 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.

In September, the Justice Department agreed to a non-prosecution agreement with AMI, which requires the company and some top executives, including 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.

It is a federal crime to threaten to injure someone’s reputation in exchange for money or a “thing of value,” though federal courts haven’t made it directly clear whether a public statement, like the one demanded by AMI, could be considered something of value.

Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the allegations potentially put prosecutors in an awkward position because of the deal they had already cut with AMI.

“It shows how complicated and dangerous it is to make an agreement with National Enquirer,” Levenson said. “They may have to cooperate, but they’re continuing in their ongoing battle with Bezos and others.”

But Levenson said it was too difficult to tell if the case amounted to blackmail or extortion without additional context and some prosecutors may be reluctant to charge someone for threatening another with embarrassing material.

Miller reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Brian Melley in Los Angeles and Rachel Lerman in San Francisco contributed to this report.

Enquirer says it will investigate Bezos extortion claims

By MICHAEL BALSAMO and ZEKE MILLER

Associated Press

Friday, February 8

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The publisher of the National Enquirer said Friday it will look into claims of extortion and blackmail made by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who said the tabloid threatened to publish intimate photos of him unless he stopped investigating how the Enquirer obtained his private exchanges with his mistress.

American Media Inc. said it “acted lawfully” while reporting the story.

The company’s statement is the latest twist in a high-profile clash between the world’s richest man and the leader of America’s best-known tabloid, who is a strong backer of President Donald Trump. Bezos’ investigators have suggested the Enquirer’s coverage of his affair — which included the release of risque texts — was driven by dirty politics.

Bezos, who is also owner of The Washington Post, detailed his interactions with American Media Inc., or AMI, in an extraordinary blog post Thursday on Medium.com. The billionaire did not say the tabloid was seeking money — instead, he said, the Enquirer wanted him to make a public statement that its coverage was not politically motivated.

The company has admitted in the past that it engaged in what’s known as “catch-and-kill” practices to help Trump become president. Trump has been highly critical of Bezos and the Post’s coverage of the White House.

“Of course I don’t want personal photos published, but I also won’t participate in their well-known practice of blackmail, political favors, political attacks, and corruption,” Bezos wrote of AMI, in explaining his decision to go public. “I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out.”

The Bezos affair became public when the Enquirer published a Jan. 9 story about his relationship with Lauren Sanchez, a former TV anchor who is also married. Bezos then hired a team of private investigators to find out how the tabloid got the texts and photos the two exchanged.

Bezos’ personal investigators, led by his longtime security consultant, Gavin de Becker, 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.”

Several days ago, someone at AMI told Bezos’ team that the company’s CEO, David Pecker, was “apoplectic” about the 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.

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 emails Bezos released.

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.”

In its Jan. 9 story, the Enquirer said reporters 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.”

It 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. The story carries the bylines of Howard and two reporters.

Bezos usually stays out of the public eye, frequently delegating announcements and public Amazon business updates to his executives. He doesn’t even speak on the company’s quarterly financial earnings call with analysts.

AMI’s relationship with Trump has gotten the company into hot water in the past. It admitted to “catch-and-kill” practices as part of a deal with federal prosecutors, who agreed not to pursue charges against the company.

AMI acknowledged 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.

In September, the Justice Department agreed to a non-prosecution agreement with AMI, which requires the company and some top executives, including 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.

It is a federal crime to threaten to injure someone’s reputation in exchange for money or a “thing of value,” though federal courts haven’t made it directly clear whether a public statement, like the one demanded by AMI, could be considered something of value.

Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the allegations potentially put prosecutors in an awkward position because of the deal they had already cut with AMI.

“It shows how complicated and dangerous it is to make an agreement with National Enquirer,” Levenson said. “They may have to cooperate, but they’re continuing in their ongoing battle with Bezos and others.”

But Levenson said it was too difficult to tell if the case amounted to blackmail or extortion without additional context and some prosecutors may be reluctant to charge someone for threatening another with embarrassing material.

Miller reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Brian Melley in Los Angeles and Rachel Lerman in San Francisco contributed to this report.

Suspects’ lawyer offers condolences at Tunisia terror trial

By BOUAZZA BEN BOUAZZA

Associated Press

Friday, February 8

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — A lawyer for suspects in the 2015 attack that killed 38 people in a popular Tunisian resort offered condolences to the victims’ families Friday.

Twenty-one suspects, who have all denied any direct role in the attack, attended the final hearing of the trial over Tunisia’s deadliest attack.

The final session was dedicated to the defense’s closing arguments and a livestream was made possible so that families of victims in Europe could watch.

The court will adjourn and the deliberation will last at least 10 hours before a verdict is reached.

Defense lawyer Imen Truqui presented her condolences to families and insisted the trial was held in a democratic atmosphere, with all parties granted the right to defend themselves.

On June 26, 2015, in the coastal city of Sousse, attacker Aymen Rezgui walked onto the beach of the Imperial Hotel and used an assault rifle to shoot at tourists in lounge chairs, then continued onto the hotel pool before throwing a grenade into the hotel.

Rezgui, a Tunisian student who trained with Libyan militants, was killed about 15 minutes later by police. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.

Some of the defendants face potential capital punishment for charges of premeditated murder, threatening state security and belonging to a group with extremist links.

In addition to the massacre at the beach resort, Tunisia suffered two other major attacks in 2015. At the famed Bardo Museum, 22 people were killed by extremists while 12 perished in the center of Tunis on a bus carrying presidential guards.

The Islamic State group also claimed responsibility for those attacks, which, along with the attack at the Imperial Hotel, devastated the country’s tourism sector as travel agencies pulled out and governments issued travel warnings.

Tourism has since partially bounced back after Tunisia’s government implemented a series of measures aimed at securing popular destinations in the country.

The Conversation

López Obrador clashes with courts after vowing ‘poverty’ for Mexican government

February 8, 2019

Author: Luis Gómez Romero, Senior Lecturer in Human Rights, Constitutional Law and Legal Theory, University of Wollongong

Disclosure statement: Luis Gómez Romero contributed in 2002 to draft a constitutional amendment bill aimed at establishing in the Mexican Constitution that no public servant can receive remuneration higher than that established to the President of the Republic in the corresponding annual budget. The bill was presented to Congress by Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, then leader of the National Action Party at the Chamber of Deputies.

Partners: University of Wollongong provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.

It’s rare for presidents to advocate for poverty, but that’s just what Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is doing.

At a press conference on Feb. 1, López Obrador said his government would embrace what he called “Franciscan poverty” if it would “transfer funds to the people” and achieve “development, jobs and welfare.”

Francis of Assisi was a Catholic saint who disdained material wealth to follow Christ as a poor man.

López Obrador’s poverty vow is more bureaucratic than religious. As part of an ambitious effort to fight poverty and reduce government corruption, the president proposed to cut the salaries of public officials, including his own, slash federal budgets and lay off 70 percent of non-unionized federal workers. An estimated 276,290 public employees will lose their jobs.

After lawsuits were filed by opposition political parties and Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, the Supreme Court in December granted a temporary suspension of López Obrador’s new Federal Law of Public Servant Salaries.

Saying that even austerity budgets must guarantee the basic functioning of the government, Justice Alberto Pérez Dayán said López Obrador’s plan cannot go into effect until the Supreme Court rules on its constitutionality.

The decision has set up a standoff between the president and the courts, with Mexico’s federal budget and judicial independence hanging in the balance.

Reducing inequality, one tree at a time

López Obrador and his leftist Morena Party won a landslide victory in Mexico’s 2018 general election on promises that they would transform Mexico, empowering the underprivileged in a country with gaping inequality.

Since taking office on Dec. 1, López Obrador has suggested creating some 20,000 jobs in fruit production and wood harvesting by planting trees on a million acres of land in rural southern Mexico. He has also proposed paying small monthly pensions of up to 2,550 pesos – around US$134 – to Mexicans above the age of 68 and to people with disabilities who lack social security benefits.

Leftist governments usually fund social programs like this by raising taxes on the wealthy. López Obrador says he won’t do that. Instead, his administration hopes to recover public funds by cracking down on rampant corruption and saving money with fiscal austerity. That’s where the salary cuts and mass layoffs come into play.

López Obrador is an admirer of Benito Juárez, the indigenous president who ruled Mexico from 1858 to 1872. Juárez extolled the virtues of selfless public service, saying public servants should “devote themselves to work assiduously while resigning to live in … honorable modesty.”

López Obrador flies commercial and has refused to take up residence in the Los Pinos presidential palace, turning it into a cultural center.

He also set his salary at a “moderate” 108,000 pesos, about $5,700 a month – roughly $68,400 a year. That’s 60 percent less than his predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto, who earned the equivalent of $14,200 a month in 2018.

The wage gap between average workers and the Mexican head of state was the highest in the world last year, according to a report by the IG Group, a British financial services company. On average, Mexican workers earn around $15,311 a year.

López Obrador’s voluntary pay cut has drastically reduced the difference between his income and everyone else’s.

Attacks on the judiciary

Since the Mexican Constitution mandates that no public official should make more than the president, however, López Obrador has also effectively capped wages for all government employees.

To his mind, that’s a good thing.

The days of having “a rich government with a poor population” are over, the president told a crowd in December. He was speaking in the western state of Nayarit, pledging aid for victims of a recent hurricane.

In the same speech, López Obrador attacked the Supreme Court’s decision to suspend his pay cut plan, accusing Mexican judges – not just Justice Pérez Dayán – of selfishly wanting to keep their salaries and benefits intact.

In fact, Article 94 of the Mexican Constitution explicitly prohibits reducing the salary of judges at any time during their appointment, a guarantee of judicial independence that dates back to 1857.

In 2018, Supreme Court justices earned 269,215 pesos – around $14,000 a month.

The Supreme Court has since agreed to take a 25 percent pay cut “in accordance with the new policy of austerity that the presidency has demanded of the Supreme Court of Justice.” That puts their 2019 salaries at about $10,500 a month, not including benefits.

In adopting this measure, the Supreme Court also clarified that, as an independent branch of government directly protected by the Constitution, the judiciary is not bound by the salary standards established by López Obrador. The justices will decide how to implement austerity within the court system.

Judicial battles ahead

The Supreme Court is expected to make a definitive ruling on the two lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the Federal Law of Public Servant Salaries some time this year.

Over 20,000 public servants have also filed individual complaints in federal courts, saying salary cuts violate their labor rights. Under Mexican law, legislation is deemed retrospective – and thus unconstitutional – if it affects the vested rights of individuals. Employers, including the federal government, cannot unilaterally reduce their employees’ wages.

At least 12,817 Mexican public servants have already been laid off under López Obrador’s austerity plan. Many of those who have kept their jobs have seen their social security benefits and vacation time eliminated under the new law.

Beyond its questionable constitutionality, López Obrador’s de facto salary cap on public servants does not take into account the expertise, seniority or skills required of high-level positions. Less than $5,700 a month is simply insufficient payment for the most highly skilled workers, Mexican constitutional expert Elisur Arteaga told the newspaper La Razon last year. He expects talent will flee the government for the private sector.

Nobody in Mexico thought that transforming the country would be easy when they voted López Obrador into office. To paraphrase Mexican pundit Jesús Silva-Herzog, fixing Mexico’s bloated and corrupt government was work for a surgeon with a scalpel.

López Obrador, it’s becoming clear, prefers a machete.

The Conversation

New Caledonian crows smart enough to plan three steps ahead to solve tricky problem

February 7, 2019

Author: Alex Taylor, Senior Lecturer, University of Auckland

Disclosure statement: The research of Alex Taylor is supported by funding from a Royal Society of New Zealand Rutherford Discovery Fellowship and a Prime Minister’s McDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize

My ideas about animal behaviour were turned upside down in 2002 when I watched Betty, a New Caledonian crow, fashion a hook from a piece of wire and use it to pull a small container with meat from a tube.

Betty’s behaviour captivated scientists because it seemed so creative: there was no obvious solution to the problem yet Betty had found a way. How could this crow be thinking, given it was separated from humans by 620 million years of independent evolution?

Our latest research, published today, helps us answer this question. It provides conclusive evidence that, like a chess player thinking several moves ahead, New Caledonia crows can plan out a sequence of three behaviours while using tools in order to solve a problem.

New Caledonian crows demonstrate that they can remember the location of out-of-sight tools while planning a three-stage sequence of behaviour.

Clever birds

Over the past 20 years, New Caledonian crows have produced a variety of behaviours that have suggested they might be highly intelligent. But creating conclusive evidence for what is actually going through the mind of an animal is tricky.

In past work, we have given crows problems that require longer and longer sequences of behaviour. But to really understand if New Caledonian crows can plan, we needed to distinguish between online planning and preplanning.

Online planning involves making a plan on a moment-to-moment basis. It can be thought of as essentially planning on the fly; you make one move, assess the effects, and then plan the next. Preplanning is true planning. You plan a sequence of steps ahead, such as when thinking two or three moves ahead in chess, and then carry out those steps.

Seventeen years on from Betty’s hook bending, thanks to a training breakthrough by three of our team (Romana Gruber, Martina Schiestl and Markus Boeckle), we were finally able to design an experiment to test the birds’ planning skills.

Solving complex problems

We presented the crows with a difficult problem. Crows had to use a short stick to pull a stone from a tube, and then use this stone to release a platform to get meat, while ignoring another tube that contained a long stick. The catch was that each stage of the problem was out-of-sight of the others, hidden by a wooden shield that prevented the crows from seeing more than one part of the problem at a time. To make things harder, we swapped the position of the two tubes randomly between trials, so crows had to remember where they had last seen the correct tool.

This meant that as the crows approached the problem, they had to mentally represent where the long stick, stone and meat were, and then use these representations to form a plan of what to do once they had picked up the short stick. Solving the problem on a moment-to-moment basis (i.e. by online planning) would lead them to make mistakes.

Highly surprisingly, some of the crows we presented with this problem did exceptionally well. One individual, Saturn, actually never made a mistake on this task.

Evolution of planning

These results show New Caledonian crows can pre-plan three behaviours into the future. While they suggest that Betty planned out her wire bending behaviours, the implications of these results go far beyond explaining her behaviour.

New Caledonian crows have so far sparked such interest because they are a highly useful model species to understand the evolution of tool use. Our results mean we can now use these birds to understand something even more fundamental: the evolution of planning itself.

Planning is one of the most powerful cognitive abilities humans have. When combined with our tool use it has allowed us to reach the heights of civilisation we currently enjoy. This combination is therefore at the heart of what is means to be human.

Now we know another species, a tool-using crow, living on an island in the Pacific, can also combine these abilities. Understanding their story, of how they came to be able to possess these skills, will teach us much about our own story, about why we evolved to think the way we do today.

FILE- In this Sept. 13, 2018, file photo Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, speaks at The Economic Club of Washington’s Milestone Celebration in Washington. Bezos says the National Enquirer is threatening to publish nude photographs of him unless his private investigators back off the tabloid that detailed the billionaire’s extramarital affair (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122286168-dd0b11293c60406ba9d0e25130379810.jpgFILE- In this Sept. 13, 2018, file photo Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, speaks at The Economic Club of Washington’s Milestone Celebration in Washington. Bezos says the National Enquirer is threatening to publish nude photographs of him unless his private investigators back off the tabloid that detailed the billionaire’s extramarital affair (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
News & Views

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