Executives’ decisions and statements can either bring their organizations to their knees—or bolster both individual and brand reputation.
A salacious blog post, published on Thursday by Amazon chief and The Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, has done the latter.
As it makes the rounds online (and garners headlines), Bezos’ move has also provided an outline for leaders to successfully get ahead of a crisis.
Bezos published his post on Medium, and then tweeted the link:
I’ve written a post about developments with the National Enquirer and its parent company, AMI. You can find it here: https://t.co/G1ykJAPPwy
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) February 7, 2019
The headline of Mr. Bezos’ post — “No thank you, Mr. Pecker” — targeted David J. Pecker, the head of the tabloid company. In the sometimes digressive text that followed, he accused American Media of threatening to publish graphic photographs of Mr. Bezos, including a “below-the-belt selfie,” if he did not publicly affirm that The Enquirer’s reporting on his affair was not motivated by political concerns.
“Well, that got my attention,” Mr. Bezos wrote of the threat. “But not in the way they likely hoped.”
The story spilled into public on Jan. 9 when Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, revealed they would be divorcing after 25 years of marriage — roughly two days after the Enquirer had informed him it would be publishing a story about his relationship with Sanchez. The Enquirer later published what it called “sleazy text messages and gushing love notes” between Bezos and Sanchez, raising questions about how the tabloid was able to get such intimate material. Bezos began to investigate how the leak of his private information came about.
AMI’s chief executive, David Pecker, has had a long friendship with President Trump, who has repeatedly attacked Bezos, Amazon and The Washington Post. Pecker directed the Enquirer to write favorable stories about Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, while paying $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal to suppress her claim of a long-running affair with Trump.
… Any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes a back seat because there’s a much more important matter involved here. If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can? (On that point, numerous people have contacted our investigation team about their similar experiences with AMI, and how they needed to capitulate because, for example, their livelihoods were at stake.)
… These communications cement AMI’s long-earned reputation for weaponizing journalistic privileges, hiding behind important protections, and ignoring the tenets and purpose of true journalism. 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. I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out.
Jeff Bezos’s allegations that he was blackmailed by American Media Inc. could upend the non-prosecution agreement the publisher of the National Enquirer struck last year with federal prosecutors in New York over its illegal aid to the Trump campaign.
Under the Sept. 20 agreement, the tabloid publisher was supposed to refrain from all illegal activity for a three-year period. The agreement says that if New York-based AMI commits any crime, it can be prosecuted for the ones it was granted immunity against, including perjury and obstruction of justice.
National Enquirer and AMI representatives did not immediately respond to request for comment. Amazon and Bezos’s attorney also did not immediately respond to inquiries.
Though Bezos’ organizations—as well as those in his crosshairs—remain silent, the executive’s words have spoken volumes.
The New York Times reported:
It was a bold move for someone who has often tried to evade the spotlight, even amid the frequent insults hurled his way by Mr. Trump, who has labeled the newspaper that Mr. Bezos purchased in 2013 as “The Amazon Post” and recently called him “Jeff Bozo” in a tweet.
Bezos’s post did something that has become common in this cultural-political moment. His blog post is, well, a blog post. But it is also so salacious, so bizarrely stimulating, that it overwhelms the thinking brain and presents instead as pure spectacle. In a little more than 2,000 words, Bezos seemed to rip every headline out of the newspaper and bind them in an eternal neon braid: the mighty power of billionaires, the immiseration of American journalism, the thin smudge of porniness that smartphones have layered onto reality—all of that, and President Donald Trump (who is a close friend of David Pecker, AMI’s chief executive), and the corruption and journalist-murdering malice of the Saudi government, which Bezos alleges is wrapped up in his story “for reasons still to be better understood.” Bezos once founded the Everything Store; now he has given us the Everything Story.
… It is, in short, incredible content. And it’s not entirely wrong to read it as spectacle, because it is spectacle, after all. Refusing to be extorted is the ultimate power move. And it masks what isn’t spectacular here, too. It is ultimately one man’s calculation about how best to protect himself, his family, his reputation.
It doesn’t read like it was ghostwritten by a PR team. (Was it?) It reads like a blog post Bezos stayed up late to write. It makes the world’s richest person sound like someone you can root for. Plenty of people detest what Amazon stands for, but Twitter spent all night cheering Bezos on. Crisis management pros will be talking about this one for a long time.
In an article titled, “How to eviscerate your enemies with words, by Jeff Bezos,” Quartz’s Jenni Avins wrote: “Follow his lead, and you will come across as both savage and sympathetic.”
Along with providing a crisis-response outline to other leaders, Bezos’ spilling intimate details of his pictures and texts ultimately diminished the damaging effect it would have on his reputation.
The sex columnist Dan Savage has prophesied a day when so many people have had their nudes leak that the threat of them leaking will diminish, and people will no longer have to fear losing their jobs over them. Bezos’s post feels like an important move in that regard — even if the nudes do eventually leak, his move helped to normalize the act of taking them and sharing them. Five years ago, if your nudes got leaked, the blame was generally on you; going forward, the blame is going to be on the jerks that stole them.
The move also highlights the power of social media and storytelling—especially Twitter. When used in direct, authentic ways, the platform can serve as a powerful way for leaders to get ahead of the news cycle and directly provide answers to stakeholders.
The anatomy of the Bezos disclosure was simple. He chose Medium as the receptacle of his thoughts — perhaps as a neutral alternative to writing in The Washington Post, which he owns — but the path that everyone followed to get to Medium was via his tweet. No journalist was casually browsing Medium’s “Combative Blog Posts from Multibillionaires” section and accidentally stumbled upon it. No one could even have been sure it was Bezos just by looking at the blog post in isolation. Twitter was both the trigger of awareness for the post’s existence and the first step of verification for its legitimacy.
What do you think of Bezos’ post, Ragan/PR Daily readers?