WASHINGTON — Jeff Bezos understands survival instincts.
As a hedge fund refugee, he conjured Amazon, the world’s biggest store, by tapping into our hunter-gatherer instincts, the compulsion to collect more stuff with less effort.
Amazon became “the Prince of Darkness for retail,” Scott Galloway writes in “The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google,” by exploiting our “serious mojo for stuff, as survival went to the cave man who had the most twigs, had the right rocks to crack stuff open with, and got the most colorful mud to draw images on walls so his descendants knew when to plant crops, or what dangerous animals to avoid.”
So, of course, Bezos has finely honed survival instincts himself. This is a season when socialism is chic and billionaires are reviled as lame, immoral, greedy, lying and an Orange Menace (if he’s actually a billionaire). Yet the richest dude on earth has managed to come through a traumatic week inspiring admiration.
He survived a spectacular attempt by David Pecker to ruin him in January with a National Enquirer story revealing his affair with his married neighbor, Lauren Sanchez, a TV personality. It was humiliating for him and his wife, MacKenzie, but Bezos was able to bring his marriage to an end with a modicum of dignity and little apparent damage to shareholder value.
In our universe governed by algorithms, we can forget our nerdy overlords are actually human. Bezos’ sexts were brimming with romance: “I want to talk to you and plan with you. Listen and laugh.” Or another about his yearning to wake up next to her, have coffee and read the paper — The Washington Post, presumably.
This past week, Pecker and his thugs upgraded to blackmail, threatening to print more sexts and louche pics that Bezos and Sanchez had exchanged unless Bezos made a statement in the press rebutting the idea that the Enquirer story was politically motivated.
Again, Bezos’ superior survival instincts kicked in. He refused.
Pecker is up to his slimy neck in politically motivated messes. He had to make a deal with prosecutors after he helped deliver his pal Donald Trump’s hush payments to the Playboy model and the porn star. The Dickensian-named head of American Media Incorporated, The Enquirer’s owner, was “apoplectic,” according to Bezos’ post in Medium, about his investigation into who leaked the texts.
“I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out,” Bezos wrote.
And thus a P.R. debacle turned into a triumph. Besides unbridled consumerism, Americans love nothing more than seeing a bully like Pecker get kicked in the groin.
Bezos may be a key player in the Silicon Valley scheme to destroy privacy and ratchet up excess in the interest of mammonism, but for the moment, he’s a hero.
“If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion,” he wrote, “how many people can?”
As Galloway told me: “The second-worst decision in the last 12 months was the world’s wealthiest man sending out pictures of his genitalia. The worst decision was A.M.I. deciding to attempt to blackmail the wealthiest man in the world via email. Dumb and dumber.
“A.M.I. went out of business this week. They just don’t know it. They have a megalodon after them.”
Galloway thinks that Bezos vs. Pecker will mimic Thiel vs. Gawker: “The same hubris infected Gawker, wrapping yourself in the First Amendment as an excuse for depraved behavior and ruining people’s lives. That dog will no longer hunt.”
Bezos said there may be another rotten international conspiracy akin to the Russians and the Trump campaign — this one connecting Pecker, Trump and the Saudis.
Just before Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman came to America, Pecker — who wanted the Saudis to help finance the purchase of Time magazine — published an absurd piece of checkout-aisle propaganda, a glossy magazine treating the prince like Beyoncé and calling his repressive, misogynist nation the “Magic Kingdom.” It highlighted the special relationship between the Saudis and Trump, who was also lavished with puff pieces in The Enquirer during the 2016 campaign.
The crown prince has formed a tight bond with princeling Jared Kushner, one that proves ever more embarrassing as the evidence piles up that bin Salman ordered the horrendous murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The Times’s Mark Mazzetti revealed that the psycho prince told an aide in 2017 that he would use “a bullet” on Khashoggi if the writer did not stop his critiques. Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters Friday, “Mistakes happen.”
Coining the word of the year, Bezos said that owning The Post is a “complexifier” for him, suggesting that the paper’s unrelenting coverage of the Khashoggi killing might have aggravated his testy relations with Trump.
The Post reported that Michael Sanchez, Lauren’s brother who says he is also her manager — and who is close to Roger Stone and Carter Page — said he was told by several people at A.M.I. that The Enquirer wanted to do “a takedown to make Trump happy.”
The toxic triangle of Pecker, the Saudis and Trumpworld has yet to unspool. But Galloway is right when he notes that, “despite the gross idolatry of billionaire innovators, he is an incredibly impressive person. You can get ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ or Nespresso pods on demand.”
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