By using Medium to reveal The Enquirer’s backstage maneuvers, Mr. Bezos — one of the world’s most powerful tech titans and the owner of one of the country’s most influential newspapers — showed the best means of communications can be a simple blog post. The New York Times, Feb. 8
You may have never heard of Medium until you read the wild story of how Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and owner of the Washington Post, outed the National Enquirer’s alleged attempts to blackmail and extort him. How so? With just a simple blog post on a semi-popular blogging platform.
That Bezos chose Medium to write a first-person account, complete with what he says are emailed threats from the Donald Trump-friendly Enquirer’s lawyers, rather than the Post itself, was likely strategic. And smart. This way, he didn’t look like he was using his paper as a pulpit. Instead, like every other major news organization, the Post covered his Medium piece as a news story. They used quotes from the blog post, just like every other outlet. There was no special treatment.
Meanwhile, Bezos got his message out in his own words in an independent forum. While you may have scratched your head a bit at some of Bezos’s language, including calling his ownership of the Post a “complexifier,” other powerful messages come through loud and clear.
His dismay. His honesty. His transparency. He holds nothing back. He provides details of the salacious photos that the Enquirer was threatening to make public. And he pulls no punches about his utter repugnance that any news organization would make such a bold attempt to extort someone as an act of revenge purportedly fuelled by its loyalty to the president of the United States, who views the Post as an enemy.
“If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?” writes the richest man on the planet.
What does this all tell us from a communications perspective? It’s simple. Transparency is always your best weapon. If you’re the target of a corrupt smear campaign, as a company or as a public figure, shed the shackles of fear and confront it head on, regardless of any personal embarrassment it might cause.
People are fallible. They make mistakes. Own up to them. The public, shareholders, investors, customers and clients alike will appreciate honesty much more than efforts to conceal or to hide. Extortion attempts are easily beaten into obscurity by coming clean.
In life and in business, the truth always shows up. In Bezos’s case, the truth about his extramarital relationship emerged and was weaponized against him. The truth then showed up for the Enquirer, and now its parent company, American Media, is pledging to investigate the Bezos allegations. Others, including #MeToo reporter Ronan Farrow, have come forward to allege they too were the subject of blackmail threats by the Enquirer over their journalism. There are also suggestions that federal investigators are looking at launching an extortion probe into the Enquirer’s conduct.
It all proves once again that, from a communications perspective, sunlight is often the best disinfectant.