At approximately 11pm UK time on Thursday evening – late afternoon in the States – Jeff Bezos published a cluster-bomb of an article that could have ramifications reaching from the oil fields of Arabia to the Oval Office of the White House.
From the outside, it reads like a popular commuter thriller: the world’s richest man gets blackmailed by a giant media corporation, with alleged support from the President of the United States. Said richest man turns the tables and retaliates with far-reaching consequences that involve a tyrannical middle-eastern state, a murdered journalist and a corrupt-beyond-belief White House.
If anything, the reader would likely dismiss the story as far-fetched and completely beyond the realms of possibility. But yet, here we are. It’s 2019 and I’m about to share my thoughts on a plot concerning the richest individual on the planet, an extortionate media company, a cornered President and a despotic oil-state.
From what we know so far, there are several sub-plots to this scandal, each as fascinating as the next. I’ll begin with the one closest to home – we do work in social media after all: the decision by Bezos to self-publish a retaliatory ‘bare-all’ account of the scandal.
In order to expose the National Enquirer and the AMI, Bezos has had to expose himself: the admission that there exists ‘nude selfies’ of the billionaire as well as private texts that could have damaging consequences to his divorce battle, which is at the heart of his expose.
The manner of the article, from its prose that is wholeheartedly personal and far from polished, to the weight of accusation, is extraordinarily frank.
“If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?”.
What is more intriguing is Bezos’ decision not to traverse the classic PR or communications route: consulting publicists and professionals, composing a bullet-proof statement that contains the top-level facts, and seeding it through a popular media title.
Instead, Bezos decided to self-publish a blog post on Medium, an online publishing platform, and break the story with a nondescript tweet:
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
Within hours, both the tweet and the article were shared around the world several times over. It has hit the front page of global media titles, from the New York Times to the Guardian. It has amassed close to 100,000 social actions on Twitter and the article itself has been ‘applauded’ 115,000 times on Medium.
In short, Bezos has taken control of the narrative and manipulated it to the extent that he has engaged an audience in ways that traditional media would struggle to replicate. It’s arguably not the correct way to conduct yourself during a major expose of your character, but it’s an incredibly brave and confident approach.
When you’re worth $170 billion and possess real power that rivals even that of the man in the Oval office, I suppose you can take such risks.
In doing so, Bezos has pulled the covers off a media corporation that uses the power it possesses in its most crude form: to cow an individual into submission and tow him into line with the threat of leaking private photos. Nobody, not even the richest man on the planet, should be subject to such treatment
More, he has empowered others to do exactly the same. Since he published his article on Medium, other public figures have stepped forward to share their stories and lift the lid on dirty tactics undertaking by the National Enquirer and AMI.
In Bezos’ own words: “I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out.”
One can just imagine the panic that is setting in certain offices across the globe, from New York to Riyadh and back to Washington.