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Has AMI Broken Any Laws? Roy Gutterman Speaks to Variety

Posted on Monday 2/11/2019
Roy Gutterman

Jeff Bezos vs. National Enquirer: Did AMI Break Any Laws?

(Variety | Feb. 8, 2019) The richest person in the world, Jeff Bezos, publicly leveled accusations that the National Enquirer and its parent company engaged in a scheme to blackmail and extort him with a threat of publishing compromising photos.

What happens next? A key question is whether American Media, the National Enquirer’s publisher, broke any laws over the course of reporting on Bezos’ affair and corresponding with the Amazon CEO and his representatives, legal experts say. Federal prosecutors are said to be probing whether Bezos’ extortion claim voided a non-prosecution agreement that AMI reached with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York last year.

But regardless of AMI’s legal culpability, the company’s reputation has been further tarnished — and Bezos has emerged as a hero of sorts to many, in that he stood up to a media outlet that at the very least used unethical, strong-arm tactics to try to achieve its objectives, according to industry observers ...

The tone of the emails in the Bezos post certainly appears heavy-handed and has a menacing tone, said Roy S. Gutterman, associate professor at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and director of the Tully Center for Free Speech. “But until there is a criminal charge or a revocation of [AMI’s] agreement [with federal prosecutors], it’s still just that — menacing and threatening,” he said.

That said, Gutterman added, “the tone and what AMI is attempting to negotiate seems pretty far outside the scope of journalistic norms… The emails did not read like typical reporter-source communications where the reporter is trying to convince a source to talk or turn over material for a story" ...

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