Vinay Menon: The National Enquirer faces nuclear annihilation and Jeff Bezos is the mushroom cloud

On Amazon, for $ 19.99, you can buy a beech-wood plaque laser engraved with this Benjamin Disraeli quote: “Courage is fire, and bullying is smoke.”

I’m tempted to buy one and send it to the National Enquirer.

Maybe I’ll include a gift card, signed from Jeff Bezos: “Nice try, losers. Burn in hell.”

Not that the Enquirer has any place to hang such a plaque, not after Bezos trained his flame-thrower at the tabloid’s headquarters and set his Bravery Dial to 10. The Enquirer, which for decades has been to journalism as foie gras is to veganism, is now bleeding profusely from the mouth and nose. My God, not since George McFly knocked out Biff in Back to the Future has a bully hit the pavement this hard.

In one of the most remarkable media blog posts in years, Bezos, owner of the Washington Post, delivered a roundhouse kick to the Enquirer on Thursday.

As you may recall, the Enquirer published a cover story last month — “Bezos’ Divorce! The Cheating Photos That Ended His Marriage” — that attempted to portray the world’s richest man as a two-bit cheater. It was a strange story, mostly because why would Enquirer readers care about the personal life of a business mogul? Why would the mouth-breathers who salivate in the checkout lane over Jennifer Aniston’s reproductive organs and George Clooney’s dating history want to consume a “takeout” on Bezos? It made no sense. It smelled weird.

But as it turns out, the Enquirer was just getting started — or so it foolishly thought.

As Bezos pointed out in his post on Medium, “the top people” at the Enquirer recently approached him. And here’s where it gets insidious: they wanted him to make false public statements in exchange for not publishing more of the texts they mysteriously obtained, texts his personal investigators now believe came from “government entities.” (If true, this is a bigger scandal than Russian collusion.)

It seems the Enquirer, which recently published a pro-Saudi Arabia magazine and for years has protected Donald Trump — a guy who hates Bezos out of sheer jealousy — now wants the Post to cease and desist from reporting on certain topics.

So it threatened Bezos.

But in response, Bezos balled up a fist while extending a middle finger.

He shared letters from Enquirer honchos, which outlined further humiliations that awaited if he did not play ball. This wasn’t journalism. It was a shakedown. It was a pathetic, down-market tabloid acting like the mafia.

But instead of huddling with publicists, Bezos unleashed a bunker buster of his own.

As he wrote, “rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten.” Read what he published. Read it again and again and cheer out loud.

And then pray the Enquirer dies a slow and painful death.

In his post, Bezos attached letters from Enquirer higher-ups. It’s something to behold. These lunatics put in writing exactly how they planned to shame Bezos if he did not abide by their “rules.” They claimed to have more scandalous images, including a “below the belt selfie — otherwise colloquially known as a ‘d–k pick’”  and an image of Bezos in shorts, “his semi-erect manhood is penetrating the zipper of said garment.”

There was also an alleged photo of Lauren Sanchez, the woman Bezos was allegedly cheating with, “smoking a cigar in what appears to be a simulated oral sex scene.” And a shot of Bezos “wearing nothing but a white towel — and the top of his pubic region can be seen.”

After Bezos made these threats public on Thursday, others, including the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow, came forward to say they too had received similar threats from the Enquirer. And the picture that emerged was crystal clear: this is a publication with no journalistic ethics, a publication run by a cabal of treacherous grifters, each armed with an axe to grind on behalf of powerful allies.

Those closest to Bezos now believe the original piece was a political hit job.

That remains to be seen. But what Bezos did on Thursday was grab the gun.

In exposing this revolting plot against him, Bezos just did more harm to the Enquirer than the periodical has ever done to any editorial target. That’s why on Friday the company announced plans to “investigate” the matter internally, which loosely translates into, “Oh bloody hell, we messed with the wrong guy.”

They certainly did. Bezos’ financial and spiritual commitment to journalism, vis-à-vis the Post, is already something to admire. But his willingness to throw real punches against the Enquirer is the greatest media story in recent years.

They attempted an old trick on a new opponent and now they are screwed.

As Jerry George, the Enquirer’s former L.A. bureau chief, told CNN: “I think they thought they were smarter than they are. And I think now the reality is hitting them and they’re freaking out.”

Vinay Menon is the Star’s pop culture columnist based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @vinaymenon

TORONTO STAR

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