getting out in front of the story

Getting Out in Front of the Story: Bezos Case Study

Getting out in front of the story’ is a phrase that comes up a lot in Crisis Communication Courses. It refers to coming clean about all the bad stuff in one go before anyone else releases it.

In my experience, it is extremely difficult to do.

Human nature is such that everyone balks at revealing negative information if they are not absolutely sure they have to.

Jeff Bezos Case Study

In the last week, Jeff Bezos (the world’s wealthiest man and the Chairman, Chief Executive and President of Amazon) has given us the most dramatic example I can remember of ‘getting out in front of the story’.

getting out in front of the story

Jeff Bezos

It is a complicated tale but at its heart the National Enquirer let Bezos know that it had compromising photos of him and his girlfriend Lauren Sanchez – and told him they would publish.

 Political Motivation or Just a Good Story?

To prevent publication, the Enquirer wanted Bezos to stop or curb an investigation into an earlier leak of his private text messages. Also, to publicly state that he did not believe a story based on those texts (or sexts i.e. texts with sexual content) published in the Enquirer, was politically motivated.

Bezos has been married to wife MacKenzie for 25 years. The couple announced they were to divorce in January this year. Immediately after the announcement, the Enquirer published an expose of Bezos’ affair with the former TV presenter Sanchez, including the texts.

A crucial factor here is that Bezos, as well as his Amazon roles, is the owner of the Washington Post newspaper. The Post has been a long-time critic of President Trump, among many other things his relationship with Saudi Arabia. In particular, it has given a lot of coverage to the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi – in which the Saudi regime is implicated. This criticism and coverage have annoyed the President.

getting out in front of the story

The National Enquirer is a supporter of President Trump

National Enquirer and its owner American Media (AMI) are supporters of President Trump. The group and AMI’s owner David Pecker are currently being investigated for their part in the election of Trump. They are also being investigated for various actions taken on behalf of the Saudi government. In other words, the group is under a lot of suspicion about using its power for political purposes and in ways that may be illegal.

We now know that Bezos believes the embarrassing stories about his love life and in particular, the threat to publish the photos, are all about silencing the Washington Post’s anti-Trump and some would say anti-Saudi stance. AMI denies this.

Here is a detailed account of all this in the Daily Mail.

Getting Out in Front of the Story

The point for us is that rather than giving in to the blackmail, Bezos published the emails that threatened him. He published them with his own commentary on a website called Medium.com– thus getting out in front of the story.

Rather than being the victim he is now suddenly the one in control. The price he has paid for this is letting the world know about the embarrassing photos and a lot of other private details about his extra-marital relationship. Like many before him (Prince Charles, Max Mosley, Jeremy Thorpe etc.) he knows these will affect his reputation for years to come. But he did the brave and difficult thing and published all the bad stuff but on his own terms.

As he says himself ‘If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can.’  In a particularly good line Bezos accuses the National Enquirer of ‘weaponizing journalistic privileges, hiding behind important protections, and ignoring the tenets and purpose of true journalism.’

It is too early to say whether Bezos will be the eventual winner in all this. But for now, it has certainly turned the tables on those threatening him.

 Crisis Preparedness

The Media Coach and in particular myself and Catherine Cross regularly run Crisis Communication courses. Large organisations that have considered business recovery or crisis planning usually conclude that senior staff need some formal training so they are equipped to deal with the media in the face of a reputational crisis.   If you would like to talk to us about what we offer please do give us a call on 44 (0)20 7099 2212.

Photo credits:
Jeff Bezos: Wikimedia Commons
National Enquirer: Flickr, credit Rusty Clark

Lindsay Williams

About Lindsay Williams

Prior to founding her communications training agency, The Media Coach, Lindsay Williams worked as a journalist from 1983. She specialised in financial and business journalism since 1991. After thirteen years in the BBC with local radio, regional television, Radio 4 and Radio 5 Live, she moved to Reuters Financial Television as Deputy Programme Editor. Working freelance from 1998, she was contracted in a variety of roles including as an executive producer for Bloomberg television delivering half hour profiles of Chief Executives, as a producer with Sky Business Unit and at CNBC. She has had articles published in Sunday Business, The Business, The Times and in specialist magazines such as Companies & Finance and Impact. For the majority of her journalism career she specialised in reporting business and finance. Lindsay Williams hosts a range of bespoke communication skills courses for The Media Coach which include Media Training, Presentation Training, Crisis Media Training and Message Building.

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1 reply
  1. Kathryn says:

    Definitely – my favourite tweet on this was “You know the US is in trouble when a billionaire sending dick pics turns out to be the hero of the story.” Quite a feat!

    Reply

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