Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos: Imminent divorce. Picture: FPA/Full Picture Agency via AFP
Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos: Imminent divorce. Picture: FPA/Full Picture Agency via AFP

The basic rules of life were long ago specified by singer Jim Croce: you don’t tug on Superman’s cape ... and you don’t mess around with Jeff. Actually, Jim, but in this case Jeff.

The private life of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has suddenly become mesmerising.

He is the world’s richest man and possibly the richest man ever. Bezos last month announced he is divorcing his wife MacKenzie — inconsequential to Amazon except that in his home state of Washington, the wife gets half the boodle. In this case that would be half of $125bn.

But then the gossip mag the National Enquirer published a feature on the Bezos breakup, detailing an extramarital affair with Lauren Sanchez, a news anchor, actress and helicopter pilot. Bezos then accused the magazine’s publisher of trying to blackmail him by threatening to release Gigaba-esque selfies and included e-mails from the publisher detailing the claim, which on the face of it was plain extortion.

The deal was that the Enquirer would publish the pictures if Bezos did not publicly declare that there were no political motives behind its exposé of him. But why would the publisher David Pecker (I’m not making this up) care? One reason could be that the Enquirer turned state’s witness when Donald Trump’s then lawyer Michael Cohen paid the publication to suppress stories about Trump’s extramarital affair with Stormy Daniels. It did so by buying the story exclusively then not publishing it, known in the trade as a "catch and kill" tactic.

But part of the deal with New York prosecutors was that the publisher may not again break the law for three years, and if it did charges could be reinstated.

That doesn’t quite explain Pecker’s motivation. It’s possible the publication was being seen as a Trump plaything. Its coverage of Trump has been reverential, but even publishers of salacious gossip have their pride. Still, it was an odd tactic. The Enquirer denies an attempt at extortion. But if it’s judged to be guilty of that crime, the "catch and kill" case might re-emerge.

All in all, it’s distinctly been tugging on that cape.