The world's richest man has a story to tell you.
The opening page is straightforward enough: a rich businessman grows tired of his marriage and seeks excitement in an extramarital affair. Texts and photos are leaked and the public revelation costs him his marriage and a good chunk of his fortune.
But Jeff Bezos' tale has a twist, albeit one it took him time to get around to telling. According to the 2,000+ word blogpost he wrote last year, it wasn't a wandering eye that caused his problems; it was a vast, international conspiracy, involving foreign leaders, espionage and an American media company's links with the President of the United States.
If that sounds like a far-fetched scenario in the mold of the Amazon Prime series The Man in the High Castle, which offered an alternative history of the Second World War, it should. Both take liberties with the facts.
Take a step backwards and the story looks simple enough.
Who had the means and the motivation to leak intimate photos and texts from the phone of Amazon’s CEO? Occam’s razor is the philosophical idea that the simplest explanation is most often the correct one. There is no need to invent additional reasons when one is staring you in the face. Who would gain directly from the revelation of an affair?
In fact, there is little need to speculate. This very weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that prosecutors in New York have evidence it was the brother of Bezos’ girlfriend Lauren Sanchez who gave the text messages to the National Enquirer, the American magazine that published the revelations. By a happy coincidence, the WSJ reports the Enquirer paid Michael Sanchez $200,000 three months before the story came out.
None of that establishes Sanchez’s guilt. The evidence against him may turn out not to be credible.
But for the world’s richest man to put his faith in a sinister international conspiracy rather than accept that it is much more likely someone close to him leaked the messages is an extraordinary belief. The Bezos razor is rusty.
Of course, it is easy to understand Bezos’ anger.
Few of us would be happy to lose a quarter century of marriage and an unimaginable $35 billion.
Yet his anger is misplaced. The affair was real and the betrayal of his wife was his doing alone. Was it necessary for his private life to be splashed across America’s tabloids? Perhaps not; still the story of a wayward billionaire was always going to sell. It is also a business story, of course: there are Amazon shareholders who will wonder about his judgement, especially if it turns out that someone in his inner circle did access his private information so easily.
Moreover, leave aside the irony of Bezos’ anger over the revelation of his private messages, while thousands of owners of Amazon’s Alexa smart speakers have their private messages listened to without their consent.
Instead, the real story is how Bezos’ anger and desire to be seen as a moral crusader has led him into murky waters, throwing out accusations that extend from the White House to Riyadh.
Bezos knows his customers skew young and tech-savvy, as much as the readers of the Washington Post skew liberal, two American constituencies that can be relied upon to be anti-Trump.
Dragging the US president into the mix, with the suggestion that somehow, in the densely-woven soap opera of Bezos’ telling, Trump was involved is a case of fanciful misdirection. America’s liberal media, let’s be honest, needs no encouragement to disparage Donald Trump.
No, for Bezos it is much better to portray yourself as the victim of a global conspiracy because of your devotion to truth-telling, rather than merely a billionaire who succumbed to an affair and then got called out for it by another billionaire on Twitter.
And the Saudi connection? After the tragic murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it seems as if parts of the media in the US are willing to believe any evidence-free assertion about the kingdom. Bezos must have got that idea from Amazon’s website: “Customers who bought that story also bought...”.
The Saudi connection was raised months ago, without any evidence. When it was re-reported this month, two UN special rapporteurs jumped on it and called for an investigation. If they have seen any actual evidence, they have yet to share it with the United Nations, or the Saudi government itself, raising questions about their legitimacy and motivation.
Let's be honest, Bezos isn't the first man caught in an affair to have a spun a fantastical story. But telling tall tales about conspiracies abroad doesn't change the hurt and pain you caused at home.
In Bezos’ most recent letter to his shareholders, he wrote that failures were part of doing business and companies should not be afraid of them. If owning your failures is part of your responsibilities as a CEO, it's also part of your responsibilities as a man, Jeff.
Illustration by Steven Castelluccia