Commentary

Bezos Divorce May Mean 'Washington Post' Gets New Owner

Last week, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife, Mackenzie, announced they are getting a divorce. The split may have broad effects on how the business empire of the world’s richest man gets carved up. That includes his ownership of The Washington Post, which Bezos bought for $250 million in 2013.

The Bezos family lives in Washington state; its law says the assets accumulated by married couples are community property that must be split equally in a divorce. Bezos and his wife reportedly didn’t have a prenuptial agreement when they got married in 1993, a year before Bezos started Amazon.

A divorce settlement hasn’t been made public, leaving investors, the press and other analysts to speculate on how they will split their vast fortune. It may mean The Washington Post gains a new owner, unless arrangements are made for him to buy out her possible claim on the newspaper or liquidate it entirely.

Presumably, Mackenzie Bezos stood to inherit most, if not all, of her husband’s wealth in the event of his death, which would have made her the world’s wealthiest widow. Bezos has a net worth of $137 billion, which includes his 16% interest in Amazon, six homes and land holdings.

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The couple announced their split after the National Enquirer informed them it planned to print a story about its four-month investigation into Bezos’ personal life, the tabloid said. Its bombshell story alleged the Amazon founder was caught cheating with former TV host Lauren Sanchez, the estranged wife of Patrick Whitesell, executive chairman of talent agency Endeavor.

The announcement was civil and didn't hint at any deep personal animosity between Jeff Bezos and his wife. I once interviewed Bezos in the mid-1990s for a case study about Amazon, and he was one of the most sincere and friendliest people I've ever talked to.

The Enquirer said it followed Bezos and Sanchez in “private jets, swanky limos, helicopter rides, romantic hikes, five-star hotel hideaways, intimate dinner dates and ‘quality time’ in hidden love nests.” Later stories claimed Bezos sent lovelorn texts and an X-rated picture of himself to Sanchez.

The National Enquirer’s claim about its extensive story led to speculation the tabloid targeted Bezos because of an ongoing rivalry between President Donald Trump and the tech mogul.

“It’s hard to imagine his position as a high-profile foil of President Trump’s didn’t factor into the Enquirer’s investment,” Adam K. Raymond wrote last week in New York magazine.

Raymond recounts the history of the cozy relationship between David Pecker, CEO of National Enquirer parent company American Media Inc., and Trump. The company last month admitted in a consent agreement that it made an illegal hush payment to a former Playboy model to quell her story of an affair with Trump.

Trump has lashed out at Bezos dozens of times on Twitter, blaming The Washington Post owner for negative press coverage. He also claimed Amazon doesn’t pay enough taxes, kills retail jobs and unfairly benefits from the U.S. Postal Service for package delivery.

Whether The National Enquirer intentionally targeted Bezos as an enemy of Trump is a non-issue, akin to blaming tech billionaire and Trump supporter Peter Thiel for Gawker Media’s bankruptcy. Thiel may have helped to bankroll wrestler Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker in a privacy suit, but that money didn’t change the merits of the case.

The story about Bezos was bound to come out eventually, especially with the competition among gossip reporters. He has had a much higher public profile since last year, when he became the world’s richest man, ahead of Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Bezos has been one of the world’s most recognizable business leaders for more than two decades. Time named him “Man of the Year” at the height of the dot-com bubble in 1999, only a few years after he started Amazon.

Trump, who has had plenty of experience with divorce settlements and big payouts to ex-wives and alleged mistresses, was asked to weigh in on the Bezos split.

“I wish him luck,” Trump said on Thursday as he left on a trip to the U.S. border with Mexico. “It’s going to be a beauty.”

The president followed up with a tweet on Sunday aimed at Bezos that said: "So sorry to hear the news about Jeff Bozo being taken down by a competitor whose reporting, I understand, is far more accurate than the reporting in his lobbyist newspaper, the Amazon Washington Post. Hopefully the paper will soon be placed in better & more responsible hands!"

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