Since moving into the White House, President Donald Trump has adopted a special nickname for his new local newspaper: the “Amazon Washington Post,“ a barb accusing the paper’s owner, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, of using it to advance his company’s interests.
Bezos, who personally bought the Post for $250 million—with his own money, not Amazon’s—in 2013, however, has played a surprisingly backseat role for a newspaper owner. While Bezos and the newspaper’s editors have previously denied that the Amazon CEO controls the Post’s news coverage or feeds it article ideas, he doesn’t even give the journalists feedback on their work—even when it has been critical of Amazon (AMZN).
“As for the coverage, he doesn’t get involved in it at all—not what stories to do or what not to do; he doesn’t comment on any stories, including about Amazon, he just doesn’t,” Marty Baron, executive editor of the Washington Post, said Thursday at an annual dinner for Columbia University’s Knight-Bagehot journalism fellowship.
“We’ve had negative stories,” added Baron, referencing the paper’s coverage of the controversial “Amazon Key,” a plan announced this week to allow the e-commerce giant to unlock its customers’ front doors, which a Post column called “Silicon Valley at its most out-of-touch.”
Nor did Bezos react when the paper ran a lengthy article this summer suggesting that Amazon could become a dangerous monopoly. “I haven’t heard one word from him about any of that, not one word,” Baron said at the dinner.
Amazon, for its part, is doing just fine, news coverage notwithstanding: Amazon stock surged as much as 13% Friday after the tech company’s earnings report blew past Wall Street’s expectations, raising Bezos’s net worth with it.
But Baron’s account contradicts assertions by President Trump, who has repeatedly accused Bezos and the paper of doing Amazon’s bidding—in addition to criticizing its political reporting—despite the fact that Amazon itself does not own any stake in the Post.
The newspaper wouldn’t shy away from investigating Amazon either, added Baron, who was immortalized in the Oscar-winning movie Spotlight, which dramatized the investigative reporting project he oversaw at the Boston Globe, exposing a molestation scandal at the Catholic Church. Still, the Washington Post so far hasn’t found anything at Amazon meriting such an investigation, he said.
While Baron declined to reveal how much money Bezos has invested in the Post since buying it, he did credit the Amazon founder’s “intellectual capital” and ideas for improving the newspaper’s business—such as targeting a larger, national audience, and bolstering its technology and digital subscriptions, including through hiring sprees of both reporters and engineers.
The Washington Post is on track for its second profitable year in a row in 2017 after “many years” of losing money, thanks in large part to new online-only subscribers, which surpassed one million in the past few months, Baron said. He quoted Bezos’s credo that now guides the paper’s mission: “Be riveting, be right, and make people pay.”