Overnight, Jeff Bezos has turned from Internet impresario to potential savior of one of journalism's most salient brands. And now that shock over Bezos's $250 million purchase of The Washington Post has subsided, there seems to be hesitation in embracing the struggling paper's white knight.
From his politics to his business associations, people are worried what the genius behind Amazon will bring to 1150 15th Street. Given the paper's inevitable trajectory, could things really get any worse? Well, the groaning initial response from Washington Post staffers speaks for itself. People outside of the Washington Post bubble, of course, are a bit more vocal about the new boss—here are their biggest Bezos fears:
His Personal Politics
Some of the first reactions to Bezos's buy examined his political leanings — which are generally liberal. As The Atlantic's David Graham summed up, Bezos is a backer of gay marriage, in line with The Post's editorial board when it comes to an Internet sales tax, and has backed plenty of Democratic candidates. That worries the right, which thinks The Post will became a more muscular mouthpiece for Democrats. The New York Post's James Covert, for example, hints that The Washington Post could be "a platform for Bezos' crusades." Seemingly ignoring that the New York Post itself has long been considered Rupert Murdoch's multimillion dollar soap box, Covert explains his qualms:
Bezos insisted he won’t meddle with the paper’s content, and has been relatively quiet on mainstream political issues. But his aggressive financial backing of gay-marriage lobbyists in Washington state last year showed he can throw his weight around.
Breitbart's Ben Shapiro's right-leaning conspiratorial take is more extreme, connecting Bezos to President Obama. Shapiro, who's a bit more sympathetic to the Koch Brothers' search for a paper, entertains the notion that this a liberal conspiracy:
But it’s more than possible that the Obama administration had some advance notice about the sale, and that Obama appeared at the Amazon warehouse as a sign of good faith to Bezos prior to the move. Bezos has not been averse to holding hands with President Obama, either; back in October 2009, Bezos had lunch with Obama, at precisely the time Amazon was pitching cloud-computing services to the feds.
To be fair, these questions from the right do highlight a legitimate point: Though Bezos says he will not get his hands dirty with ink, are conservative voices like Jennifer Rubin and Charles Krauthammer in trouble? At the very least, they might feel more unwelcome under the new ownership and temper their views accordingly.
His Business Practice
Tech companies are grounded in efficiencies. Faster, better, cheaper is the mantra of that world, and perhaps there's no better company than Amazon at putting those tenets into motion. And that's scary for journalists, who know that journalism can be wildly inefficient, expensive, and slow-cooked, even at its best. Watergate, after all, was not born in a day.
It's hard to separate Bezos the man from Bezos the Amazon entrepreneur. Amazon factories, for example, are widely known as brutal places to work. "Instead of paying for air-conditioning at some Pennsylvania warehouses, Amazon had just stationed paramedics outside to take the inevitably heat-stressed workers to the hospital," explains Alec MacGillis at The New Republic.
And there are no sacred cows in Bezos's world — "disruptor" is a label he obviously embraces. MacGillis explains that Amazon's success comes from ravaging industries with speed and efficiency:
The company that made him one of the richest men in the world has had a less than benign impact on our nation. It has devastated the publishing industry, from the big presses to the small booksellers. It has exacerbated the growth of the low-wage economy, to the point where the president feels the need to celebrate an increase in warehouse jobs that will pay barely more than minimum wage.
The worry is how that love of efficiency and disregard for legacy will influence one of the most storied brands in American journalism.
His Professional Connections
Bezos is Amazon, and Amazon is Bezos — which is part of the reason some are encouraged by his purchase of The Post. "[W]e wanted to do more than survive. I’m not saying this guarantees success but it gives us a much greater chance of success," Washington Post CEO Donald Graham said on Monday, referring to the motivations that drove him to sell specifically to Bezos.
But there are concerns that there will be a conflict of interest when the paper covers, say, new Amazon products or Amazon's legal battles. Does Bezos's ownership of a national newspaper mean a difference in how, for example, the battle between Amazon and Apple over e-book prices will be covered?
And Amazon isn't just sending you packages or e-books. It also makes deals that need to be reported with stern objectivity. Gawker's Hamilton Nolan points out that one of those deals is with the CIA. Nolan writes:
Amazon recently landed a $600 million contract to build an entire cloud computing system for the CIA. The company is reportedly staffing up on engineers with top secret clearance. Does Jeff Bezos have top secret clearance? That would be something that the Washington Post might want to think about, considering how much reporting their journalists have done on the topic. A huge CIA contractor is now Dana Priest's boss. Think about that.
All these are valid concerns as The Washington Post enters a new era, at once on more solid ground and on unknown terrain.