How Jeff Bezos views the press: an interview with reporter Brad Stone

Last week, the richest man in the world became a Medium author. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos wrote an extraordinary essay on the site on Thursday saying the National investigator was trying to extort him. The tabloid had previously published Bezos’ private text messages, revealing he had been having an affair; after Bezos ordered an investigation into how the Applicant had received his messages, his parent company, American Media, Inc., threatened to post private photos. Bezos refused to back down, writing: “Of course, I don’t want personal photos posted, but neither will I participate in their well-known practice of blackmail, political favors, political attacks and corruption. I’d rather get up, roll this log and see what comes out of it.

With its personal tone, Jeff Bezos’ Medium essay last week seemed like a sincere and unexpected gesture from a man known for his extreme privacy.Photograph by Kyle Johnson / NYT / Redux

Last fall, AMI signed a non-prosecution agreement with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, in which it admitted to buying and deleting the story of Karen McDougal, a model who said she had an affair with Donald Trump. , in support of Trump’s presidential campaign. Now, federal prosecutors are said to be reviewing Bezos’ claims; if Bezos is right, then AMI may have broken the law, violated his agreement, and acted again to defend Trump, who is decidedly not an admirer of Bezos or his newspaper, the Washington. To post. (In a statement, AMI said she “strongly believes that she acted legally in reporting Mr. Bezos’ story.”)

Bezos’ actions last week garnered praise online and in the press – a rare occurrence these days for the world’s richest CEOs. And his article, with its personal tone, seemed like a sincere and unexpected gesture from a man known for his extreme confidentiality. So now seemed like the right time to get a better understanding of who Bezos really is, which is why I spoke by phone with Brad Stone, author of “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon” and editor in executive chef. of global technology at Bloomberg News. (Bezos’ wife MacKenzie notoriously gave the book a One Star Amazon review.) During our conversation, which was edited and condensed for clarity, we discussed how Bezos handled the press, what he really thinks of President Trump, and why he doesn’t measure up against other tech titans.

How surprised were you with Bezos’ work and saw it as a continuation or break from the way he usually acts since he became rich, famous and extremely important?

I think everyone was surprised. It was a very unexpected and courageous response to an unusual situation. We’ve never seen anything from someone like this before. So in that sense it was surprising.

But, overall, it wasn’t surprising, and, more precisely, it was, and let me explain what I mean. I think in general Jeff has always tended to do things differently when it comes to public relations. The good example is HQ2, that whole process of selecting another office for Amazon: it turned it into a year of baking between cities. And, depending on your perspective, it has been extremely successful in advertising or backfiring Amazon because it made it a target. And then you go back and watch the battles against Walmart and other critics or perceived enemies, and it always tends to do things a little differently.

Specifically, it was unusual because he is a fiercely private person, and it is, I imagine, a territory that would be private and intimate for most people, so for him to approach it was very out of the question. character – and probably would be for anyone.

What are some of the ways he did the press or public relations differently?

When he unveiled the Fire Phone, giving members of the press a children’s book. It would take a decade to go back to some of the price wars with Walmart and some of the ways they communicated back then. He’s always trying to communicate a little differently and rethink the challenges of public relations, and it’s obviously no different.

You describe one of its principles as always thinking long term. How does that fit into that?

I think as the owner of Washington To post, he really became an advocate for the importance of good journalism, and that’s what he fought for here, recognizing that allegedly American Media, Inc. has a way of doing business. and threaten the potential subjects of the story. It is in everyone’s interest and in the short term to give in, but it is in the collective interest and in the long term interest to end it. I think he said in his letter that if anybody can resist that, they can. And that’s why I found – and I think a lot of other people have found – the booth so impressive.

Were you surprised he bought the Washington To post when he did, and how do you think he sees his role in his portfolio?

I remember this afternoon. I was shocked. He had never done anything like it. He had always been quite focused on his interests. His main extracurricular interest was [the space-flight company] Blue origin. Aside from an investment in Business Insider – which had been primarily a financial investment, and an investment in Henry Blodget, whom he knew – he had never shown much interest in journalism, and had been someone who was moving away from it or didn’t seem to care much about Amazon’s coverage or himself. And so it was shocking. We now know that this happened thanks to the strength of his personal relationship with Don Graham.

And how important is that to him?

One of the things he says in his Medium post is that it’s one of the things he’ll be most proud of. And it is surprising. He has spoken quite publicly over the years of Amazon, and most recently Blue Origin, and he has never really spoken of Washington. To post publicly. But, in his possession of Washington To post, he went through some interesting and important situations. There was the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. And, I forget his name, but the Washington To post journalist held hostage.

Jason Rezaian.

Yes, which he personally went to find in Germany. And then, of course, all the negative reactions from the Trump administration. If we take his word for it, he sees the To post as playing a fairly important public role.

You just said, “He had never shown much interest in journalism, and had been someone who walked away or didn’t seem to care much about Amazon coverage or himself. Did you mean he didn’t like the cover of himself, or that he didn’t care anyway?

I would say he was strategic about it. The press was a tool Amazon could use to educate people about its brand. Amazon was media-conscious for the first five or six years. And then, probably from 2000 to 2007 when the first Kindle was introduced, they did very little, very little. Then when they had devices to market – the Kindle and the tablet, then the phones, then the Echo – they did more. But he’s someone who has personally been very private and has been careful with his time, in terms of conversing with the press, and always engaging in interactions with the press in a very strategic way, with a message to convey. , and was very disciplined about what he said. . Until he bought the To post, you wouldn’t have considered him a big fan, even, of the press. But it is clear that through its ownership of To post, it has changed.

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About Cody E. Vaughn

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