The Columbia Journalism Review published a scathing piece Tuesday accusing the Washington Post of having a clear “conflict of interest” because it’s owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos.
Dan Froomkin feels recent moves “have called renewed attention to how Bezos’s ownership constitutes a massive and almost entirely unaddressed conflict of interest for the Post,” with tweets critical of President Biden at the top of the list.
Froomkin penned a detailed piece headlined, “The Washington Post has a Bezos problem,” which examines the way the paper’s billionaire owner can influence its journalism.
“For a news organization, being owned by an oligarch can be complicated,” Froomkin wrote.
Bezos, the Amazon founder who is among the richest people to ever live, bought the Post in 2013 when the paper was in a “downward spiral” and “flirting with irrelevance,” according to Froomkin.
“Bezos’s money changed everything, bulking up the newsroom, revolutionizing its technology, and firmly reestablishing it as a dominant voice in the national media,” Froomkin wrote. “But the conflicts of interest are self-evident. Pretty much every public-policy issue the Post covers affects Bezos’s sprawling personal and business interests in material ways. The very existence of people as rich as Bezos clashes with the notion of economic fairness.”
“In May, Bezos started posting highly provocative anti-Biden tweets, mocking the president’s moves to expose corporate greed and increase taxes on the wealthy. In July, he accused Biden of ‘straight ahead misdirection or a deep misunderstanding of basic market dynamics,’” Froomkin wrote before adding that Amazon has a massive lobbying budget and has been “ruthlessly effective at fending off privacy protections, antitrust issues, internet regulation, tougher labor laws, and greater worker protection.”
Froomkin wrote that nearly a decade after Bezos purchased the Post, he finally has a leadership team in place filled with people he chose. And while many newspapers are owned by the ultra-wealthy, Froomkin believes Bezos is different.
“The world has never seen wealth like this before, and it has never been so interconnected,” Froomkin wrote.
Froomkin declared that “nobody” at the Post would answer his questions about how much influence Bezos actually has on the paper.
“The Washington Post operates independently and discloses its ownership within articles when applicable. Our aggressive coverage of labor and business speaks for itself,” a Post spokesperson told Froomkin.
The Post declined a request for additional comment.
Several Post staffers told Froomkin that Bezos doesn’t interfere with editorial decisions, but one admitted a reluctance to “take him on.”
Froomkin then dove into the “Twitter war” Bezos had with President Biden which he feels made “long-neglected concerns about his influence on the newsroom became considerably less abstract.”
“Most notably—given Bezos’s views about Biden and inflation—Post news coverage of Biden’s domestic policy has consistently been more negative than its competitors,” Froomkin wrote.
Froomkin feels the Post is harder on Biden than other mainstream news organizations, but insisted nobody is suggesting “Bezos is specifically or directly telling Post reporters and editors what to write or how to write it” and he’s largely uninterested in newsroom operations.
“But he doesn’t have to say anything to make things happen,” Froomkin wrote, quoting a professor who said that’s not how power is typically exerted and others who believe Bezos’ tweets subtly inform Post reporters about the boss’ position on critical issues.
“That’s why the tweets are so troubling. They make it clear what Bezos wants to hear. Journalists are not immune to such pressures,” Froomkin wrote. “The Post needs to explain to its readers how it intends to address the conflict inherent in the fact that it’s owned by the world’s richest man.”