The news that Jeff Bezos, who created Amazon.com, bought the Washington Post from its owner for $250 million is not surprising; the businessman has always been interested in and favored by media, with which he has long, deep connections, and the newspaper industry has been self-destructing for decades. Whatever their respective merits, and I think both Bezos and the Post are generally competent, I think their shared commodity is in some sense narcissism. The self-centeredness, as against an ability to think in principles, characterizes an enterprise that should be based on a core principle, such as dedication to reporting and disseminating objective truth, and it may prevent the new company from achieving much beyond more of the same in a different incarnation.
I took an instant dislike to Bezos when he was overexposed upon his company Amazon’s heavily promoted launch, because I don’t usually trust people who smile all the time and he did back then. It struck me as simpering. I came to appreciate the value proposition of his retailing business, which owns the company that purchased a journalistic enterprise in which I was part owner. I chose not to continue as an editor and journalist there, partly because I was not convinced of the Amazon-owned company’s understanding of, or commitment to, what it takes to create outstanding stories let alone to protect individual rights, which is essential to editorial production. But Amazon was a good match for the operation and things turned out pretty much as I figured. In my experience, Amazon.com is run like a lot of tech firms by amazing men and women of ability who think they know more than they in fact do; tech people can be pretentious, self-important and utterly disconnected from reality.
Which brings me to journalists, who are much worse in this regard, especially at vaunted newspapers such as the Washington Post, which, in my experience, is also run like a lot of newspapers by amazing men and women of ability who think they know more than they in fact do.
The Post was catapulted in stature by Woodward and Bernstein, two reporters who famously spent years and barrels of ink tracking down relatively trivial information about a scandal that ultimately brought down an American president, Nixon, and left in their wake an entire generation of New Left type journalists who cumulatively proceeded to waste everyone’s time over relatively trivial issues, reporting stories that didn’t matter, distorting the truth, lying, plagiarizing and stealing and becoming part of, rather than being a bold challenge to, the establishment they insisted they were fighting – and they have been entrenched preaching subjective dogma and ruining journalism ever since.
That’s neither Woodward’s and Bernstein’s nor the Post‘s fault, really, but their complicity in aiding the impression that what they did about Watergate was essentially good journalism, even honorable, crusading journalism, is undeniable; The Washington Post‘s reports on Watergate mark the beginning of the end of any last shred of objective mainstream journalism and all we have left is the sickening residue of Fox News and MSNBC and a bunch of snooty newspapers that run wire copy, snooty editorials and celebrity trash that barely move the reader past the first paragraph much less move the reader to think, challenge, question, debate and change the world.
So, Jeff Bezos has an opportunity to doubt the modern faith in subjectivism, change that mentality, fire those deadbeat journalists and empty suits who are often as overpaid, overstaffed and corrupt as the priests and politicians with whom they cavort. The Seattle businessman can transform journalism starting with the Washington Post, unless he chooses, as I suspect he will given his past, to become a passive, compliant spectator in the pews of the church of modern subjectivism, smiling endlessly and accomplishing nothing. Jeff Bezos has created something of real value in his Amazon, with its innovative Prime, Instant Video, Gold Box, Wish List and reasonably priced choices available in convenient distribution. He is a producer, an intelligent capitalist whose patience paid off with one of the most exciting retailers on earth. Ultimately, and I say this as a writer who’s been inside both Amazon and the Washington Post, whether he can save the newspaper, revive the free press and enlighten those who choose to think depends on whether Jeff Bezos is ready to do what newspapers stopped doing decades ago: seek to make money with reasonably priced products, delivered in a convenient distribution, that report the facts of reality and challenge the status quo—from A to Z.