Does Bezos Dictate the Washington Post’s Editorial Content? No. But He Does Influence It.

I make no secret of my disgust for the Washington Post in this blog (it is my home area newspaper), mostly because it is raw leftist conspiracy-porn written by twenty and thirty-somethings with minimal understanding of the subject matter they are writing about. That doesn’t make the Korean Unification Church/Moon family-owned Washington Times any better, mostly because it is raw rightist conspiracy-porn written by forty and fifty-somethings with a shaded understanding of the subject matter they are writing about. I give credit to the Times for its better writing (not better content), a welcome respite from Post writers breathlessly and repetitively recycling tropes about the “shattering of any illusion of stability”, the wealthy “wolfing down hors d’oeuvres”, countries “plunging into war”, and politicos “battling for their jobs”. But the Times often takes a stronger stomach to read than the Post. Thus we subscribe to the Post (Sundays only), although I must admit this may be more for the coupon inserts than for the entertainment and informational value of the newspaper.

So I sift through the Sunday Post as a critic might, thumbing past articles methodically chronicling the buffoonery of our current president, articles endlessly navel-gazing on matters of social strife, articles documenting the stupidity of national and local politicians, and articles implying the county is not doing enough to relieve the suffering of people the world over (or promoting their suffering)–looking for the rare snippets of real reporting like a prospector panning mud in rushing water for speckles of gold. For many weekends the task is brief and my disappointment profound at the lack of discovery. But occasionally my brain jumps up with a shout, excitedly waving the gold fleck that flashes in the sun, promising intellectual riches in the future if one just remains persistent.

Geoffrey Fowler’s article on Facebook proved to be such a flash-in-the-pan moment. His article on Zuckerberg’s commercial personal information clearinghouse that mines your data in exchange for a free social media platform posited the question everyone should be asking–should Facebook pay us for our data, or should we pay Facebook for their social media platform, instead of giving the company permission to spy on us for free? Fowler reveals the revenue per person in North America that Facebook earns in a year (no attribution), as well as the global figure. Both are interesting in comparison to the annual subscription costs of other services (Fowler mentions Amazon Prime and Netflix).

Unfortunately my delight deflated like a balloon when I realized that the author’s conclusion is that paying for Facebook may result in a better user experience, not that there is something inherently anti-social in scraping peoples information for purposes not necessarily in alignment with their intentions or even their interests. And it is in this conclusion that one realizes the article’s subtle promotion of Amazon’s business model of subscription-based services like Prime or Audible and its playing down of advertising-linked data mining–a growing portion of Amazon’s business, but still irrelevant in terms of revenue.

Fowler’s article comes right at the heels of a recent Page 2 denial by the Post of any influence by Amazon or Jeff Bezos on the content of the newspaper, in contrast with the often Tweeted opinions of such a connection by President Trump. Such denials strike me as either more than a little ignorant, or worse, shrilly sanctimonious and disingenuous. It is like saying the William Randolph Hearst didn’t have any influence over his newspapers, Rupert Murdoch doesn’t have any influence over his media outlets, or the Sulzberger family has no influence over the New York Times; they do and did. And on one Sunday this year, in a business section in which two of the four articles are published to defend Amazon’s interests (the other was Steven Perlstein’s shilling for Amazon’s deal with the U.S. Postal Service that has been attacked as a money loser by Trump), it perhaps might be better for the Post and Bezos to just own reality rather than denying it.

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