Jeff Bezos + WashPost = bad news

August 6, 2013
Bezos and the Washington Post: A Skeptical View
Posted by John Cassidy

The first and only time I’ve seen Jeff Bezos up close was in 2004, at the White House Correspondents’ dinner. If I remember correctly, and I think I do, he was being led into the Vanity Fair-Bloomberg after-party by Roxanne Roberts, a longtime writer for the Washington Post’s Style section. A skinny, balding, fidgety fellow, he seemed a bit out of place in a black tie and a tux, smiling awkwardly as he shook hands and chatted with the capital’s power brokers and visiting celebrities.

Now, as the new owner of the Post, as well as the chief executive of Amazon, Bezos is Roberts’s boss and a formidable power broker in his own right. Many journalists currently or formerly associated with the Post are saying nice things about him. Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday, Bob Woodward said, “This isn’t Rupert Murdoch buying the Wall Street Journal, this is somebody who believes in the values that the Post has been prominent in practicing, and so I don’t see any downside.” In a statement, Carl Bernstein, Woodward’s former partner, described Bezos as “exactly the kind of inventive and innovative choice needed to bring about a recommitment to great journalism on the scale many of us have been hoping for.” Fred Hiatt, the paper’s editorial-page editor, said, “We’ve all been looking for a way to marry quality journalism with commercial success in the digital era, and it’s hard to think of anyone better positioned to figure that out than Jeff Bezos.” Ezra Klein, a columnist and the editor of Wonkblog, wrote, “For now, I’m hopeful.”

It’s all very well to be optimistic and hopeful that Bezos’s purchase of the Post is an essentially philanthropic project, or even a vanity one, and that, after years of cuts at the paper, he will invest the resources needed to restore it to its erstwhile glory. Along with James Fallows, who wrote about the purchase yesterday at the Atlantic, I would like to think that this marks “the beginning of a phase in which this Gilded Age’s major beneficiaries re-invest in the infrastructure of our public intelligence.” But am I convinced that that’s what’s happening? I am not.

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