Amazon.com founder and Washington Post owner Jeffrey P. Bezos fired back at presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, saying on Wednesday that Trump’s criticism of Bezos’s ownership of the newspaper and the threats issued against Amazon are “not an appropriate way for a presidential candidate to behave.”
In an appearance at a Post-sponsored technology conference called Transformers at the paper’s headquarters, Bezos also said that “a company like Amazon deserves to be scrutinized and criticized. I have no worries about that.”
But he offered a vigorous defense of freedom of the press: “It’s critical that we be able to carefully examine our leaders.”
The comments came during a question-and-answer session moderated by The Post’s executive editor, Martin Baron. Bezos was responding to criticism leveled against him and The Post by Trump last week.
In an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Thursday, Trump accused Bezos of using The Post to protect himself from higher taxes. He presented no evidence for his assertion.
“Every hour, we’re getting calls from reporters from The Washington Post asking ridiculous questions, and I will tell you, this is owned as a toy by Jeff Bezos, who controls Amazon,” Trump said.
Amazon is “getting away with murder, tax-wise,” he said. “He’s using The Washington Post for power so that the politicians in Washington don’t tax Amazon like they should be taxed.”
Trump alleged that Bezos, who purchased The Post in 2013 for $250 million, has an “antitrust” problem because Amazon is so dominant in online retailing.
“Amazon is controlling so much of what they’re doing,” he said. “And what they’ve done is he bought this paper for practically nothing, and he’s using that as a tool for political power against me and against other people, and I’ll tell you what, we can’t let him get away with it.”
Trump’s claims were met with puzzlement both inside and out of The Post’s newsroom. Several Post news stories have noted Amazon’s tax issues while disclosing Bezos’s ownership of the paper. The paper’s editorial board, which is separate from its newsroom, has editorialized in favor of taxing online retailers such as Amazon the same as bricks-and-mortar stores. The paper’s position hasn’t changed since Bezos bought the paper, said Fred Hiatt, the editorial-page editor.
Baron said last week that Bezos plays no role in directing The Post’s reporting.
“As the individual who oversees The Washington Post’s news staff, I can say categorically that I have received no instructions from Jeff Bezos regarding our coverage of the presidential campaign — or, for that matter, any other subject,” Baron said. “The Post has a long tradition of publishing thorough examinations of the major-party nominees for president. The decision to write a book on Donald Trump came entirely from the newsroom.”
During the interview with Baron, Bezos observed, “The citizens of this country make decisions and they need information to make those decisions. . . . We want a society where any of us, any individual or institution, if they choose to, can scrutinize, examine and criticize an elected official, especially a candidate for the highest office in the most powerful country on Earth. It’s critical. What would be shocking and disturbing is if you weren’t doing that. . . .
“The Post has a long tradition of examining presidential candidates, as it should, and there’s no way that’s going to change.”
He declined to address each of Trump’s allegations specifically, but observed, “Some people would say this is very tactical, to immunize against the media. . . . But I’m very, very comfortable with all of Amazon's approaches and behaviors, [such as] the way we pay taxes. The political positions we take are focused on our business, and I think highly appropriate.”
Trump’s latest criticism of Bezos was sparked by comments made by Post reporter Bob Woodward last week during a speech to a business group. Woodward said, accurately, that the paper had assigned some 20 reporters to produce a biography of Trump. He added that Bezos has urged the newspaper to produce multiple stories on the presidential candidates as part of its duty to inform voters about the next president.
“He said, ‘Look, the job at The Washington Post has to be tell us everything about who the eventual nominee will be in both parties — 15-part, 16-part series, 20-part series, we want to look at every part of their lives, and we’re never going get the whole story, of course, but we can get the best attainable,” Woodward told the group.