A petition calling on The Washington Post to be candid with its readers about owner Jeff Bezos‘ $600 million tie to the CIA has finally elicited reaction from the newspaper. Amazon recently landed the CIA contract. Bezos owns Amazon.
Interesting bedfellows, indeed.
According to the Institute for Public Accuracy, which released a report on the matter today, more than 30,000 people have signed the petition for WaPo to get honest with its readership. WaPo insists it already has. The petition was launched by RootsAction.org.
The organization has released email exchanges between Executive Editor Marty Baron and RootsAction founder Norman Solomon, who is also founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. Baron turned down Solomon’s request for a 10-minute meeting in mid January, saying he didn’t think it would be useful considering Solomon didn’t seek him out before gathering signatures for his petition. He also insisted that the type of disclosure recommended by the petition goes beyond what he thinks is necessary.
The petition reads as follows:
“A basic principle of journalism is to acknowledge when the owner of a media outlet has a major financial relationship with the subject of coverage. We strongly urge the Washington Post to be fully candid with its readers about the fact that the newspaper’s new owner, Jeff Bezos, is the founder and CEO of Amazon which recently landed a $600 million contract with the CIA. The Washington Post’s coverage of the CIA should include full disclosure that the sole owner of the Post is also the main owner of Amazon — and Amazon is now gaining huge profits directly from the CIA.”
Baron replied to Solomon in an extensive email exchange between the two men. He fiercely defended WaPo‘s editorial practices, saying, “The Post has among the strictest ethics policies in the field of journalism, and we vigorously enforce it. We have routinely disclosed corporate conflicts when they were directly relevant to our coverage. We reported on Amazon’s pursuit of CIA contracts in our coverage of plans by Jeff Bezos to purchase The Washington Post. We also have been very aggressive in our coverage of the intelligence community, including the CIA, NSA, and other agencies, as you should know. The Post was at the leading edge of disclosures about the NSA in 2013. Most recently, it reported on the CIA’s hidden involvement in Colombia’s fight against FARC rebels, including a fatal missile attack across the border in Ecuador. You can be sure neither the NSA nor the CIA has been pleased with publication of their secrets. Neither Amazon nor Jeff Bezos was involved, nor ever will be involved, in our coverage of the intelligence community.
“Even so, we have been careful to disclose Jeff Bezos’ connection to The Post and Amazon when directly relevant to our coverage, and we will continue to do so. For example, such disclosures would be called for in coverage circumstances such as the following: CIA contracting practices, the CIA’s use of cloud services, big-data initiatives at the CIA, Amazon’s pursuit of cloud services as a line of business, and Amazon corporate matters in general.
“We take ethics very seriously here at The Post. One of our policies is that we seek comment from the subjects of our stories prior to publishing them and that we make a genuine effort to hear and absorb their point of view. By contrast, I am unaware of any effort to hear us out prior to the launch of this petition drive. A personal meeting now does not seem necessary or useful.”
Solomon wasn’t terribly enthused by Baron’s response.
“Whatever the Post’s guidelines and record on ethical standards, few journalists could have anticipated ownership of the paper by a multibillionaire whose outside company would be so closely tied to the CIA. Updating of the standards is now appropriate,” he wrote. “…Readers of a Post story on the CIA — whether about drones or a still-secret torture report, to name just two topics — should be informed of the Post/Bezos/Amazon/CIA financial ties. In the absence of such in-story disclosure, there is every reason to believe that many readers will be unaware that the Post’s owner is someone with a major financial stake in an Amazon-CIA deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars.”
What Solomon wants is a single sentence.”Why not provide a sentence in the Post’s substantive coverage of CIA activities, to the effect that ‘The Post’s owner Jeff Bezos is the largest stakeholder in Amazon, which has a $600 million contract with the CIA’?” he asked Baron.
Baron’s defense? The CIA is allegedly “not happy.” He replied, “As plain evidence of our independence, we will continue our aggressive coverage of the intelligence community, including the CIA. I hope you’ve noticed it. The CIA has, and it’s not happy.”
Read the full exchange.