Wednesday, August 07, 2013

WaPo & Bezos

I've seen lots of articles on Jeff Bezos buying WaPo, but not one has linked this with the rise of the tech industry lobby in DC. Papers, particularly a brand as venerable as WaPo, are first and foremost channels to influence the public. Not only do they frame the debate itself, but they set the agenda.

The tech lobby's central roll in the recent immigration bill comes to mind. From (ironically) the New Yorker:
In the past fifteen years or so, Andreessen explained, Silicon Valley’s hands-off attitude has changed, as the industry has grown larger and its activities keep colliding with regulations. Technology leaders began to realize that Washington could sometimes be useful to them. “A small number of very high-end Valley people have got involved in politics, but in a way that a lot of us think is relentlessly self-interested,” Andreessen said. The issues that first animated these technology executives were stock options, subsidies, and tax breaks. “They started giving the Valley a bad name in Washington—that the Valley was just another special-interest group.”...
Zuckerberg and Green began talking to Silicon Valley leaders about starting a political-advocacy group: Andreessen; Horowitz; Reid Hoffman; Marissa Mayer, of Yahoo; Eric Schmidt, of Google; and at least three dozen others. The interest was strong, as if they had all been waiting for something like this. Though Andreessen and Horowitz didn’t join the project, Andreessen thought it represented “the maturation of the industry” and a greater level of engagement in politics—“deeper, longer-term, with, frankly, more money.”
Hoffman, who believes that immigration reform would right a wrong and also create new jobs at every level, from software engineers to dry cleaners, told Zuckerberg, “The normal Silicon Valley thing is to focus on high-end visas and say, ‘The rest of it’s not my problem.’ ”
“Yes,” Zuckerberg said. “But there’s this huge moral component. We might as well go after all of it.”
“O.K., good,” Hoffman said. “I’m in.”
Bezos is in too now. He just bought DC's newspaper.

Update:  Gabe Stein of Fast Company breezes past what seems to be the most obvious reason for the purchase before diving straight into his wish-fulfillment fantasies for what he's do with WaPo.
Jeff Bezos didn’t buy the Washington Post yesterday to “re-invest in the infrastructure of our public intelligence,” as James Fallows wrote in the Atlantic, and he didn’t buy it for a propaganda machine.
Really? Hasn't the major tech story of the past 5 years been Silicon Valley's huge move into propaganda? Isn't, both the Red and Blue flavor, basically about manufacturing consent? Aren't the massive rise in tech lobbying in DC a reflection of the extent to which politics and tech are deliberately integrating? Hasn't the Snowden leaks shown us the degree to which these two entities enable and support each other? Isn't Amazon neck deep in a number of legal issues, including clauses on interstate commerce and nexus, sales tax, alcohol sales, patents, etc.? Mightn't Jeff Bezos be looking for an elder statesmen role of some sort as he approaches 50? If you've spent the last 20 years being told you were a visionary genius, wouldn't you be?

Updated update: I finally find something that states the obvious. From Bezos' biographer:
LB: But strategically speaking, why else do you think Bezos wanted the Post?
BS: This is maybe going out on a little bit of a limb: but look, he’s buying a lot of political influence. And we can’t discard the fact that Amazon hasn’t been an enormous player, at least up until the dispute over sales taxes, and in buying The Washington Post, he has a seat at the table. And I think particularly legislators and anti-trust regulators are gonna be weighing the dominance of Amazon a lot in the years ahead.
I'll have more on this exchange in the future post, but when Brad Stone (BS) says "maybe [I'm] going out on a little bit of a limb" he was not saying "what I'm going to say next is highly speculative". He was worried about his professional reputation, and was concerned that what he was going to say next might put that at risk.

Bezos' named his company Amazon. Biggest river in the world. He is investing in his own space travel company on his personal ranch in Texas. Does anyone really think he bought WaPo because he's interested in a little vanity press?


Blogger Larry Staton Jr. said...

+1 for "Mightn't"

6:13 AM  
Blogger JKH said...

One impressive thing I've heard about this guy is that he likes to open up executive meetings by requiring everybody to shut and read a memorandum on the subject matter for discussion for a half hour period or so.

Very impressive. A frontal attack on attention deficit disorder, which is endemic to corporate executives.

A strategy that should be weaponized, put on drones, and exported everywhere.

Also, this from Blodget makes sense to me:

"First, I'd guess that Jeff Bezos thinks that owning the Washington Post will be fun, interesting, and cool. And my guess is that, if that is all it ever turns out to be, Jeff Bezos will be fine with that. This is a man who invests in rockets and atomic clocks, after all. He doesn't necessarily make these investments for the money. Or bragging rights. Or strategic synergies."

6:38 AM  
Blogger winterspeak said...


Both requiring the reading and the writing of the memo is pretty smart.

But I have to disagree with Blodget. Bezos invests in rockets and atomic clocks because they are cool and they are cool because they are about the technology of the future.

WaPo is about setting the agenda and framing the debate in Washington DC. Please note that this happens right now by other actors.

10:13 AM  

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