With Bezos at the Helm, Democracy Dies at the Washington Post Editorial Board

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by Alan Macleod, MintPress News:

In the Soviet Union, everybody was aware that the media was controlled by the state. But in a corporate state like the U.S., a veneer of independence is still maintained, although trust in the media has been plummeting for years.

WASHINGTON — The Washington Post’s glaring conflicts of interest have of late once again been the subject of scrutiny online, thanks to a new article denouncing a supposed attempt to “soak” billionaires in taxes. Written by star columnist Megan McArdle — who previously argued that Walmart’s wages are too high, that there is nothing wrong with Google’s monopoly, and that the Grenfell Fire was a price worth paying for cheaper buildings — the article claimed that Americans have such class envy that the government would “destroy [billionaires’] fortunes so that the rest of us don’t have to look at them.” Notably, the Post chose to illustrate it with a picture of its owner, Jeff Bezos, making it seem as if it was directly defending his power and wealth, something they have been accused of on more than one occasion.

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There was considerable speculation online as to whether Bezos himself wrote the piece, so blatantly in his interest it was. Unfortunately, this sort of speculation has raged ever since the Amazon CEO bought the newspaper in 2013 for $250 million.

Undue influence

Being owned by the world’s richest individual does not mean that The Washington Post and its employees are rolling in dough themselves. Far from it: Bezos’ revolution at the newspaper, which has led to both increased pageviews and company value, has been largely based on simply squeezing workers harder than before. In an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review, management acknowledged that Post reporters are pushed to produce almost four times as many stories as their peers at The New York Times. Furthermore, the Post writes and rewrites the same story but from slightly different angles and with different headlines in order to generate more clicks, and thus more revenue. Thanks to new technology, reporters’ every keystroke is monitored and they are under constant pressure from management not to fall behind. The technique of constant surveillance is not unlike what hyper-exploited Amazon warehouse workers who wear GPS devices or Fitbit watches have to endure.

Bezos is currently worth a shade under $200 billion, with his wealth nearly doubling since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. With such a fortune to protect, the obvious solution is to acquire media outlets to control the narrative in the face of rising public disenchantment with rampaging inequality. Omar Ocampo, a researcher for the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, said that this is a common tactic among the super wealthy. “Billionaire ownership of major news outlets is but another tool the billionaire class deploys for the purpose of wealth defense. It gives them the power to set the terms of the agenda and influence public opinion in their favor,” Ocampo told MintPress.

But Bezos is far from the only senior figure with questionable connections. The company’s CEO, Frederick Ryan, was a senior member of the Reagan White House, rising to become the 40th president’s assistant and later the chairman of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation. He later became CEO of Politico. In the Post’s announcement of the hiring move, they themselves noted that among Ryan’s biggest achievements at their rival outlet was “helping the news organization win a lucrative advertising deal with Goldman Sachs and host presidential debates before the 2008 and 2012 Republican primaries.”

Another neoconservative in a key position is Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt. Under Hiatt’s tenure, anti-establishment columnists like Dan Froomkin were let go and warmongers like the late Charles Krauthammer, Paul Wolfowitz, and David Ignatius moved in. “After being so wrong on such a huge story as the invasion of Iraq, hawkish ideologue Fred Hiatt should have been terminated as editorial page editor,” Jeff Cohen, former Professor of Journalism at Ithaca College and founder of media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, told MintPress, adding:

In a decent media system, someone who has been so inaccurate on so many issues as Hiatt would not be in a powerful media position two decades later. Powerful voices in U.S. media often argue that society should be a ‘meritocracy’ — with advancement based on ability or achievement. Hiatt proves that the U.S. corporate media system is just the opposite — a ‘kakistocracy’ — where the unqualified and unprincipled rise to the top.”

Other highly questionable hires include Jerusalem correspondent Ruth Eglash, who spent seven years putting out content that was often indistinguishable from Israeli government propaganda. At the time of her hire, activists highlighted the conflicts of interest she had, given her husband’s job as a PR rep for the country. In November 2020, Eglash quit the Post to become chief of communications for the Israeli ambassador to the United States and United Nations. “My experiences as a journalist have afforded me a great instinct of how to better tell Israel’s unique story,” she said, adding “a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and showcasing Israel’s successes to the world has [sic] always been a passion of mine.”

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