- Todd Williamson/Getty Images for Amazon Studios
- Jeff Bezos has been considered The Washington Post’s savior since he bought it in 2013.
- But recent scandal around his personal life has shaken some Post employees’ image of him.
- Post employees expressed mixed feelings, with some saying the scandal humanized him and others being less forgiving.
Jeff Bezos has been credited with rejuvenating The Washington Post since he bought the paper a little more than five years ago. Amid great angst about the future of traditional news media, he’s been heralded as the ideal steward, using his billions to save the paper while leaving the editorial side alone. The top editor Marty Baron said that under Bezos the paper had enjoyed “complete independence” on the editorial side, hired 150 news staffers, and added “a lot” of engineers.
But in January, the tycoon became embroiled in scandal when sexy photos and texts he sent to his mistress were leaked to the National Enquirer.
He also got a black eye earlier this month when Amazon scrapped controversial plans for a big expansion in New York City.
Read more: Amazon decided to shut down HQ2 in New York, but advertisers see no sign of the e-commerce giant slowing down its attack on Madison Avenue Against that backdrop, we decided to ask some Post employees across the paper if the recent headlines had changed their view of Bezos. It wasn’t scientific, and we granted anonymity to let people speak freely about their employer and its owner.
The Post declined to comment, and Amazon didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Here’s what seven Post employees said:
Bezos may not be as smart as he appeared to be
Some said they credited Bezos with saving the paper and worried what Bezos’ divorce news would mean for The Post’s fate. Some also were challenged to reconcile the tabloid revelations with their image of Bezos as a genius and a family man who whipped up pancakes for Post executives in his kitchen after the paper’s sale.
“It’s mixed. He’s still the savior here. But it’s awkward,” one person in editorial said. “There’s a sense that he was the smartest guy in the room, and wow, he goes out and does a really dumb thing.”
Bezos is an obscure figure for many Post employees. He’s limited his contact to its business side and rarely addressed the entire staff. He’s also been portrayed as a ruthless boss at Amazon. To some, his newly exposed fallibility softened his image.
“He’s flawed – it humanizes him a little,” one said.
Bezos has stayed out of editorial decisions, but one question that always hangs over his ownership is how The Post can cover the world’s richest man who also happens to be its owner. So the recent scandal had a silver lining of letting The Post show the world it can cover its owner as aggressively as any news outlet, one journalist there said.
After Bezos published a Medium post accusing the CEO of the Enquirer’s parent company of blackmail, one called the move “gutsy” and approved of his publishing the attack on Medium and not The Post, sparing the paper an awkward situation.
Others unhappy with Bezos spotlight
Others took a harsher view. Bezos had already lost some popularity with Post employees who have demanded better pay and benefits. Shortly after he took over, the paper made big cuts in retirement benefits.
One journalist also looked poorly on the owner of a high-profile media institution becoming the story. (In his Medium post, Bezos hinted at political motivations behind the leak to the Enquirer.)
“People lost thousands of dollars,” this person grumbled of the cuts to retirement benefits. “And to see him drag the paper into a political dispute, it’s disturbing. The president wants to attack him – he should be quiet.”
One factor that might make it easier for people to criticize Bezos is that The Post is on firmer footing than it’s been in a long time. It’s passed 1 million subscriptions and is growing its technology-licensing arm. It just won a prestigious Polk award and is said to be profitable.
“Things still feel pretty positive,” one employee said. “It doesn’t feel like we have to go to the magic Bezos well.”