The executive editor of the Washington Post has responded to a petition urging the 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.”
More than 30,000 people have signed the petition, launched by the activist group RootsAction.org and scheduled for delivery to the Post’s headquarters in Washington on January 15. The petition notes that “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.”
Today, RootsAction released the full text of email correspondence between the group’s co-founder Norman Solomon and the Washington Post’s executive editor, Martin Baron. To read the complete exchange, click here.
Routinely, the Post’s coverage of the CIA does not include disclosure that the newspaper’s owner, Bezos, is Amazon’s CEO and largest stakeholder while the firm has a $600 million CIA contract. Two months ago, Amazon released a statement saying: “We look forward to a successful relationship with the CIA.”
The petition contends that the 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.”
Bezos, whose personal wealth is now estimated at $25 billion, purchased the Washington Post five months ago and is now its only owner. Also last year, Amazon won the $600 million contract with the CIA to provide “cloud” computing services. (For background, click here.)
Baron, the Washington Post’s top editor, declined a request for a brief meeting to receive the RootsAction petition. He wrote to Solomon that such a meeting “does not seem necessary or useful.” Baron defended the Post’s disclosure policies, saying: “We have routinely disclosed corporate conflicts when they were directly relevant to our coverage.” In a follow-up email on January 4, he wrote that the disclosure policy urged by the petition “is far outside the norm of disclosures about potential conflicts of interest at media organizations.”
In an email to Baron on the same day, Solomon challenged the Post’s current disclosure policies, contending that “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.”
Solomon added: “Amazon’s contract with the CIA is based on an assessment that Amazon Web Services can provide the agency with digital-data computing security that is second to none. We can assume that a vast amount of information about CIA activities is to be safeguarded by Amazon. With what assurance can we say which stories on CIA activities are not ‘directly relevant’ to Jeff Bezos’s dual role as sole owner of the Post and largest stakeholder in Amazon?
“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.”