How The Washington Post’s New Owner Aided the CIA, Blocked WikiLeaks & Decimated the Book Industry
Photo Credit: AFP
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
The following transcript originally appeared on Democracy Now! on August 7, 2013.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin today’s show with a roundtable discussion about the sale of one of the nation’s leading newspapers to one of the world’s richest men. On Monday, The Washington Post announced the paper had been purchased by Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. Bezos will pay $250 million for the paper and a number of other publications—less than 1 percent of his wealth, which is estimated at more than $28 billion. Bezos is a friend of Donald Graham, chief executive of The Washington Post Company, whose family has owned the newspaper for eight decades.
Bezos said management of The Washington Post newspaper will remain the same, but it’s unclear what changes might be coming. Last year, Bezos was quoted in an interview with the German newspaper Berliner Zeitung saying, quote, "There is one thing I’m certain about: There won’t be printed newspapers in 20 years. Maybe as luxury items in some hotels that want to offer them as an extravagant service. Printed papers won’t be normal in 20 years."
AMY GOODMAN: Critics of the sale have cited Bezos’s close ties to the U.S. government. In 2010, Amazon pulled the plug on hosting the WikiLeaks website under heavy political pressure. Earlier this year, Amazon inked a $600 million cloud-computing deal with the CIA.
For more, we’re joined by three guests. In Madison, Wisconsin, Bob McChesney is with us, co-founder of Free Press, author of several books on media and politics, including his Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning the Internet Against Democracy. You can read the first chapter at our website, democracynow.org. He also recently co-authored with John Nichols Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex Is Destroying America.
Joining us via Democracy Now! video stream, Jeff Cohen, director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, where he’s also a journalism professor. He is founder of the media watch group FAIR, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting.
And here in New York City, Dennis Johnson is with us, co-founder and co-publisher of the book publisher Melville House. He recently wrote an article called "The Obama Business Plan: Be Like Amazon."
We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Bob, McChesney, why don’t we begin with you in Madison, Wisconsin? Your response to the news that has rocked the industry, that Jeff Bezos is the new owner of The Washington Post?
ROBERT McCHESNEY: Well, I think what’s important is to have a structural understanding and context for this purchase, because the real story, the back story, is that the value of The Washington Post, like all other news media in this country, has plummeted in the last five or 10 years to maybe one-tenth, one-fiftieth of what it was in the late 1990s, and at this point they aren’t wise commercial investments. As the blip you had at the top of the show said, Amy, commercial journalism no longer is profitable. That’s why investors are jumping ship.
But they still have great political value, monopoly newspapers, especially The Washington Post, in the nation’s capital. It might not be a commercially viable undertaking, but it still has tremendous political power. And I think when we understand it that way, that’s the appeal of these remaining legacy monopoly newspapers, like the _Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, to wealthy people, is that it won’t make them money in the short term on that exact investment, but it gives them great political power to advance their political agenda, which, in the case of someone like Jeff Bezos, could give him a great deal of money down the road.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Jeff Cohen, could you respond to the sale of The Washington Post Company to Jeff Bezos and respond also to what Bob McChesney said about how the value of The Washington Post has been declining for several consecutive years, and talk about why Jeff Bezos might have made this purchase?