News Release

Debate on Disclosure as Petition Spotlights $600 Million Ties Binding Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, the Washington Post and the CIA

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.”

The following are available for interviews:

JOHN HANRAHAN, johnhanrahan5@gmail.com
Hanrahan is a former executive director of The Fund for Investigative Journalism and reporter for the Washington Post, the Washington Star, UPI and other news organizations. A former legal investigator and currently a writer based in Washington, D.C., Hanrahan is also the author of several books including Government by Contract. He recently wrote on press criticism, civil liberties and dissent for the now-defunct NiemanWatchdog.org website.

He said today: “It’s disappointing that the Post doesn’t see this Bezos situation as being far different and more serious than other conflict-of-interest issues that might arise at the newspaper. Regardless of the merits of the Post’s current conflict of interest disclosure standards, there is no question that these standards are outdated and could not have contemplated the issues that arise from the Post-Bezos-Amazon-CIA connection. Post executive editor Martin Baron stated that the petition signers are asking for something that ‘is far outside the norm of disclosures about potential conflicts of interest at media organizations.’ The Post should recognize that that norm is wholly inadequate, and should change it so that Post readers receive the transparency they deserve concerning Post owner Bezos’s financial interest in Amazon’s CIA contract.”

MELVIN GOODMAN, goody789@verizon.net
Goodman is director of the National Security Project at the Center for International Policy. He was an analyst at the CIA for 24 years. His most recent book is National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism. He said today: “The Washington Post editorial writers, particularly David Ignatius, have been apologists for the CIA for far too long. This was a tradition started by Katharine Graham and Meg Greenfield several decades ago, and has continued until today.”

NORMAN SOLOMON, [now in NYC] solomonprogressive at gmail.com
Solomon is the author of several books on U.S. news media. The full text of his recent correspondence with Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron is posted here. As co-founder of RootsAction.org, Solomon will deliver the petition — with more than 30,000 signers — to the Washington Post headquarters on January 15.

The petition says: “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. We strongly urge the Washington 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. The Washington 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.

Solomon is founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death and The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media. He will be in New York City through January 10 and in Washington from January 12 through 16.