Softballs for Amazon’s PR rep, superficial questions, and a former WH press secretary: this segment has it all.
The New York Times published a somewhat scathing survey of Amazon’s corporate culture Sunday that quickly went viral, becoming the Times’ most shared story over the past 36 hours. The piece, written by Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld, dug deep into Amazon’s hyper-competitive culture and highlighted its more abusive and dehumanizing extremes. Some of the worst offenses are a lack of paternity leave, people sobbing at their desk, a “snitch” app that lets employees anonymously tattle on their colleagues, and a culture one former HR director called “purposeful Darwinism.”
But worry not, CBS News is here to the rescue. After reading a press release by Amazon, the three CBS This Morning hosts invited New York Times journalist Jodi Kantor on the show to defend her article. Kantor went out of her way to show that the piece also gave the company praise, that many people she interviewed seemed to genuinely enjoy the cut-throat environment, and that her primary critique was the decidedly lukewarm idea that Amazon was fundamentally great, but had simply “gone a bit too far.”
Never mind, our CBS hosts wanted to get to the bottom of it.
“This is a tough article on Amazon,” Charlie Rose insisted. “In part, how did it come about?”
After giving a detailed backstory about what motivated her to write the piece, Rose’s co-host Gayle King asked again, unsatisfied.
“So, how did this story come about?” she prodded. Clearly, there had to be some other force at work here. The interview went on for another three minutes before the hosts handed the floor to Amazon PR flack and former White House press secretary Jay Carney. The questions for him were far less skeptical; at one point they let him talk uninterrupted for a whole minute and a half.
So, here we had a thoroughly objective journalist from the New York Times both praising and critiquing Amazon and a paid PR shill who was 100% praising Amazon, leaving us not with two sides of the story but a quarter of one critical side, and three quarters Amazon-friendly defense. Corporate media, once again, in its mindless pursuit of objectivity lets sophisticated PR dictate the conversation rather than getting to the core of Amazon’s Darwinian culture.
CBS has a long history of having a friendly relationship with Amazon. A 2013 “60 Minutes” profile of the company was widely panned for effectively being an Amazon infomercial. As the late New York Times media critic David Carr noted at the time: “In between its coverage of Benghazi and the N.S.A., ’60 Minutes’ drew criticism for letting Amazon promote a drone delivery program that is years from actually happening, if it happens at all.”