The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Why Jeff Bezos Purchased the Washington Post

Newspapers don’t make much money any more (though in the 90s they made returns in the teens regularly.)  What they do still have, though, is influence and power.  Even though newspapers don’t have the reach television does, they determine the stories of the day—they control the news cycle more than any other part of the media. More than that, newspapers are intelligence bureaus.  Rupert Murdoch, no fool, would spend hours on the phone with beat reporters, picking their brains.

Power leads to money.  Amazon is under what Bezos must consider attack (as in making Amazon pay sales taxes), and he needs influence, power and intelligence in DC.  The Washington Post, at 250 million, is an absolute steal, even if it loses money every day.

(Bezos letter to Washington Post staff.)


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  1. S Brennan

    Agree, my first thought.

  2. Agree, you know the amazing (and horrific) thing about this posting is that it’s even necessary and yes it is necessary.


  3. Celsius 233

    Interesting; we’ll see…

  4. Yes, it’s…unsurprisingly weird that people are confused why rich person with a controversial business would want to buy a newspaper.

    This Crooked Timber commenter lists off the very many ways that Bezos could benefit from this, just in terms of direct, current political conflicts that affect Amazon.

  5. ybm

    TV journalists get their stories from print, even if it is a dying medium for the average consumer. Print is still influence.

  6. m

    @ ybm August 6, 2013

    Print is still influence.

    Owning a bank even more so. One down one to go.


  7. Mark

    “What kind of influence” should also be carefully analyzed and discussed. Sunlight Foundation did a short piece here:

    Influence Profile: New Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos

  8. Jonathan

    A marriage made in heaven between two dab hands at “making it up in volume.”


    Seriously though, he’s got more pet causes than sales tax. Might he be scratching Obama’s back on “middle class” “labor reform”? Could he be seeking a louder voice in the guest worker debate? This may be good for the financial economy, and even the real economy if he cares to use those signaling pathways to down-regulate neocon adventurism, but I fully expect some real bad days for labor.

  9. Ian Welsh

    In my twitter stream I saw some people who understood right away, but I also saw some people who should have known better saying things like “he’s a fool for sinking money in to a dying medium” and so forth.

    Very few online sites are able to effect the news cycle often (Politico, Drudge) and few have regular beat reporters (Huffpo, FDL barely, Politico, etc…)

  10. jcapan

    Reminds me of liberal gasp-a-lot re: Citizens United. As if our electoral system wasn’t already irreparably corrupted. Legacy media has been a vile mouthpiece for aristocrats for a long, long time. Hard to get worked up when ownership changes hands. Unless, of course, Ralph Nader’s fantasy comes true and the benevolent super-rich arrive on a white horse.

  11. S Brennan

    Off thread…but the conversation seemed to have ended?

    “We don’t have a domestic spying program…we do have is some mechanisms that can track a phone number or an email address that is connected to a terrorist attack”

    In the not too distant past, the communist leaning left made a conscious decision to ignore Stalin’s atrocities in the 1930’s…long after the evidence became overwhelming..and this led to their marginalization as a political force for progressive change. The continued support of Obama, long after a plethora of criminal activities have become well known through whistle blowers who have faced a Stasi-like response, will marginalize Obama’s supporters similarly. Oddly, many of those supporters come from groups that have been the most abused by Obama’s supine fluffing of corrupt financial entities engaged in ongoing crimes.

    Obama’s payout will be far in excess of 30 pieces of silver, but his non-elite supporters will face years of marginalization heaped upon their ruined economic fortunes.

  12. David Kowalski

    The right has spent a fortune trying to replicate what the Washington Post has (creation and on-going subsidy of the Washington Times, Heritage Foundation, lobbying). Bezos has gotten in cheap and effectively. In 2007, Rupert Murdoch paid 45 billion for the Wall Street Journal more than $2.2 billion above its stock value at the time of his offer. Yes influence of a premier name has a big premium.

  13. Julien

    If anything, I think this is underestimating Jeff Bezos. People forget that Jeff Bezos don’t care. About you, about me, about commentators, about shareholders, even about profits. He has ideas, he sees them through, he doesn’t care about anything else.

    Newspaper influence is nice to have, sure, but if you don’t think he’s going to use the Washington Post as a giant sandbox to figure what journalism will be in the 21st century, you underestimate what the true prize will be. Once he does figure it out, think of the influence he’ll have then.

  14. Celsius 233

    Jeff Bezos isn’t really the point is he? Isn’t the real point the wholesale gutting of the social contract the government had with us, or, rather, the social contract we had with the government?
    The gutting of pensions? The attempted gutting of Social Security (for which they have been partially successful)?
    Jeff Bezos has already consolidated his position as head scumbag as an employer of those willing to be slaves of industry.
    Bezos is a product of our craven society and shouldn’t be given any credit for anything but the rampant greed of the ruling class.
    Oh! Maybe Bezos is the point…

  15. S Brennan and Celsius 233,

    Bravo a thousand times!

  16. S Brennan

    On Leno, Obama glibly dissembled about his crimes against the constitution. While Obama’s supporters cheered the artifice, an American stood up and did the right thing.

    “I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit.” He chose the latter. Lavabit had been told by the government to turn over all user data, and a gag order prevented the firm from informing customers.

    In every culture in decline
    The watchful ones among the slaves
    Know all that is genuine will be
    Scorned and conned and cast away

    – Joni Mitchell

  17. RJ Meyers

    I’m flipping through the Sunday morning TV news shows right now–both national and DC-area. This topic is being discussed on all of them, and I haven’t heard anyone make a point anywhere close to this. They just don’t get it.

    All the talk is about how he’ll turn it around and make it profitable, or else fail. Some discussion about digital vs. print journalism and the decline of newspapers, content, technology, etc.

    Also, dear god, the average age of the commentators must be at least 60. And David Brooks makes my brain run out my ears–his words are like a neural laxative.

  18. RJ Meyers:
    You don’t get it. Upton Sinclair once said(it might not be exact): “It’s hard to get a man to understand something when his job depends upon him not understanding it.” That applies to the TradMed and a lot many other people.

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