In his “Stories I’d like to see” column, journalist and entrepreneur Steven Brill spotlights topics that, in his opinion, have received insufficient media attention. This article was originally published on Reuters.com.
1. WashPost reporters: Get a Bezos comment
These sentences in last week’s Times profile of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos beg for a follow-up from the house the Grahams built:
“Every story you ever see about Amazon, it has that sentence: ‘An Amazon spokesman declined to comment,’” Mr. Marcus said.
Drew Herdener, an Amazon spokesman, declined to comment.
Over the years, in reading stories about Amazon I’ve noticed the same pattern of Amazon simply refusing to comment no matter what the story was about. And, although Amazon’s website lists a phone number for a public relations office, it lists no names of anyone specific to call, nor do its press releases list names for reporters to call for follow-up. Amazon’s resolute refusal to answer press questions and the paradox of Bezos now owning a business whose employees are paid to ask them is captured nicely in this column by Jack Shafer.
The first time Bezos shows up in the Washington Post building I hope a reporter will ask him about this and about how reporters at places like the Post are supposed to present complete, fair stories if a company as influential as Amazon is — in areas ranging from books, to employment conditions, to the retail economy, to sales taxes, to international trade, to antitrust law — won’t answer any questions. Let’s hope we get more than a “No comment.”
2. Unlikely lobbyists for Egyptian aid?
This smart New York Times report last week by Eric Schmitt points out that although the $1.3 billion in annual military aid the United States gives Egypt pales against the amounts offered to Egypt’s military rulers by Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries, the US maintains outsized leverage because its aid includes authorizing American arms makers to supply their hardware and software to Egypt. According to Schmitt, Egyptian military chieftains are “enamored of Apache attack helicopters, M1A1 battle tanks and F-16 fighter jets.”
If I had a Capitol Hill beat I’d be wondering what the American arms giants that make these products might be doing to help keep the supply line open to the Egyptian coup regime, despite their recent human rights abuses.
How are the ubiquitous lobbying squadrons representing the companies that make the Apache (Boeing, although GE makes the engines), the M1A1 tank (General Dynamics), and the F-16 bomber (Lockheed Martin) working the issue? And are they aligning with those who represent other interests — such as Israel, which seems to prefer the military regime to the democratically-elected Islamists they replaced?
3. Inside State-owned TV:
Lately, a cable news channel called RT has been increasingly appearing on various cable and satellite systems’ channel lineups. Its profile has also been raised by the hiring of CNN veteran Larry King to do an interview show.
Last weekend, RT was still more in the news when The New York Times reported that during a live guest appearance on RT, American journalist Jamie Kirchick had “surprised producers in Moscow on Wednesday by raising the subject of Russia’s anti-gay legislation and denouncing the network’s employees as propagandists for President Vladimir V. Putin.” That report then propelled Kirchick onto various American cable news shows.
The Times mostly wondered how the producers at RT — which is financed by the Kremlin and whose website describes it as providing “an alternative perspective on major global events” — could have been surprised by Kirchick’s outburst, because he is an outspoken conservative as well as an ardent gay rights proponent.
But beyond wondering in which gulag the producers who failed to research Kirchick now reside, for me the Kirchick-RT episode — as well as the launch last week of Qatari-owned Al Jazeera America — suggests a more intriguing story: How do these government-owned media outlets actually pull off controlling their message in an age in which so much of what they do is live and sent through channels ranging from multiple websites, to YouTube, to multiple cable and satellite broadcasts? Controlling the message, assuming they seek to do so, has to be a lot of work.