The Media Today

Trump’s war on The Washington Post

April 6, 2018

President Trump has made attacks on the media a recurring feature of his presidency. At times, he’s gone after outlets individually, targeting the “failing” New York Times or “fake news” CNN; at other points, organizations get put on a laundry list of offenders or grouped together as “the enemy of the American people.” But rarely has the president waged such a sustained campaign against a single entity as he has with recent broadsides against The Washington Post.

Over the past week, Trump has repeatedly tweeted about the Post, its owner Jeff Bezos, and Amazon, the company that made Bezos his fortune. The president has referred to the paper as Amazon’s “chief lobbyist,” and has gone so far as to offer rewrites of the paper’s headlines. Bezos has remained silent and leadership at the Post restrained in the the face of the criticism, but yesterday the paper published a long story exploring the president’s charges and rebutting them at every turn.

The Post’s top figures, including Publisher Fred Ryan, Editor Marty Baron, and Editorial Editor Fred Hiatt, all spoke with Marc Fisher for the piece, and all reiterated that Bezos has no influence on the paper’s coverage. “Jeff has never proposed a story. Jeff has never intervened in a story. He’s never critiqued a story. He’s not directed or proposed editorials or endorsements. The decisions are made here,” Ryan said.

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When not condemning the paper directly, the president has used Amazon as a punching bag proxy. His main charge against Amazon—that it is costing the US Postal Service money—has been debunked by numerous fact-checkers, but one source told the Post that Trump “really seems to believe that is true.” To some extent, the president’s words had an impact: Amazon’s stock was down 5 percent early in the week, though it has gained ground since.

To be clear, Amazon does not own The Washington Post. Bezos purchased the paper in 2013 with his private fortune, and by all accounts has been a hands-off owner, focusing on technological upgrades and strategy initiative that, along with an influx of financial support, have helped the Post regain its position as one of the nation’s most impactful newspapers. Trump’s conflation of Bezos’s two properties as the “Amazon Washington Post” is an attempt to discredit the work of journalists who have reported critically on his charitable foundation, his business interests, and his administration. The president may cast his criticisms as a defense of a beleaguered federal agency, but as Jill Abramson puts it succinctly for The Guardian,  “Trump’s feud with Amazon is really about the Washington Post’s success.

Below, more on Trump’s battle with Amazon, Bezos, and the Post.


Other notable stories

  • “Being a female whistleblower, we’re inherently seen as troublemakers,” former Fox contributor Caroline Heldman tells Yardena Schwartz for CJR. “People don’t like women who make waves.” Schwartz reports that none of the women who sued Fox for sexual harassment have found full-time TV news jobs in the months since they’ve spoken out. Her piece looks at the news industry’s hypocrisy as it celebrates women who come forward, but then turns its back on their careers.
  • HuffPost’s Jason Cherkis profiles Rob Byers, who covered West Virginia for 26 years, working his way up to executive editor of the Charleston Gazette-Mail before being laid off last week. “No editor seemed better suited to cover the American Rust Belt under Trump,” Cherkis writes. “He was made for this moment.”
  • The Atlantic has parted ways with conservative columnist Kevin Williamson, whose hiring last month sparked a backlash among liberals and contributed to an ongoing debate about which voices get elevated by national publications.
  • Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was on a media tour yesterday. She tells the Financial Times’s Hannah Kuchler, “We made mistakes and I own them and they are on me.” Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before US lawmakers next week.
  • Fun piece from CJR’s Jon Allsop, who looks at the media hype machine greeting new LA Galaxy superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The eminently quotable and frequently controversial Zlatan has “sparked water-cooler conversations among diehards and neophytes alike,” Allsop writes.

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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.