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Tech Wars II: The Amazon Empire Strikes Back

3122477836_54e09dde68_bAmazon has published its official response to that damning but biased NYTimes article from August, and the response could do almost as much damage to its reputation as the NYTimes piece.

Writing over at Medium, Amazon SVP for Global Corp Affairs Jay Carney opens his response to the NYTimes by making an ad hominem attack against one of the ex-Amazon employees cited in the article:

If you read the recent New York Times article about Amazon’s culture, you remember that quote. Attributed to Bo Olson, the image of countless employees crying at their desks set the tone for a front-page story that other media outlets described as “scathing,” “blistering,” “brutal” and “harsh.” Olson’s words were so key to the narrative the Times wished to construct that they splashed them in large type just below the headline.

Here’s what the story didn’t tell you about Mr. Olson: his brief tenure at Amazon ended after an investigation revealed he had attempted to defraud vendors and conceal it by falsifying business records. When confronted with the evidence, he admitted it and resigned immediately.

While I can kinda sorta understand why Amazon might want to bring this up, I don’t see why it’s relevant to the story two months after the fact.

Edit: And that is assuming that this attack is true, which has yet to be proven.

One could argue that the detail about the fraud undercuts Olson’s credibility (once a liar, always a liar) and shows that he has an axe to grind, but that feels like a stretch to me. If it were relevant then it should have been revealed within days of the original story, not two months later.

Speaking of which, Carney explained away the two-month delay with the comment that Amazon had "presented the Times with our findings several weeks ago", and only published this account after the NYTimes declined to correct the public record.

That may be the case, but it would simply mean that Amazon had allowed the story to go stale. With that in mind, I think it would have been better to lead with one of the other details Carney mentioned in his piece (or better yet, not publish anything at all).

  • Elizabeth Willet, who claims she was “strafed” through the Anytime Feedback tool, received only three pieces of feedback through that tool during her entire time at Amazon. All three included positive feedback on strengths as well as thoughts on areas of improvement. Far from a “strafing,” even the areas for improvement written by her colleagues contained language like: “It has been a pleasure working with Elizabeth.”  …
  • Chris Brucia, who recalls how he was berated in his performance review before being promoted, also was given a written review. Had the Times asked about this, we would have shared what it said. “Overall,” the document reads, “you did an outstanding job this past performance year.” Mr. Brucia was given exceptionally high ratings and then promoted to a senior position.
  • Dina Vaccari, the former employee who is quoted saying she didn’t sleep for four days straight to illustrate just how hard Amazon forces people to work, posted her own response to the article. Here’s what she said: “Allow me to be clear: The hours I put in at Amazon were my choice. I was enrolled in the University of Washington’s Foster Technology MBA program while I was in charge of building three new Amazon retail categories and going through an emotional breakup when I didn’t sleep for those four days. No one ever forced me to do this?—?I chose it and it sucked at the time but in no way was I asked or forced by management to do this.”

And just to be clear, we all knew at this late date that the NYTimes piece was biased, and that Streitfeld let his grudge against Amazon influence the tone of this (and many other) articles.

Even the selective reporting had already been revealed by other sources, so it’s really not clear what Amazon thought it could gain from today’s piece.

Thanks, Nirmala!

image by Brian Searle

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Dan Meadows October 19, 2015 um 2:24 pm

The quote from the author to Amazon was interesting, I think. She might have actually thought that was the article she was writing, only finding out later no, no, no, you’re doing the exact hit piece you just promised one of the most powerful corporations in the country you weren’t going to do. It’s a shame she can’t speak freely. I’d be curious to hear her unguarded opinion. From a PR point of view, they probably should’ve just let it drop. But from an observing journalism burn point of view, it does fill in some interesting details about how the Times operates. And I’m sure the headline I saw the other day about the Washington Post drawing even in online audience with the Times has nothing to do with any of this from either direction, right? But then, I enjoy reading between the lines more often than what’s actually on them, so there’s that.

Nate Hoffelder October 19, 2015 um 2:43 pm

@ Dan I was struck by that as well, but it’s not a point that I would hold against the journo. I’m fine with her misleading a source to get a story; my only requirement is that the story be accurate.

And this one was not.

BTW, Dean Baquet responded to Carney’s piece. His response can be found on Medium.

fjtorres October 19, 2015 um 4:26 pm

I suspect the two months weren’t all spent waiting for the NYT to retract the story. There’s probably a lot more to come.
One does not hire a Jay Carney just to challenge a biased piece of yellow journalism.

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