As you’ve probably heard, Jeff Bezos has purchased the Washington Post. And I’ve had nothing to say about it because, really, could the Washington Post get any worse? I like Ezra Klein and Greg Sargent, even though they often irritate me. But that isn’t primarily what the Post is. When it comes to straight news, I most certainly do not go to them. And now the Post is by subscription and it costs the same amount as the New York Times! That’s outrageous to me. So who really cares who owns the paper?
Even more annoying is how much coverage of the sale there has been in the Washington Post itself. So I guess we can add Jeff Bezos to the Posts‘ other obsessions like deficit reduction and entitlement cuts. Many of those articles came from the Ezra Klein group itself. Based upon his own twitter feed, there are nine articles with “Bezos” in the title. And I’m sure they’ve written about the sale without putting his name in the title. Very wonky!
Outside the Washington Post blog ghetto, it is also big news. Tricia Duryee wrote, Five Myths About Jeff Bezos. Dean Baker—a longtime critic of the paper—took no time in noting that with the article the Post was already starting its disinformation campaign. Two of the five myths are not, in fact, myths.
According to Duryee, the first myth is that Amazon is destroying independent bookstores. With online sales now at 48% of all book purchases, this one is hard to take. But the idea that independent bookstores are just destined to disappear is a typical canard of a certain kind of upper middle class journalist who works for places like the Post. It goes right along with globalization: there’s nothing that can be done! But while they think that, they ignore all the ways that the government allows globalization to affect the poorer classes while protecting the upper classes. The mechanism by which Amazon has been helped by government policy is the basis of the second non-myth.
According to Duryee, the fourth myth is “Amazon’s key advantage is that it doesn’t collect state sales tax.” As Baker noted, through most of its existence, Amazon has effectively received a 7% subsidy from the government that other companies did not have. That’s huge because this is more than the profit margins of big retailers. For example, Walmart’s margin is just 6%. Thus, the government has provided a huge advantage to Mr. Libertarian’s bookstore.
Duryee even went into some big apologetics on this point. She wrote, “Amazon says it is not opposed to the collection of sales tax—as long as there’s a simple, national system that is applied to all sellers, no matter their business model, location or level of sales.” But that is the standard way that one justifies beings against laws that are clearly right. Of course Amazon is for all companies paying sales tax. They just can’t support the current system because of some problem. And that problem bounces around to wherever it needs to so that Amazon never has to be for it.
It has been an embarrassing week for the Washington Post. I just hope it improves next week. No one really cares who owns the newspaper. Articles like Duryee would appear with or without Jeff Bezos.
Update (11 August 2013 9:27 pm)
CounterSpin has a great interview about this with David Cay Johnston where he refers to the Washington Post editorial page as having, “An incredible odor of white privilege.” That’s about right!