Amazon belatedly responds to New York Times takedown of its employee culture


Jay Carney, now the global vice president for corporate affairs at Amazon, served as President Obama’s press secretary. He knows about quick, factual responses to crisis issues.

Thus his — and Amazon’s — languid approach to finally countering a New York Times August 15 takedown of the web retailing giant’s work culture is paradoxical.

jayCarney’s seemingly calm, but devastating, rebuttal — replete with facts about the named sources in the Times’ diatribe that seriously question the newspaper’s and its reporters’ professional ethics — is smoothly effective.

As a former Time [singular] reporter, Carney knows the journalism business and the culture. He systematically dismantles the story’s most dramatic testimony against Amazon.

For its part, the Times trots out the usual journalistic red herrings. The reporters spent six months on the story; they interviewed more than 100 people; Amazon is ruthless and says so itself. None of it undermines Carney’s body blows. The newspaper’s defenses so far feel more like explanations of why this was a newsworthy story — which no one disputes — than a factual girding of the reporters’ methods and writing.

But the problem with Carney’s rebuttal is that it comes more than two months after the original story ran. Not only did more than 2 million Times readers [print and digital] have a chance to read the original story, but it was a shared sensation across social media and the web. Conclusion: Amazon is a modern slave driver.

Amazon founder [and Washington Post owner] Jeff Bezos did at the time make some reactive comments about the story, defending his company. But they were pro forma and not specific enough to matter.

Carney’s counterpunch, however, was on the nose. But he threw it so late one has to wonder what effect it will ultimately have in changing readers’ perceptions of Amazon’s culture; and, it begs the question of why.

Clearly, Carney and his team needed to dig into the story’s charges, track down the former employees and fact-check their stories. You don’t want to rebut The New York Times with half the facts. He also probably had to run the whole thing by corporate lawyers, since the piece includes release of an email from one of the reporters to an Amazon official that publicly undresses the reporter’s motives and ensuing hypocrisy.

We’d commend Carney and Amazon for getting out the facts and in an effective vehicle. But they failed in the other half of the “facts fast” equation — to the company’s detriment.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with eight offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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