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We’ll Take the Disposable Post

Sep 16, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 02 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Readers will, we hope, forgive The Scrapbook for the undue pleasure we have taken in Washington Post stories about the impending sale of the Post to Amazon founder Jeffrey Bezos. 

We’ll Take the Disposable Post

In one sense, it has been something of a relief for long-suffering Post readers. After decades of worshipful coverage of the Meyer/Graham family—which purchased the Post in 1933—the soon-to-be-ex-proprietors are already virtual nonpersons in the pages of the newspaper they bought at auction 80 years ago and seem to be abandoning at the edge of oblivion.

Instead of multiple (favorable) reviews of the late Katharine Graham’s ghostwritten memoirs—which, believe it or not, won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1998!—we have lately been reading a lot about Jeff Bezos. 

Some of these essays have been thinly veiled warnings to the effect that Bezos has purchased a near-perfect institution, and that he tampers with its magical formula at his peril. But most have been friendly accounts of a successful businessman who, like most successful businessmen, has seldom been the subject of friendly accounts in the Washington Post.

Of course, most of the aforementioned malicious pleasure has been enjoyed at the expense of the Post. But last week we found ourselves indebted to the New York Times. For there, on the front page of the Times Business section, was the kind of nervously upbeat story (“Bezos Is a Hit in a Washington Post Newsroom Visit,” Sept. 5) we’ve grown accustomed lately to reading in the Post

To be sure, given the New York Times’s own financial peril and self-aggrandizing family-owner, this should come as no surprise. But back to the story. Jeff Bezos began his visit to the Post with an hourlong breakfast (“fruit plate, poached eggs, spinach, coffee and orange”) with Bob Woodward himself, who later emailed colleagues, “I was struck by how wide-ranging and methodical [Bezos] is. He voiced strong, even intense, optimism about the future of the Post.” 

This was followed by a question-and-answer session in the newsroom and, according to the Times, a private meeting “with about 20 reporters in a neighboring ninth-floor conference room [where Bezos] talked about how he defined success.” This particular encounter was, undoubtedly, Bezos’s greatest challenge, since those 20 reporters—“20 hard-bitten journalists,” in the words of one Post editor—must have seemed especially formidable to the Amazon CEO. 

For the Post, as its readers are frequently reminded, employs some of the toughest, most penetratingly incisive, ink-stained wretches in the news business, men and women of deep experience, and all races, creeds, and sexual orientations, who have covered Watergate, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, Watergate, the Kennedy Center, Watergate, the Washington Redskins, Watergate, the Arlington County (Va.) Board, and Watergate. 

And yet, unexpectedly, Bezos “charmed the room,” according to Jeffrey Leen, the Post’s investigations editor. Leen continued: 

He was a big supporter of investigative reporting, which warmed my heart. He already has a very good grasp of our business. It was, all in all, a very impressive performance.

Almost as impressive, in The Scrapbook’s estimation, as Jeffrey Leen’s spontaneous comments, which somehow failed to mention the other Jeffrey’s good looks, exquisite wardrobe, wide-ranging intellect, and astonishing success as a visionary businessman. And how, by the way, does Jeff Bezos define success? “It should be as easy,” he told his newsroom audience, “to get a subscription to the Post as it is to buy diapers on Amazon”—a curious analogy, in The Scrapbook’s opinion, given the uses to which the Post is occasionally put.

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