This takes me back to my university film studies days.
This bit, in particular, catches my attention:
Mr. Thatcher, the trouble is you don’t realize you’re talking to
two people. As Charles Foster Kane, who owns eighty-two thousand
three hundred and sixty-four shares of Public Transit prefer, you
see, I do have a general idea of my holdings. I sympathize with
you. Charles Foster Kane is a scoundrel, his paper should be run
out of town and a committee should be formed to boycott him. You
may, if you can form such a committee, put me down for a
contribution of one thousand dollars.
My time is too valuable for me…
On the other hand, I am the publisher of the Inquirer. As such,
it is my duty, I’ll let you in on a little secret, it is also my
pleasure — to see to it that decent, hard-working people of this
community aren’t robbed blind by a pack of money-mad pirates just
because they haven’t anybody to look after their interests! I’ll
let you in on another little secret, Mr. Thatcher. I think I’m
the man to do it. You see I have money and property. If I don’t
look after the interests of the underprivileged, maybe somebody
else will, maybe somebody without any money or property and that
would be too bad.
Yes, yes, yes! Money and property. Well, I happened to see your
financial statement today, Charles.
Tell me honestly, my boy. Don’t you think it’s rather unwise to
continue this philanthropic enterprise, this Inquirer, that’s
costing you a million dollars a year?
You are right, Mr. Thatcher. I did lose a million dollars last
year. I expect to lose a million dollars this year. I expect to
lose a million dollars next year! You know, Mr. Thatcher, at the
rate of a million dollars a year I’ll have to close this place in
Now compare and contrast with Jeff Bezos’ statement (he being the founder of
the Public Transit Company Amazon) on his impending purchase of the US newspaper, the Washington Post. I’m particularly interested in the following two paragraphs:
So, let me start with something critical. The values of The Post do not need changing. The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners. We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads, and we’ll work hard not to make mistakes. When we do, we will own up to them quickly and completely.
There will, of course, be change at The Post over the coming years. That’s essential and would have happened with or without new ownership. The Internet is transforming almost every element of the news business: shortening news cycles, eroding long-reliable revenue sources, and enabling new kinds of competition, some of which bear little or no news-gathering costs. There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment. Our touchstone will be readers, understanding what they care about – government, local leaders, restaurant openings, scout troops, businesses, charities, governors, sports – and working backwards from there. I’m excited and optimistic about the opportunity for invention.
Meanwhile, the BBC reports this observation about the man now literally making news:
“Years of familiar newspaper-industry challenges made us wonder if there might be another owner who would be better for the Post,” said Post chief executive, Donald Graham.
“Jeff Bezos’ proven technology and business genius, his long-term approach and his personal decency make him a uniquely good new owner for the Post.”
I don’t know Jeff Bezos – I assume I never will – but if they say he’s personally decent, I’m not going to question the assessment at all. I would, however, lay before you these three stories about his other business behemoth, Amazon. First:
Germany is demanding explanations from the online retail giant Amazon after a TV documentary showed seasonal workers being harassed by security guards.
A TV documentary by state broadcaster ARD said employees’ rooms were searched, they were frisked at breakfast and constantly watched.
I’d add the company responsible was a sub-contracted agency outfit – but from the drive to reduce costs at all costs, corporations do tend to provide the conditions that lead to such behaviours.
The UK arm of internet shopping giant Amazon paid corporation tax of just £2.4 million last year despite earning sales of £4.2 billion.
Amazon received UK Government grants of £2.5 million last year, beating its corporation tax payments.
Amazon reduced tax payments by routing its sales through Luxembourg where its European headquarters are.
Third (from 2010):
The US struck its first blow against WikiLeaks after Amazon.com pulled the plug on hosting the whistleblowing website in reaction to heavy political pressure.
The company announced it was cutting WikiLeaks off yesterday only 24 hours after being contacted by the staff of Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate’s committee on homeland security.
WikiLeaks expressed disappointment with Amazon, and insisted it was a breach of freedom of speech as enshrined in the US constitution’s first amendment. The organisation, in a message sent via Twitter, said if Amazon was “so uncomfortable with the first amendment, they should get out of the business of selling books.”
That last phrase may come back to haunt Mr Bezos. Out of the business of selling books and into the business of selling newspapers is surely a case of jumping from the proverbial frying-pan into the fire. And if everyone seems so cheerful with Bezos’ purchase of the Post, maybe Citizen Kane’s final lines quoted above have more than a little to do with the matter. He could lose money hand over fist for the next sixty years and still keep the Post afloat.
The real question, of course, runs as follows: given that the people at the top of the paper have known, liked and admired Amazon’s founder for quite some time, it doesn’t seem beyond the bounds of possibility that Bezos was already weighing up the options to buy into America’s newspaper-land when Amazon cut off all hosting services to WikiLeaks back in 2010. It kind of paints the view we may have of that operation in a quite different way from anything we may have thought to date. Not just a case of yet another US tech company giving in to the American security services but, rather, an example of a latterday Citizen Kane playing a very long plutocratic game.
And the problem won’t be what Bezos does at a newspaper. The problem will be, as both a privately and publicly powerful and super-connected newspaperman who is also owner of
the Public Transit Company Amazon, how his soon-to-be-extremely-close relationship with government and its many tentacles might affect the ability of his distributor, publisher and hosting-provider side to do what’s right in the ever-thorny matter of freedom of speech in a globalising world.
Especially in a globalising world which – post-Snowden – we now know to be under considerable US and British surveillance.
They already stumbled with WikiLeaks – even before Mr B decided to become embroiled in the ball-game of news diffusion.
The room for dark forces to expose him to political blackmail – as owner of a mainstream news outlet and as CEO/whatever of a portfolio of major communications-associated companies – only increases with this gently curate’s egg of a purchase.
I do, of course, wish Mr Bezos and the Post well. He has far too much money for me to contemplate reacting otherwise. But my internal alarm bells do begin to make tiny noises when hyper-powerful men start talking about defending the ordinary, decent and hard-working seven-dollar-an-hour subjects and citizens from the corruptions of (other) plutocrats.
Just look at what happened to Citizen Kane.
Sometimes even the powerful hit heights outside their natural envelopes.