Amazon hits back against NYT report on working environment

It’s been a few months since the New York Times published an in-depth look at what it’s like to work in Amazon’s corporate office. The company’s immediate reaction was limited to chief executive Jeff Bezos claiming that the workplace described in the report doesn’t resemble the one he’s come to expect. Now the company’s senior vice president for global corporate affairs, Jay Carney, has published a Medium post to add some context to the paper of record’s story.
Carney’s post centers around one grievance: That many of the former staffers quoted in the New York Times report wanted to disparage Amazon because of their own personal issues, ranging from one employee leaving the company because he allegedly tried to defraud vendors and falsify business records to another misrepresenting the feedback she received from internal feedback tools. They had an axe to grind, in other words, and the Times offered a grindstone.
Other problems were also mentioned in the post. Carney alleges that the New York Times declined to provide an update to its readers when Amazon made this information available weeks ago; that the reporters on the story didn’t seek comment from the company in response to accusations from people mentioned above; and that the paper, as its public editor has said in the past, has taken an unduly harsh stance on Amazon that has colored its coverage of the company. (Update: The New York Times’ executive editor, Dean Baquet, has responded to Carney’s post with a Medium post of his own, which you can read right here.)
But there are some other interesting things about the post: That it was published in the first place; and that one of Amazon’s spokespeople emailed it to me this morning to let me know of its existence and make sure I’d cover it.
Amazon is famously reticent about talking to the press. I’ve often reached out to the company for comment on a story only to be told that the company doesn’t have anything to say on the matter. That’s par for the course on many stories — as tech companies face more scrutiny, many have stopped accommodating press inquiries — but Amazon took this to another level. Just read this passage from a New York Times profile of Bezos written after he bought the Washington Post:

The philanthropic Bill Gates, whose wife, Melinda, served on The Post’s board, might have been a more likely buyer. Mark Zuckerberg, who adopted Donald E. Graham, the Post Company’s chief executive, as a mentor, could have been plausible. When it turned out to be Mr. Bezos instead, no one minded admitting astonishment. Neither his managerial style nor his entrepreneurial success nor his passion for secrecy seem to necessarily transfer over to his newest possession.

‘Every story you ever see about Amazon, it has that sentence: ‘An Amazon spokesman declined to comment,’’ Mr. Marcus said.

Drew Herdener, an Amazon spokesman, declined to comment.

This seems to have changed in recent months. I’ve noticed that Amazon is responding to more inquiries, whether they’re about new products or the spread of a worker feedback system from its warehouses to its corporate offices, when before it would have either ignored my email or declined to offer a comment. Then of course there’s the publication of this rebuttal to the Times’ reporting, and the company’s apparent desire to make sure tech reporters would read it.

Curious, I asked the Amazon spokesperson who emailed me the link to Carney’s post if Amazon’s approach to handling the press has changed. His response? “Hey Nate, thanks for the note,” he wrote, “but we’ll decline to comment beyond the piece this morning.” A question about this spokesperson seeing the irony there went unanswered, but I like to think that response was tongue-in-cheek.

Either way, the publication of Carney’s post could mark a turning point. Amazon isn’t going to rest on its laurels and allow the media to tell any story it wants anymore. Now we’ll get to see which is harder to handle — a company that doesn’t want to help the press in any way but will allow pretty much anything to be written about it, or one that will hit back against reports like the Times’.

Update: Carney has now written yet another response to the New York Time.