Former Washington Post business columnist Allan Sloan wrote for Fortune that it’s time for new Post owner Jeff Bezos to discuss his politics. “When I first heard that Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, was a Libertarian, I laughed out loud, because I thought it was a joke.” Sloan thinks of the Internet as a invention of the Pentagon, not Al Gore.
Sloan thinks it's highly ironic to think of yourself as a libertarian while making billions off the Internet, derived from "taxpayers' R&D money." Sloan notes Bezos is very slippery with reporters on his politics:
Call me naïve, if you like, but I think that if you're going to own a high-class journalistic enterprise like the Post, whose job is to call powerful forces to account, you should expect to be called to account yourself.
But good luck trying to get that done when it comes to Bezos.
When I exposed the thesis of this column to Amazon, I couldn't even get a response, much less an interview.
When my Fortune colleague Peter Elkind, who spent months working on a must-read cover story in June called "Amazon's (not so secret) War on Taxes," tried to talk to Bezos about his business and personal philosophies, he was stonewalled. That, of course, was before Bezos's deal to buy the Post surfaced.
Sloan said Bezos "ducks and weaves when he's asked about Libertarianism."
But consider this anecdote, courtesy of Sheldon Kaphan, formerly Amazon's chief technology officer, and Bezos's first hire at the firm. Kaphan says he once heard Bezos say: "If the government hadn't invented the Internet, private enterprise would have done it." Yeah, right, and defeated the Soviet Union, too...
No matter what Bezos says now, once his purchase of the Post closes, scheduled for the fall, he's almost certain to begin imposing his standards and beliefs on the Post, or at least on its opinion pages.
For better or worse, that's what newspaper owners do -- but I'd at least like to hear from Bezos what his beliefs are, and to have him reconcile the question of his being a Libertarian who's benefited immensely from taxpayers' R&D money. A core belief of Libertarianism is that their ideas will prevail in a free market place. And if you know about markets, you know the key to making them efficient and fair is for as many players to have as much information as possible.
Finally, I can't forget what happened after Rupert Murdoch bought then-upscale New York Post from its liberal owner, Dorothy Schiff, in 1976. Murdoch assured the paper's staff that he'd retain the Post's essential character as a serious newspaper. And we all know how that turned out.