Wednesday, August 19, 2015 at 7:30 AM

Bezos on kindness and the NYT willfully tells an incomplete story

The New York Times ran a remarkable piece about what it's like to work at Amazon HQ in Seattle. I read the story from top to bottom, and was, like a lot of people, fairly disgusted by the way they treat people who work there.

But there was one story that stood out, near the top of the piece, that seemed out of place. Here's what the Times wrote:

He wanted his grandmother to stop smoking, he recalled in a 2010 graduation speech at Princeton. He didn’t beg or appeal to sentiment. He just did the math, calculating that every puff cost her a few minutes. “You’ve taken nine years off your life!” he told her. She burst into tears.

I'm always leery of such obvious appeal to emotion. He made his grandmother cry. He must be a bad person. But he was just a kid. What's significant is not what the 10-year-old Bezos said and did, he wasn't running Amazon, rather what the adult Bezos said, which the Times left out of the story.

I sat in the backseat and did not know what to do. While my grandmother sat crying, my grandfather, who had been driving in silence, pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway. He got out of the car and came around and opened my door and waited for me to follow. Was I in trouble? My grandfather was a highly intelligent, quiet man. He had never said a harsh word to me, and maybe this was to be the first time? Or maybe he would ask that I get back in the car and apologize to my grandmother. I had no experience in this realm with my grandparents and no way to gauge what the consequences might be. We stopped beside the trailer. My grandfather looked at me, and after a bit of silence, he gently and calmly said, "Jeff, one day you'll understand that it's harder to be kind than clever."

That bit of wisdom, which we can spend much of our lives learning, would have offered an interesting counterpoint to the thesis of the Times piece. Why did they leave it out? As a lifetime NYT reader, this really requires an explanation, otherwise you have to assume the reporting in the rest of the piece, and in other NYT stories, was just as deceptive and partial.

The NYT public editor, Margaret Sullivan, wrote about the Amazon story, and provided the full quote, yet she says the Times didn't get any of the facts wrong. "No serious questions have arisen about the hard facts." Might be true if you overlook this clear omission. Maybe not a "hard" fact, if so imho that's an irrelevant hair-split.

The Times could be so much more than it is, but at times like this it appears to be even less than we thought it was. An omission like this invalidates the rest of the piece. If they can be caught being so manipulative of readers so easily, what about the harder parts, where they quote anonymous sources. How can we know if they omitted important, relevant parts of their stories? We can't, so we have to assume they did.

As always, when they are so manipulative they lose credibility with readers. And this really is their only asset.

Last built: Wed, Sep 9, 2015 at 1:31 PM

By Dave Winer, Wednesday, August 19, 2015 at 7:30 AM. Only steal from the best.