Jeff Bezos' $250 million purchase of the Washington Post will likely keep the paper in sync with its fabled liberal editorial bent of Watergate and Woodward and Bernstein — if the tech entrepreneur's history of political activity is any indication.
The purchase of one of America's most influential papers located in the heart of the nation's capital will also add to Bezos' political muscle as a major Internet e-commerce player.
While Bezos has made a fortune at Amazon.com — an estimated $25 billion — he has kept a relatively low political profile.
But records show that the savvy businessman also leans decidedly liberal and Democratic in his politics.
According to the Washington Free Beacon
, since 1988 some 88 percent of Bezos' donations went to Democrats. Bezos also has given about $14,000 in contributions over the years to two Democratic senators from Washington State, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.
In 2008, he contributed
$1,000 to the gubernatorial re-election bid of Washington Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire. Bezos also donated $1,000 each to liberal Democrats like Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. He donated just a total of $2,000 to the Senate campaigns of Republicans Spencer Abraham of Michigan and Slade Gorton of Washington.
Campaign finance records show Bezos' political focus to be within his home state. His largest political contribution to date was $2.5 million to Washington's gay marriage legislation, Referendum 74, in July 2012. The donation came during the brouhaha over the decision by Chick-fil-A's president to donate money to organizations that oppose same-sex marriage.
Bezos hinted at continuity in the Post's news coverage, praising the newspapers' "values," while keeping publisher Katharine Weymouth — the fourth generation of the Graham family involved in the newspaper — and executive editor Martin Baron in their current positions.
While his politics lean left, some Internet blogs have labeled Bezos a "libertarian", but Bezos himself has never acknowledged the label or admitted to views consistent with a laissez faire approach to the economy.
As a news company owner, that might be a good thing, one longtime GOP political analyst suggests.
"Bezos has a libertarian streak and has made political contributions to pet causes and to candidates and elected officials from his state or who have direct impact on issues relating to his business — both Democrats and Republicans," Cheri Jacobus, who heads her own firm, Capitol Strategies, told Newsmax.
Having a newspaper in the nation's capital could also help with the many regulatory and legislative issues facing the Bezos' empire.
Amazon spent $1.7 million on lobbying efforts in Washington in the first six months of the year on issues relating to cybersecurity, patent laws and Internet sales taxes, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Amazon's political action committee donated $222,000 during the 2012 election cycle and has given evenly among Democrats and Republicans, typical of large corporations disinterested in rocking the political boat.
"They have a huge number of issues before the federal government and now he’s bought the hometown paper for covering those politicians,” said Bill Allison, editorial director for the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based watchdog group told Bloomberg News. "There's always a concern you're going to have a conflict when you have wealthy publisher. Given all of Amazon’s issues, it’s hard to see where Bezos won't have a conflict."
Still exactly unclear are Bezos' intentions. Is this a personal toy of sorts where he can incubate his business ideas — or will he ultimately use it to influence political Washington on decisions that help his company?
Bezos could be on a quest to solve the vexing problem of how media outlets survive and profit in the post-print digital era, possibly aided by information delivery platforms like Amazon's Kindle.
Bezos, in his letter to Post employees, vaguely outlined his thought process along those lines in a strategic statement.
"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," Bezos wrote, allowing that at the onset at least, he is no high-tech journalism savior.
"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," Bezos told the staff.
University of Florida journalism professor Mike Foley, a former executive editor of the St. Petersburg (now Tampa Bay) Times, believes Bezos likely looked at the Post as a credible starting point to merge a culture of solid journalism with his business prowess for using technology effectively.
"I think what he bought was the brand, and that's the real value here. He reads newspapers every day. He learns from them and he probably wishes more people would," Foley told Newsmax. "I think he understands the value of the Washington Post in particular, which has a long tradition and is well-respected in many very powerful circles."
Foley is upbeat about the possibilities, noting that journalism needs a way forward. "I am hopeful that this is a new toy that he is going to use to figure out a way to make good journalism work. He has cornered the market with so many things on Amazon. Maybe he can corner the market in journalism. We are looking for someone to lead the way," Foley said.
The Washington Post Co.'s newspaper division suffered a 44 percent decline in operating revenue over the past six years and its print circulation has dwindled, falling an additional 7 percent during the first half of this year.
But with the creative Bezos aboard — bringing with him money and a penchant for patience in development of ideas — it's possible his new blood and tech-savvy culture may put it on the fast track to survive, Foley said.
"In fact [Bezos] has done his best to remain unknown, but he has also been very successful in marketing and inventing. He used that word in his remarks about the sale, saying that we need to invent," said Foley. "I've watched the newspaper industry try to hold onto the old model for so long, so perhaps this guy can create and innovate around an emerging model."
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