The Washington Post’s journalistic decline over the past several years has been remarkable, especially following the newspaper’s 2013 purchase by Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos, the world’s second-richest man after Bill Gates.
In the face of controversies concerning the use of anonymous and often inaccurate sources and the publication of false news in order to foment anti-Russia hysteria, the Post is now set for another scandal thanks to a new Bezos-approved company-wide policy that seeks to prevent employee criticism of the newspaper’s corporate backers and advertisers.
The policy, which took effect in May, now prohibits Post employees from using social media in such a way that “adversely affects The Post’s customers, advertisers, subscribers, vendors, suppliers or partners.” According to the policy, the paper’s management team reserves the right to take disciplinary action against violators “up to and including termination of employment.”
A clause of the policy cited by the Washingtonian also encourages employees to rat out other employees for potentially violating the policy: “If you have any reason to believe that an employee may be in violation of The Post’s Social Media Policy […] you should contact the Post’s Human Resources Department.”
— Adam Troudart (@AdamTroudart) July 3, 2017
The Post confirmed the existence of the policy and its more controversial clauses and provisions to the Washingtonian, though the paper’s management later attempted to soothe the nerves of rattled journalists by assuring them that “no one would get in trouble for such social media activity […] But that’s the way the policy is written.”
While the Post’s own journalists are sure to feel the heat from this new policy, several of the newspaper’s corporate advertisers and backers are likely relieved that critical content targeting them or their products will now be absent from the social media activity of the paper’s employees – and likely its reporting as well.
This new policy offers a simple loophole to corporations that wish to avoid criticism from the Post, as becoming a sponsor of the paper would quickly put an end to any unfavorable coverage.
Among the Washington Post’s advertisers are corporate giants like GlaxoSmithKline, Bank of America and Koch Industries. With the new policy, social media posts criticizing GlaxoSmithKline’s habit of making false and misleading claims about its products, inflating prices and withholding crucial drug safety information from the government will no longer be made by Post employees.
The policy also suggests that criticisms of Bank of America, one of the nation’s most lawless banks and a key player in provoking the 2008 financial crisis, will go unvoiced, as well those regarding the toxic empire that is Koch Industries, an integral part of the U.S. fracking industry.
Another Washington Post sponsor, though unofficially, is the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
Four months after purchasing the Post, Jeff Bezos landed a $600 million contract with the CIA for Amazon Web Services, a web hosting service that now serves the entire U.S. intelligence community.
— xileen worcester⚘ (@xileenie) July 3, 2017
Long before this latest policy was put into effect, some had speculated that the connections between the CIA and the Post were already affecting its reporting. For example, last year, the Post openly called for the prosecution of Snowden, despite having previously used the whistleblower’s leaks for their Pulitzer Prize-winning report on illegal NSA spying.
The CIA has long called for Snowden to be tried for treason within the United States for leaking details of the NSA’s domestic spying program.
While criticism of the CIA is not technically prohibited by the new policy, former Post reporters have suggested that making such criticisms could endanger one’s career. As former Post writer John Hanrahan told Alternet in 2013:
Post reporters and editors are aware that Bezos, as majority owner of Amazon, has a financial stake in maintaining good relations with the CIA — and this sends a clear message to even the hardest-nosed journalist that making the CIA look bad might not be a good career move.”
With Post employees severely limited in what they can post on social media and discuss in their writing, this new policy will only continue to erode trust in the mainstream media, especially in light of the benefits it may bring to its corporate and government backers.
Feature photo | Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner, Jeff Bezos on an elevator for a meeting with then President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York, Dec. 14, 2016. Evan Vucci | AP