Amazon pens angry rebuttal to NY Times investigation into company’s ‘bruising’ culture (updated)

A box from Amazon.com is pictured on the porch of a house in Golden


Updated at 10 a.m. PST with response from New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet.

Updated at 1 p.m. PST with response from Amazon’s Jay Carney to Baquet’s response to Carney’s response to the Times’ original story.

If you thought Amazon might have moved on from the scathing story the New York Times published back in August, well, think again.

That story labeled Amazon’s workplace culture as “bruising” and contained a number of excruciating anecdotes about the company’s high-pressure atmosphere. Two months later, Jay Carney, Amazon’s senior vice president for global corporate affairs, has penned a withering reply on Medium published today that contains a number of unflattering details about former employees and accuses the Times reporters of being misleading and biased.

“What we do know is, had the reporters checked their facts, the story they published would have been a lot less sensational, a lot more balanced, and, let’s be honest, a lot more boring,” Carney wrote. “It might not have merited the front page, but it would have been closer to the truth.”

Carney starts his take-down by pointing to the anecdote involving former employee Bo Olson, who was quoted by the Times as saying: “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”

Carney reveals that Olsen possibly had his own axe to grind with Amazon:

“Here’s what the story didn’t tell you about Mr. Olson: his brief tenure at Amazon ended after an investigation revealed he had attempted to defraud vendors and conceal it by falsifying business records. When confronted with the evidence, he admitted it and resigned immediately,” Carney wrote.

Carney claims that was just one of many facts that reporters Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld never checked with the company, despite working on it for six months. He tries to debunk several other anecdotes about former employees, while also noting that the Times‘ public editor has criticized the paper’s coverage of Amazon in the past.

Then he publishes an email from Kantor to an Amazon executive in which she insists the story will be a neutral analysis of the company’s workplace culture rather than a scathing investigation.

“We decided to participate by sharing much of what Ms. Kantor asked for, yet the article she specifically said they were not writing became the article that we all read,” Carney wrote.

After the story was published, CEO Jeff Bezos wrote a response saying the story didn’t reflect the company. But from there, Carney said the company investigated many of the anecdotes and presented additional context and information recently to the Times.

“When the story came out, we knew it misrepresented Amazon,” Carney wrote. “Once we could look into the most sensational anecdotes, we realized why. We presented the Times with our findings several weeks ago, hoping they might take action to correct the record. They haven’t, which is why we decided to write about it ourselves.”

UPDATE: The NY Times has just responded with its own point-by-point rebuttal of Carney’s rebuttal. Also posted on Medium by Baquet.

“The points in today’s posting challenge the credibility of four of the more than two dozen named current or former Amazon employees quoted in the story or cast doubt on their veracity,” Baquet wrote. “The information for the most part, though, did not contradict what the former employees said in our story; instead, you mostly asserted that there were no records of what the workers were describing.”

Baquet noted the reporters spoke to more than 100 former and current employees and that the bent of the story was based on the patterns that emerged. In terms of the four specific anecdotes, he said that Olson disputed the reasons for his departure, while the other three stood by their own characterizations of the tough review process.

Finally, perhaps throwing a bit of jab back for quoting Kantor’s email, Baquet said that Carney had said in a conversation: “I should point out that you said to me that you always assumed this was going to be a tough story, so it is hard to accept that Amazon was expecting otherwise.”

We await Round 2.

UPDATE: Guess we weren’t kidding about Round 2. Cause here it is. Carney wrote another Medium post. He says: “The bottom line is the New York Times chose not to fact-check or vet its most important on-the-record sources, despite working on the story for six months. I really don’t see a defensible explanation for that failure.”

Mr. B. Ball’s in your court.

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