Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos took aim at President Donald Trump over his criticism of journalists Thursday night, saying his rhetoric calling the media the “enemy of the people” erodes the freedom of the press the nation cherishes.
“It is a mistake for any elected official in my opinion … to attack media and journalists. I believe that it’s an essential component of our democracy,” Bezos said in an on-stage interview hosted by the Economic Club of Washington.
“What the president should say is, ‘This is right. This is good. I am glad I am getting scrutinized,’” he said. “But it’s really dangerous to demonize the media. It’s dangerous to call the media lowlifes. It’s dangerous to say they’re the ‘enemy of the people.’”
Bezos bought the Post in 2013 with $250 million from his personal fortune, and has since injected fresh capital and ambition into the region’s largest media outlet.
But his ownership of the newspaper has provoked constant outrage from Trump, who rails against the newspaper’s coverage of him and falsely claims it acts as an advocate for Amazon. Trump accuses Amazon of avoiding taxes, destroying traditional retailers and ripping off the U.S. Postal Service.
Bezos said he does not “feel the need to defend Amazon” against Trump, but that he will defend the Post.
Asked at another point about speculation that Amazon will chose the Washington area for his company’s much-coveted second corporate headquarters, Bezos punted.
“The answer is very simple: We will announce a decision before the end of this year,” he told the audience that included Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. “The team is working their butts off on it.”
The crowd was audibly disappointed.
“No, no, be nice!” Bezos chided to laughs.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam had been expected to attend the event as well, but was forced to cancel to oversee preparations for Hurricane Florence.
Anticipation is running high as Amazon prepares to announce the location of its “HQ2” following a year-long search process that sent cities across the country scrambling to offer tax breaks and other incentives to lure the company. Amazon is expected to employ 50,000 people and invest $5 billion in its new home, promising the winning jurisdiction a huge economic boost.
Three Washington-area spots — northern Virginia, Montgomery County, Md., and the District of Columbia — are among the 20 finalists. That is driving intense speculation among local business and political leaders that Bezos will choose to put down corporate roots here.
Feeding the speculation about the D.C. area’s chances: Bezos and other members of Amazon’s board of directors held a meeting in Washington this week.
Ahead of the Bezos appearance at the Washington Hilton, about two dozen protesters organized by the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America chanted anti-Amazon slogans outside the hotel and carried signs with messages like “Block Bezos” and “Tax Amazon, Fund Communities.” They objected to local leaders offering any kind of financial incentive to the company.
Earlier Thursday, Bezos — the world’s richest person — pledged $2 billion to fight homelessness and build preschools in low-income neighborhoods. It marks the tech mogul’s largest known philanthropic donation to date and amounts to 1.2 percent of his net worth, which the Bloomberg Billionaires Index places at $164 billion.
But Bezos and his company have drawn ire from both sides of the political spectrum even as they have amassed growing wealth and influence. Just last week, Amazon became just the second U.S. company — after Apple — to reach $1 trillion in market value.
In its current home base of Seattle, Amazon drew widespread criticism earlier this year when it fought against a tax on businesses that would have generated revenue to provide affordable housing and combat homelessness. The city council repealed the measure after the company said the tax was causing it to reconsider its plans to expand in Seattle.
Complaints about the company’s treatment of workers inspired Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) to introduce a bill last week aimed at pushing large businesses to pay their employees a livable wage — a measure they dubbed the “Stop BEZOS Act.”
Amazon already has a considerable presence in the Washington region. Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud computing division and a sponsor of Thursday’s Bezos dinner, employs thousands of people in northern Virginia and is aggressively pursuing U.S. government contracts.
Bezos is also the owner of Washington’s biggest house, a former textile museum.