An Open Letter to the Washington Post

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader

Now that Jeff Bezos has assumed ownership of the Washington Post, may I presume to speak for some very longtime readers of your newspaper about your editorial independence from his control.

In recent weeks we have learned from the Post much about Bezos–his impatience, work ethic, attention to detail, his innovative business success and his raucous laughter.

We have also learned that he has yet to form his plans for the newspaper other than to generally continue its high journalistic performance with changes and adequate resources.

What we have not been told is how the newspaper is going to shield itself from Mr. Bezos’ far-flung business interests in order to maintain reader credibility and trust.

Years ago, I was told by your newspaper that all editorials represented the positions of the Washington Post Company–which was one reason why they were not individually signed by the writers. Since Mr. Bezos will own the Post personally, who will the Post‘s editorials represent?

This is not a question that can be answered by mere verbal assurances. There needs to be an institutional barrier that clearly informs the readers that Mr. Bezos will not exercise any prior restraint or review of newspaper copy unless publicly disclosed.

A public declaration to that effect by Mr. Bezos, coupled with an independent board of directors, will help clarify the relationship that splits ownership from control.

Of course, readers will have the opportunity shortly to see how critical Post reporters can be in covering the increasing number of controversies that swirl around Mr. Bezos’ immense business ambitions and strategies. Their arm’s-length performance will also serve to reassure readers that Mr. Bezos has chosen not to be another Hearst, Murdoch or Annenberg, who, in their time, were known to invade and direct editorial content when they saw fit.

Mr. Bezos would do well to reestablish the longtime ombudsman post which was abolished in March of this year, presumably to save money. For an ombudsman’s role is not just to be an internal critic at the paper but also to be the reader’s coherent voice on the ways the Washington Post is being managed.

As a fellow Princetonian, I hope Mr. Bezos will treat the Post with his alma mater’s signature motto by letting the Post operate “in the nation’s service.”

Ralph Nader is one of the nation’s foremost consumer advocates.