Amazon’s Critics Get New Life With Trump’s Attacks on the Company

Some are concerned about the president’s motivations for his attacks, which people close to Mr. Trump have said are often triggered by negative coverage of his administration in The Washington Post, a newspaper owned personally by Mr. Bezos. Mr. Trump has mingled his attacks on Amazon and the newspaper in some tweets, including one in early April slamming “the Fake News Washington Post, Amazon’s ‘chief lobbyist.’”

Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute, a think tank that has become a vocal critic of the power of tech companies, said he believed Amazon was worthy of action by regulators in part because of its power in the book market. But he also said he found Mr. Trump’s efforts to “personalize law enforcement” troubling.

“What he’s doing is a threat to democracy, but so is Amazon,” Mr. Stoller said. “That’s the dilemma.”


Since Amazon purchased Whole Foods last year, it has become a bigger concern for labor unions like the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

Drew Anthony Smith for The New York Times

Still, early this month, after Mr. Trump launched another Twitter tirade against Amazon’s deal with the Postal Service, Mr. Stoller jumped on board on Twitter.

The most direct effort to tap Mr. Trump’s hostility toward Amazon was an advertisement last month about the contract to provide cloud computing services to the Defense Department — worth up to $10 billion, by some estimates. The ad, with a picture of Mr. Bezos looking chummy next to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, appeared in the president’s favorite hometown tabloid.

“I had never seen that before,” Katell Thielemann, an analyst who follows the government technology contracting market for the research firm Gartner, said of the attack ad.

The ad was placed by Less Government, which calls itself a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. Seton Motley, who runs the group, did not respond to requests for comment. He has said in interviews that he funded the ad himself. It’s unclear who backs the group, but there are large tech companies, some with connections to Mr. Trump, that have expressed their unhappiness with how the contract is structured.

The contract came up in a dinner this month with Mr. Trump and Safra Catz, co-chief executive of Oracle, according to a person briefed on the matter, who asked not to be identified because the details are confidential. Ms. Catz told the president that the way the Defense Department had written the contract, awarding it to just one vendor, was an advantage to Amazon, the person said.

So far, Mr. Trump hasn’t publicly expressed concern about Amazon’s bid for the contract. The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Trump recently escalated his attacks on Amazon with a presidential order to review the Postal Service’s financial model, which he has denounced on Twitter as money-losing because of favorable deals worked out with Amazon. (The Postal Service denies that deals like its one with Amazon are unprofitable.)

“The playing field has to be leveled,” he told reporters this month, promising to take a serious look at policies that might affect Amazon.

Mr. Trump’s Amazon attacks have amplified criticisms that have been building for years among research groups and trade organizations that represent Amazon’s rivals.

They have produced studies that say Amazon’s warehouses — which employ more than 125,000 full-time workers in the United States — don’t increase total local employment because of losses in other sectors. They also question the wisdom of subsidies to attract them. The American Booksellers Association, which represents independent bookstores, recently published a similar report on Amazon’s economic impact.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, one of the largest private-sector unions in the country, representing 1.3 million workers in grocery stores and related industries, said Amazon’s investments in automation would hurt workers. Since it bought Whole Foods last year, Amazon has become one of the union’s top concerns.

Asked about Mr. Trump’s attacks on Amazon, Marc Perrone, president of the union, said: “Allowing Amazon’s unchecked growth to continue will lead to the destruction of millions of American jobs. Which begs the question: Why aren’t all Democrats and Republicans speaking out?”

A spokesman for Amazon declined to comment.

When Mr. Trump bashes Amazon for not collecting taxes, he is echoing long-running criticism of the company by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a nonpartisan research organization. Amazon collects sales tax in states that have one for items it sells directly to shoppers, but in most states it does not when shoppers buy merchandise from independent merchants on Amazon.

Other critics — from technology pundits to a former chief executive of Walmart U.S. — have called for antitrust action against Amazon by the government, including a breakup of the company.

Amazon’s defense is that — even as it has swelled into a giant, with over $177 billion in revenue last year — its share of overall retail sales is still small, estimated to be in the mid-single digits in the United States. This, along with Amazon’s emphasis on keeping prices low, has made it challenging for opponents to spark action under current antitrust law, which is primarily focused on consumer harm.

It’s unclear if Mr. Trump can do much to get antitrust enforcers at the Federal Trade Commission or Justice Department, which are supposed to keep politics out of competition cases, to act against Amazon. But his executive order asking for a review of the Postal Service, including its relationship with customers like Amazon, could lead to changes unfavorable to the company.

In a recent opinion piece about Mr. Trump’s attacks on Amazon, the social critic Thomas Frank said he didn’t believe Mr. Trump would use antitrust laws to challenge Amazon, even though Mr. Frank would approve of such a move.

“I don’t like Amazon, and I don’t like Donald Trump either,” he wrote in The Guardian, the British newspaper.

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Amazon Reboots the Studio Where ‘Citizen Kane’ and ‘E.T.’ Were Made

As a string of owners struggled to adapt to changing audience tastes, new technology and rising costs, vast sections of the campus were sold. (Condominiums now occupy part of the area where Selznick ignited monumental outdoor sets to simulate the burning of Atlanta.) As waves of consolidation buffeted the movie business and fewer films were made, idling some of Culver Studios’ stages, the facility turned to television production to pay its bills, much like Hollywood as a whole.


Jennifer Salke, chairwoman of Amazon Studios, took part in a ribbon cutting ceremony to commemorate the $12 million restoration of four studio buildings.

Elizabeth Lippman for The New York Times

By 2004, when a struggling Sony sold the property, years of underinvestment had taken a toll. The old star bungalows were in poor repair. Soundstages were outdated. The mansion smelled like Grandma’s house. “It needed a lot of work, to say the least,” Mr. Hackman said. (Contrary to popular belief, the mansion was not Tara in “Gone With the Wind.”)

Amazon, which has roughly 700 entertainment employees, began moving staff here late last year. More will follow as buildings are completed.

“It’s about recognizing the traditions and legacy of Hollywood, while also recognizing that we have the ability to reshape it,” Mr. Cheng, chief operating officer of Amazon Studios, said of the decision to make Culver Studios the unit’s headquarters.

Last month, Amazon said it would also lease a four-story building that is going up across the street, giving its Hollywood division a total of 355,000 square feet of office space in Culver City. (Apple recently leased a building three blocks away for its own original content group.)

Amazon revealed Wednesday that more than 100 million people globally had a Prime membership, which includes access to its streaming service, and the company is expected to spend $5 billion on movies and television programming this year, according to the J.P. Morgan analyst Doug Anmuth. Its 44 original series include “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “The Man in the High Castle.” Amazon has at least 10 movies in various stages of production, including “Life Itself,” a highly anticipated romance set for release on Sept. 21.

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To Trump, It’s the ‘Amazon Washington Post.’ To Its Editor, That’s Baloney.

“The #AmazonWashingtonPost, sometimes referred to as the guardian of Amazon not paying internet taxes (which they should) is FAKE NEWS!” he wrote in June last year.

“Is Fake News Washington Post being used as a lobbyist weapon against Congress to keep Politicians from looking into Amazon no-tax monopoly?” he tweeted the next month.

How do the president’s broadsides play inside The Post’s newsroom?

“I don’t even know how to describe what goes through my mind,” Martin Baron, the paper’s executive editor, said in a telephone interview on Monday. “It’s completely made up.”

People close to the president have said critical articles in The Post often trigger his public musings about Amazon. Last week, after The Post reported that Mr. Trump’s lawyer had raised the prospect of offering pardons to two of Mr. Trump’s former top advisers, Michael Flynn and Paul J. Manafort, Mr. Trump fired off a tweet saying that Amazon did not pay enough taxes and was “putting many thousands of retailers out of business.” (The Post’s report on the talk of pardons followed an article on that subject in The New York Times, which has also drawn the president’s wrath on Twitter.)

It is not clear which article, if any, set off Mr. Trump’s Saturday morning barrage against Amazon and The Post. The paper had published an article on Friday about the Trump Organization’s finances, which it described as being “under unprecedented assault a year into his presidency” because of legal reviews.

Mr. Trump’s tweeted criticisms of Mr. Bezos, Amazon and The Post may not have much bite. Lindsay Walters, a White House spokeswoman, told reporters last week that “the president has expressed his concerns with Amazon,” adding, “We have no actions at this time.”


Asked about President Trump’s tweet storm attacking The Post, its editor, Martin Baron, said, “It’s completely made up.”

Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

The president’s tweet storm may have had one real-world effect, however: Amazon’s stock fell 5.2 percent on Monday, a day when the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index dropped 2.2 percent.

As the group of wealthy business leaders who own newspapers grows — Patrick Soon-Shiong, a billionaire medical entrepreneur, agreed in February to buy The Los Angeles Times — Mr. Trump’s blasts at Mr. Bezos and Amazon could provide a template for future lines of attack against individuals and companies with ties to news organizations whose coverage he does not like.

“Do I think it’s a bad thing that the president is attacking a news outlet, period? Yes,” said Indira Lakshmanan, who holds the Newmark chair in journalism ethics at the Poynter Institute, a center for media studies. “And that he’s attacking a business owned by an owner of a media company? Yes, if there are no grounds for it.”

On Monday, Mr. Baron said The Post was not cowed by Mr. Trump’s invectives. “We cover him the way that we feel any president should be covered,” he said. After Mr. Trump’s tweets on Saturday, the paper published an article under the headline “Trump accuses Amazon of ‘Post Office scam,’ falsely says The Post is company’s lobbyist.”

Mr. Baron also rebuffed any suggestion that The Post was a lobbyist for Amazon, as Mr. Trump has proclaimed at times.

“There isn’t anybody here who is paid by Amazon,” he said. “Not one penny.”

(Drew Herdener, an Amazon spokesman, declined to comment or to provide an interview with Mr. Bezos.)

Mr. Bezos holds conference calls with The Post’s leadership every other week to discuss the paper’s business strategy but has no involvement in its news coverage, Mr. Baron said. During his occasional appearances at The Post’s building, Mr. Bezos sometimes stops by a news meeting “just to thank everybody,” Mr. Baron said.

“I can’t say more emphatically he’s never suggested a story to anybody here, he’s never critiqued a story, he’s never suppressed a story,” the editor said.

“Frankly, in a newsroom of 800 journalists, if that had occurred, I guarantee you, you would have heard about it,” he added. “Newsrooms tend not to like those kinds of interventions, particularly a newsroom that’s as proud as The Washington Post.

“If he had been involved in our news coverage, you can be sure that you would have heard about it by now,” Mr. Baron added. “It hasn’t happened. Period.”

Mr. Bezos’ hands-off approach extends to The Post’s coverage of Amazon. During a town hall-style meeting held before his deal for The Post was completed, he told the paper’s employees that they should cover him as they would any other business executive and treat Amazon no differently from any other company, Mr. Baron said.

“He’s reiterated that to me any number of times,” he said. “He doesn’t get involved. I’ve never heard from him on any story that we’ve written about Amazon, and we’ve had any number of them that are critical.”

By Monday morning, it seemed that Mr. Trump had found a new target.

“So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased,” the president tweeted, responding to negative reports over the weekend about the Sinclair Broadcast Group. “Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.”

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Trump Attacks Amazon, Saying It Does Not Pay Enough Taxes


Amazon and the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, are among President Trump’s regular Twitter targets.

Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump spoke out against Amazon on Thursday, saying that the online behemoth does not pay enough taxes and uses the United States postal system “as their Delivery Boy.”

The president’s commentary, made in a Twitter post, comes amid reports that Mr. Trump has expressed an interest in reining in the e-commerce business.

Amazon and the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, are among Mr. Trump’s regular Twitter targets. In December, Mr. Trump questioned whether the United States Post Office charges Amazon enough for package deliveries. And in August, Mr. Trump said Amazon hurts taxpaying businesses.

Amazon, however, does pay taxes — $412 million in 2016, for instance, according to the company’s report to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The media company Axios reported on Wednesday that Mr. Trump has wondered aloud whether Amazon could be vulnerable to antitrust or competition laws. Amazon shares fell almost 5 percent following that Axios article, Reuters reported.

Raj Shah, a deputy White House press secretary, said that Mr. Trump “has talked about the need to have tax parity between online retailers and brick and mortar retailers.”

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