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Nyt Amazon Article Rebuttal Essay

Amazon isn’t done responding to the New York Times’ scathing article on what it’s like to work at the e-commerce giant.

Following the report in August that painted Amazon (AMZN) as an unforgiving, competitive employer with downright mean management tactics, Amazon executives have scrambled to refute those accusations.

In a memo to staff, CEO Jeff Bezos said that he didn’t recognize the workplace described in the Times article and that any “callous management practices” like those cited in the piece should be reported to Amazon’s human resources department. Prior to Bezos’s response, Nick Ciubotariu, Amazon’s head of infrastructure development, defended his company on LinkedIn, arguing that “singling out several outliers to vilify an entire company does not represent truth in journalism.”

The latest rebuke comes two months after the story was published, and it aims at poking holes in the credibility of former Amazon employees who delivered some of the story’s most sensational anecdotes.

In a Medium post, Jay Carney, senior vice president of global corporate affairs at Amazon who’s also served as White House Press Secretary and a reporter for Time magazine (a publication of Time Inc., which is also the parent company of Fortune), took direct aim at former Amazon employee Bo Olson, who provided one of the article’s harshest zingers: “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”


Carney wrote that Times reporters Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld didn’t seek out—and therefore didn’t publish—key details about Olson’s brief tenure at Amazon, which Carney said “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.”

Olson did not immediately return Fortune‘s request for comment, but in his own Medium post responding to Carney, Times executive editor Dean Baquet said that Olson told the paper he disputes Amazon’s account of his departure; that Olson “was never confronted with allegations of personally fraudulent conduct or falsifying records, nor did he admit to that.”

Carney took similar jabs at other sources and anecdotes in the article and said that the Times reporters had failed to fulfill their duty to provide readers with full context: “Journalism 101 instructs that facts should be checked and sources should be vetted. When there are two sides of a story, a reader deserves to know them both.”

In his Medium response to Carney, Baquet called Kantor’s and Streitfeld’s story “an accurate portrait” of Amazon’s work environment that was based on interviews with more than a hundred current and former Amazon employees. While Carney’s post provides additional information about some of the Times‘ sources, Baquet said what Carney revealed “did not contradict what the former employees said in our story.” Instead, Baquet wrote, Carney “mostly asserted that there were no records of what the workers were describing. Of course, plenty of conversations and interactions occur in workplaces that are not documented in personnel files.”

Three days after the article’s publication in August, the New York Times’ own public editor delivered somewhat negative feedback on the article, saying it was “driven less by irrefutable proof than by generalization and anecdote. For such a damning result, presented with so much drama, that doesn’t seem like quite enough.” The public editor’s article does note that Baquet disagreed with that assessment.

The article has been updated to include Dean Baquet’s response.

Mr. Baquet said in an interview that he had responded on Medium because Mr. Carney had posted his critique there. “My view is if someone critiques a story, you owe them a response,” he said. “Jay sent me this critique a while back and we set out to try and examine very closely his criticisms, and it took a while. He was within his rights to put it out.”

Mr. Carney, he said, is doing his job. “But I actually think, with respect to them, they don’t have a leg to stand on,” he said. “It was a very honest investigative piece that stands up to any scrutiny.” Asked if he plans to continue engaging publicly in other, similar circumstances, Mr. Baquet said, “Yes, yes, yes.”

The original article contained anecdotes about workers enduring withering criticism from their superiors and others who said they were elbowed out of the company when their performance suffered for various reasons, including illness.

Mr. Carney’s post, “What The New York Times Didn’t Tell You,” was a blistering rebuttal. A former White House press secretary, Mr. Carney both challenged the credibility of sources in the article and accused the paper of misrepresenting their experience.

His most prominent objection was to a quote from Bo Olson, a former Amazon employee, who said, “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.” Mr. Carney said that Mr. Olson’s brief time at Amazon ended after he had tried to defraud vendors and falsify business records to conceal his actions.

He said Mr. Olson admitted what he had done when confronted and resigned immediately.

Mr. Carney said that Amazon was in regular contact over a seven-month period with Jodi Kantor, one of the Times reporters who wrote the article, and that she never told the company that they intended to quote Mr. Olson. “Did Ms. Kantor’s editors at The Times ask her whether Mr. Olson might have an axe to grind?” Mr. Carney wrote.

In his response, Mr. Baquet wrote that The Times contacted Mr. Olson on Monday and that he said he had never been confronted by Amazon with accusations of fraudulent conduct or falsifying records, and did not admit such conduct. Mr. Baquet said the paper would have mentioned that Mr. Olson’s status at the company was contested, had he known.

Mr. Baquet said other current and former Amazon employees interviewed for the article recounted similar stories of people crying publicly at the company.

Reached by phone, Mr. Olson declined to comment further.

It is rare for Amazon to undertake a full-throated attack on an article critical of the company. Shortly after the article appeared, Jeffrey P. Bezos, its chief executive and founder, sent an email to the company’s employees saying that he didn’t “recognize this Amazon and I very much hope you don’t, either.”

It is even more unusual for the company to share information from its personnel files to challenge an article, as it did for Mr. Olson and others. “Amazon wants to rewrite story by releasing personal details about employees,” Glenn Fleishman, a freelance journalist who worked at Amazon briefly in the late ’90s, wrote on Twitter.

Mr. Carney declined to be interviewed. In a statement, he responded to a question about Amazon’s decision to use personnel records to rebut accusations from a former employee. “It is unusual,” he wrote. “If The Times had followed normal standards and checked their sources, we might have said, ‘This source may not be credible — here’s why.’ ”

He added, “If The Times insisted on relying on the source, we would have gone on the record with the reasons why the source might not be credible or what the other side of the story was.”

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