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LEVER WEEKLY: How Billionaires Shape The News They Own

Jan 22, 2023 David Sirota
Citizen Bezos’ latest visit to the Washington Post newsroom explains why independent media is so necessary.
LEVER WEEKLY: How Billionaires Shape The News They Own
Jeff Bezos. (Jordan Strauss/AP)

This is Lever Weekly, a recap of our work from the past week. If you only read one email from us all week, this should be it.

Below you will find a breakdown of our reporting, podcasts, videos, and live events — a feature now open to all subscribers. Following that, we are providing paid subscribers with an original column, written by a member of The Lever, connecting the dots on our coverage to deliver important takeaways.

In this week’s column, exclusively for paid subscribers, David Sirota explores why billionaire Jeff Bezos’ visit to his Washington Post newsroom exemplifies how the discourse is influenced and controlled in today’s news ecosystem.

Stuff The Lever Reported This Week:

The Lawsuit That Could Freeze Speech Against BillionairesA gas mogul’s case against Beto O’Rourke could deter candidates from ever talking about money in politics.

Pfizer Pays To Change The StoryPharmaceutical giant Pfizer is using Semafor to brag about its generosity abroad as it hikes U.S. drug prices.

Corporations Are Pushing The Supreme Court To Crush UnionsConservative corporate lobbying groups are leaning on the government’s most minoritarian branch, the Supreme Court, to deal a massive blow to the working class and unions.

LEFT WONDERING: Will Eating Bugs Save The World — Or Doom It? —  Plus, how you can boost the ethics of your 401(k).

Stuff To Watch & Listen To:

LEVER TIME: The State Of Congress (w/ Rep. Ro Khanna)David Sirota speaks with Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) about the current goings-on in Congress.

LEVER TIME PREMIUM: Life On Delay: Making Peace With A StutterJoel Warner interviews author John Hendrickson about the political and personal impacts of speech disfluency.

LEVER LIVE: How To Fix America’s Transit WoesSirota and former Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) explore the issues plaguing the U.S. airline industry and railroad companies.

Buttigieg Could’ve Improved Airline Issues And Just…Didn’tSirota went on The Daily Beast’s podcast, The New Abnormal, to talk about what Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg could have done to preempt the flight cancellation fiasco over the holidays.

Thank You To One Of Our Newest Lever Leaders

Thank you to Stephanie Ellis for stepping up and becoming a Lever Leader! Lever Leaders provide us with our highest level of support, and score lots of exclusive perks. Stephanie had this to say about why she supports The Lever: “There is no democracy without an independent media.”

How Billionaires Shape The News They Own

By David Sirota

In 2019, Bernie Sanders was the target of a corporate media feeding frenzy for what pundits deemed an unforgivable crime: After his successful battle to shame Amazon into raising workers’ wages, the Vermont senator dared to note that the company’s chairman, Jeff Bezos, owns the Washington Post, and the paper had been highly critical of Sanders’ presidential campaign.

Though Sanders made clear that he wasn’t claiming “Bezos is on the phone, telling the editor of The Washington Post what to do,” his statement was roundly condemned for insinuating that Bezos has any editorial influence at his newspaper.

“Contrary to the conspiracy theory the senator seems to favor, Jeff Bezos allows our newsroom to operate with full independence, as our reporters and editors can attest,” insisted then-executive editor Marty Baron.

You can debate whether Bezos’ ownership specifically resulted in consistently slanted Post coverage against Sanders. But on the larger question of media ownership’s influence and independence, there shouldn’t be any dispute, as evidenced by what happened this week. Three years after the Sanders spat, news broke that Bezos was present in a Washington Post morning editorial meeting — one of “a number” of times he has sat in on such meetings over the years. He also reportedly met with the newspaper’s national editors and one of its top political reporters.

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The spectacle validated the central truism Sanders was attacked as a “conspiracy theorist” for voicing: Yes, Bezos does appear to have at least some influence at the newspaper he owns, as do all corporations and billionaires that own the media empires dominating — and distorting — the discourse.

In Bezos’ case, he has always been a looming presence at a news outlet he said he bought because…

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