Sounding more like a newspaper owner than a Fortune 500 CEO, Jeff Bezos decried Donald Trump’s attacks against the media on Tuesday night.
Bezos is, of course, both — the CEO of Amazon (Tech30) and the owner of The Washington Post. On stage at the Code Conference, he called it inappropriate that Trump “is working to freeze or chill the media that are examining him” and said candidates should be doing the opposite. ,
Trump has been vocally critical of The Post, Amazon and Bezos personally.
Bezos didn’t bring up the presidential candidate when he was interviewed on-stage at the tech conference. But when an audience member asked about Trump, Bezos defended the press.
“It’s just a fact that we live in a world where, half the population on this planet, if you criticize your leader, there’s a good chance you’ll go to jail or worse,” Bezos said. “We live in this amazing democracy with amazing freedom of speech. And a presidential candidate should embrace that.”
Bezos continued: “They should say, ‘I’m running for president of the most important country of the world. I expect to be scrutinized. Please examine me.’ That’s a very important cultural norm.”
Without cultural norms, he added, “the Constitution is just a piece of paper.”
Bezos deflected the questioner’s attempts to ask about whether he would donate money or take other actions to stop Trump. And he specifically avoided giving any of the tech A-listers in the room any political advice.
Instead, he brought it back to his relatively new role as a prominent newspaper publisher.
Bezos invoked the late Post publisher Katherine Graham, who was once threatened by a Nixon administration official.
“With Kay Graham as my role model,” he said, “I’m very willing to let any of my body parts go through a big, fat ringer if needbe.”
Related: Donald Trump’s war on Jeff Bezos, Amazon and the Washington Post
During the wide-ranging conversation with moderator Walt Mossberg, Bezos also said he’s “more optimistic today” about the Post than he was when he bought the paper in 2013.
Bezos reiterated the Post’s pursuit of scale — its strategy is to earn “a relatively small amount of money per reader but on a very large number of readers.”
“That reminds me of Amazon,” Mossberg said.
“That’s exactly right,” Bezos said, and spoke of the Post as the “national and, to some degree, global newspaper for people who are interested in the capital city of the U.S.”
Bezos talked about Amazon’s original programming efforts, observing that “When we win a Golden Globe, it helps us sell more shoes.”
He said that “on the demand side… we don’t compete with Netflix, for the reason that I think people are going to subscribe to both.”
He acknowledged that Amazon and Netflix do compete on the “supply side” by bidding for the same programs.