Explainer! Why Vox.com’s Ezra Klein should be Amazon’s next corporate PR chief

Explainer! Why Vox.com’s Ezra Klein should be Amazon’s next corporate PR chief

In the wake of the controversy stoked by the New York Times’ exposé on Amazon’s employment practices, former Whitehouse spokesperson Jay Carney, who’s now a highly-paid flack for the tech company, came out swinging in the media.

Unsurprisingly, the man who went from the White House to talk up Jeff Bezos in the same way that he burnished President Obama’s reputation, thinks Amazon is just double-plus awesome. He told CBS’ ‘This Morning’ that the corporation is “an incredibly compelling” workplace:

I think the fundamental flaw in the story is the suggestion that any company that had the kind of culture that the New York Times wrote about, and sort of a cruel, Darwinian or Dickensian kind of atmosphere in the workplace could survive and thrive in today’s marketplace.

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A spirited defense, but then this is a man who used to generate excuses for drone strikes, so he’s pretty skilled.

Carney has got a huge salary and stock options to keep him warm and it’s his job as Amazon Senior Vice President of Global Corporate Affairs to pump the party line. Other defenders of the company’s work culture don’t have such obvious reasons.

Ezra Klein, the editor-in-chief of Vox.com, the titular news explainer site owned by the parent company of The Next Web’s rival The Verge, appeared on NPR and offered only the thinnest sympathy for workers who were pushed out of the company due to cancer, miscarriages and family crisis. Guess they just couldn’t cut it.

Klein whose site and career are predicated on hammering the “anecdotes are not data” narrative – one that is only true to a point – was cold as ice when it came to discussing Amazon workers:

If you’re at Amazon and you’re a high performer and they are treating you badly or they are asking things of you that don’t allow you to have a family life, you’re going to go to Google, because Google is pretty good about family life. And that absolutely happens by the way.

A system where you have the capacity to exit and have another good job, is a system that can only get so brutal. That’s why it’s very different, in my view, to what happens in the Amazon warehouses… the people do not have other options.

It’s hard for me on some fundamental level to get that concerned about the Amazon employees who are there by choice in Seattle and have other job options… compared to the amount of things that happen in warehouses.

As my colleague Lauren Hockenson puts it – you can make the argument that white collar work slavery is a picnic compared to blue collar work slavery but that’s like saying getting your foot smashed to pieces is better than getting it chopped off, because maybe you’ll still be able to use it one day.

Here’s the point at which Klein’s ‘Let’s talk data, not anecdotes’ talk falls down – when he leans hard on anecdote himself:

…I think the blue collar piece of this is important… I know a number of people who work at Amazon and I have been following this debate pretty closely.

And I think that Amazon is like a lot of companies, a place where work and pressure, good and ban management, are unevenly distributed. I think some people work incredibly long hours and have terrible bosses who are callous about maternity, callous about sickness callous about family responsibilities.

And I think a lot of other people at Amazon work much more reasonable hours… have great bosses, love their jobs… The people who are going to be most interested in talking and whose stories are most vivid are the people who had something terrible happen.

“I think…” and “I know a number of people who work at Amazon,” come from the same school of thinking as venture capitalist Marc Andreessen blithely concluding that the company is fine because people there have only ever said nice things about it to him.

The stack of emails I’ve received from current and former Amazon employees say different. Sometimes filter bubbles are hard to pop.

While Klein made it very clear that he would never want to replicate the approach to workers’ rights taken at Amazon in his own management style at Vox, he still made big excuses for Bezos and co.

The truth is, Amazon and its critics agree on a lot more here than I think people are letting on. Amazon drives people incredibly, incredibly hard.

And if you love the work, and are great at the work, and if you are happy to work very long hours for, by the way, a very lavish level of compensation, then it’s going to work out great for you. If you’re not, if you don’t want to work those hours, if the work is maybe not something you’re best in class good at, they’re going to make you miserable until you leave.

Yeah, that’s a defensible way to run a company – institutionalized bullying and a Stasi-style anonymous snitch system to keep people in line. Screw humans! Long live the algorithms!

Klein is a well-respected journalist and his career is going very well. Similarly, Carney seems to be doing a bang up job offering morality-free support for Amazon’s worst excesses. But, if something does change, Jeff Bezos should write Klein a big check, he’s the perfect candidate for a corporate PR job.

Feature image credit: Shutterstock + Amazon 

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