Jeff Bezos buys the Washington Post

Given the political complexion of the Washington Post, one could argue that any change in ownership would be an improvement — unless of course it had been bought by Rupert Murdoch.

Jeff Bezos has the aura of a technology visionary, but once anyone is anointed a visionary of any kind at least half that status derives from the projections of blind believers.

At last year’s Kindle announcement, Bezos seemed like he was constantly on the brink of spontaneously combusting, as though the molecules of his body were vibrating at a slightly faster speed than most people’s. This is partly a matter of charisma, but it is mostly, it seems, a consequence of the intensity of his belief.

If you want to retain that vision of Bezos about to catch fire, make sure you don’t watch the video. In this case, seeing is not believing — at least for the inveterate skeptic writing this post. Maybe that’s because I’m not a faithful member of the church of technology.

Still, $250 million is a reasonably large wad of cash even if that’s only 1% of Bezos’ net worth, so I expect he’s thought a great deal about what he wants to do with the newspaper. Here’s some evidence that he may turn out to be agent of creative change in the news business. Jason Fried writes:

Jeff Bezos stopped by our office yesterday and spent about 90 minutes with us talking product strategy. Before he left, he spent about 45 minutes taking general Q&A from everyone at the office.

During one of his answers, he shared an enlightened observation about people who are “right a lot”.

He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. He doesn’t think consistency of thought is a particularly positive trait. It’s perfectly healthy — encouraged, even — to have an idea tomorrow that contradicted your idea today.

He’s observed that the smartest people are constantly revising their understanding, reconsidering a problem they thought they’d already solved. They’re open to new points of view, new information, new ideas, contradictions, and challenges to their own way of thinking.

Bezos is identified as a libertarian and they do of course come in all political stripes. Still, if there was one element of libertarianism one would expect to see across the political spectrum, it is the defense of free speech. On that score, Amazon seems to have failed miserably when in 2010 they acquiesced to pressure from Congressional staffers:

Early this week, after hacker attacks on its site, Wikileaks moved its operation, including all those diplomatic cables, to the greener pastures of Amazon.com’s cloud servers. But today, it was down again and mid-afternoon we found out the reason: Amazon had axed Wikileaks from its servers.

The announcement came from Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Lieberman said in a statement that Amazon’s “decision to cut off Wikileaks now is the right decision and should set the standard for other companies Wikileaks is using to distribute its illegally seized material.”

Committee staff had seen news reports yesterday that Wikileaks was being hosted on Amazon’s servers, a committee spokeswoman told TPM. The service, we should note, is self-serve; as with services like YouTube, the company does not screen or pre-approve the content posted on its servers.

Staffers then, according to the spokeswoman, Leslie Phillips, called Amazon to ask about it, and left questions with a press secretary including, “Are there plans to take the site down?”

Amazon called them back this morning to say they had kicked Wikileaks off, Phillips said. Amazon said the site had violated unspecified terms of use.

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