Jeff Bezos to Donald Trump: Free Speech For Me, But Not For Thee

Billionaire Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos wants Donald Trump to shut up and silently accept a grilling by the pro-establishment, anti-Trump media.

“One thing, I think, that is not appropriate that Donald Trump is doing, is working to freeze or chill the media that are examining him,” Bezos declared Tuesday, May 31 at the Code Conference in California.

“A presidential candidate should embrace that [media investigation]. They should say ‘I’m running for president of the most important country of the world. I expect to be scrutinized, please examine me,’” he said, without also acknowledging that Trump and his supporters are entitled to freely criticize the media, including reporters at Bezos’ newspaper, The Washington Post

Trump should just ignore his critics, Bezos argued. ”The best defense against speech that you don’t like about yourself as a public figure is to develop a thick skin. You can’t stop it.”

Bezos’ statement came as his Silicon Valley peers — Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter — announced that they have agreed to work with Europe’s emerging central governments to hide, suppress and counter free-speech by left-wing and right-wing European nationalists.

Despite Bezos’ advice, Trump does not agree that silence is the best defense against critics or a hostile media. 

Bezos’ comments came the same day that Trump aggressively shook down the press at a press conference, describing one reporter as a “sleaze.”

The press conference highlighted Trump’s combative relationship with the establishment media, whose leading members completely failed throughout 2015 and early 2016 to recognize the semi-hidden public support for Trump’s anti-establishment attitude and pro-American policies. “Look, I find the press to be extremely dishonest. I find the political press to be unbelievably dishonest. I will say that. Okay,” he said as he left the event. “Thank you all very much.”

Throughout the campaign, Trump has criticized the media as shills for the Washington establishment.

For example, in February, at a rally in Fort Worth, Texas, Trump said that “I think the media is among the most dishonest groups of people I’ve ever met.”

Trump has also slammed Bezos and promised to push back if he’s made president. Bezos “bought the Washing Post to have political influence… he owns Amazon, he wants political influence so that Amazon will benefit from it,” Trump told a February rally in Texas.

“That’s not right. Believe me, if I become president … they’re going to have such problems,” Trump added. For example, he said he would try to “open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and wins lots of money.”

Under long-standing Supreme Court rules, a media company is safe from lawsuits unless it acts with actual malice, or reckless disregard of truth.

In May, Trump again criticized Bezos, shortly after news emerged that his Washington Post had allocated 20 reporters to investigate Trump. It is not clear how many Washington Post reporters investigating Hillary Clinton’s charitable foundation, email security or compliance with federal open-government laws.

Amazon is “getting away with murder, tax-wise,” Trump said in May, citing the reality that online retailers pay lower sales-taxes than brick-and-mortar retailers, or also hotels — including Trump’s hotels. Bezos “is using The Washington Post for power so that the politicians in Washington don’t tax Amazon like they should be taxed,” Trump said.

Trump argued that Bezos is using The Washington Post to protect his Amazon business. “Amazon is controlling so much of what they’re doing … what they’ve done is he bought this paper for practically nothing, and he’s using that as a tool for political power against me and against other people, and I’ll tell you what, we can’t let him get away with it.”

Bezos has tried to waive away Trump’s claims about his political priorities.

“The only thing I would say, with [former Washington Post owner] Katie Graham as my role model, is I’m very glad to have any of my body parts go through a big fat wringer, if need be,” Bezos said Tuesday.

Bezos cited the Constitution and Americans’ civic culture of free speech when arguing for the media’s right to speak freely about politicians — but repeatedly declined to note that politicians also have the right to speak freely about their critics and political rivals.

“This country has the best free speech protections in the world because of the Constitution but also because of our cultural norms,” he said.

You don’t want to create any climate of fear when it comes to free speech norms. Beautiful speech doesn’t need protection; ugly speech does. If you step back and think about what a great society we have, part of it is we have these cultural norms that allow people to say these ugly things. You should let them say it.

“It’s just a fact that we live in a world where half the population on this planet, if you criticize your leader, you could go to jail or worse. And we live in this amazing democracy, with amazing freedom of speech, and a presidential candidate should embrace that … without the cultural norms [of free speech against politicians], the constitution is just a piece or paper,” he said.

In the past, Bezos has said he bought the Washington Post because it gives him a greater role in politics. “With [his purchase of] the Post, he’s taken a seat at the civic-leadership table,” says an admiring April 2016 profile in Fortune.

“I would not have bought The Washington Post if it had been a financially upside-down salty-snack-food company,” he says. Bezos describes being 10 years old, sprawled on the floor of his grandfather’s house, watching the Watergate hearings. The Post, of course, achieved its maximum renown covering that political scandal. “We need institutions that have the resources and the training and the skill, expertise, to find things,” Bezos says. “It’s pretty important who we elect as President, all those things, and we need to examine those people, try to understand them better.”


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