Today in Shoot That Messenger Dead news: nobody likes unflattering articles written about their companies—much less unflattering books. As many hacks and flacks now know, Jeff Bezos‘ wife MacKenzie wrote a long, scathing one-star review of Brad Stone‘s The Everything Store, which claims to be a tell-all about the Amazon CEO and (we assume) his various ethical offenses.
It’s been getting a lot of attention online, and the fact that it’s transparent helps as MacKenzie Bezos makes sure to remind readers who she is:
…I have firsthand knowledge of many of the events. I worked for Jeff at D. E. Shaw, I was there when he wrote the business plan…and [we] have been married for 20 years.
Some of the review and the comments of others read like Amazon fanfiction by focusing on all the grateful employees who Stone declined to mention—and so far most who have read the book praise it. But her basic point is that the author sells his product as a look inside Bezos’ mind despite the fact that the CEO himself played no part in its creation:
…readers should remember that Jeff was never interviewed for this book, and should also take note of how seldom these guesses about his feelings and motives are marked with a footnote indicating there is any other source to substantiate them…Hollywood often uses a more honest label: “a story based on true events.”
One undeniable fact: the review has inspired more coverage than the book itself. So was it a successful damage control effort?
Stone responded today in Bloomberg, writing that he never claimed to be objective in the first place and that he interviewed hundreds of people who had worked with and for Bezos:
Mrs. Bezos…suggests that there are a handful of factual errors in my account. As a journalist…that troubles me a great deal…
I spoke to more than 300 people for my book—among them current and former Amazon employees, rivals, partners, and customers.
He then thanks her for taking the time to write the review before noting that she did not dispute any of the book’s negative “major revelations” and challenging critics to point out factual errors rather than evidence of “bias”:
I’m not so high on my own authority to ignore the obvious: there are details of this story that only Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos can know. If they point to errors, I’ll gladly correct them.
Here’s the question: will this review and all the attention it has received mitigate the potential damage to Amazon’s reputation? Can a single, well-publicized review truly turn an existing narrative on its head, or will Brad Stone get the last word?
Also: does the fact that MacKenzie is married to the book’s subject affect her credibility as a messenger? Would you have advised her to stay away?
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