Amazon Issues Scathing Response to New York Times Exposé

PR Boss: Allegations of worker mistreatment and a cut-throat culture are a misrepresentation.

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Remember that New York Times story about Amazon‘s “bruising” and “harsh” corporate culture? You know, the one detailing how the cut-throat environment makes grown men cry at their desks?

Well, Amazon is firing back at the Times, saying that one of its chief sources in the story not only had an axe to grind but also attempted to defraud the company.

The Times interviewed former Amazon employee Bo Olson who said this quintessential quote: “You walk out of a conference room and you’ll see a grown man covering his face. Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”

But Amazon offered some new information in this blog post: “Here’s what the story didn’t tell you about Mr. Olson: his brief tenure at Amazon ended after an investigation revealed he had attempted to defraud vendors and conceal it by falsifying business records. When confronted with the evidence, he admitted it and resigned immediately.”

Written by none other than former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, the response alleges that one of the Times writers, Jodi Kantor “never asked us to check or comment on any of the dozen or so negative anecdotes from named sources that form the narrative backbone of the story.” (Carney is now senior vice president for global corporate affairs at Amazon.)

There are five Amazon fulfillment centers in Pennsylvania (including one in the Lehigh Valley), as well as two in Delaware and four in New Jersey. Back in 2011, the Allentown Morning Call did it’s own expose, finding that “temperatures soar on hot summer days, production rates are difficult to achieve and the permanent jobs sought by many temporary workers hired by an outside agency are tough to get.”

Meanwhile, the Times story offered this scathing statement: “The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others.” But the Amazon response tells a different tale: “The tool that the Times suggests is institutional encouragement to anonymously stab people in the back is rarely used and, when it is, most feedback is positive. Also, it’s not anonymous. The reporters knew that and dropped some qualifying language deep in the story after painting a picture that was far more entertaining than accurate.”

The Times also quoted employee Dina Vaccari saying “one time I didn’t sleep for four days straight,” but the Amazon response quotes Vaccari’s own online response to the article, saying the hours she put in were her choice and that she was “going through an emotional breakup” at the time. “In no way was I asked or forced by management to do this.”

The Times story also offered tidbits like: “Emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered,” and “some workers who suffered from cancer, miscarriages and other personal crises said they had been evaluated unfairly or edged out rather than given time to recover.”

But Amazon says the article “misrepresented Amazon.”

“Once we could look into the most sensational anecdotes, we realized why. We presented the Times with our findings several weeks ago, hoping they might take action to correct the record. They haven’t, which is why we decided to write about it ourselves.”

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