There are a few norms that constrain the behavior of newsgathering, one of which is to at least try, for any given story, to get the perspective of all parties involved. Many company PR teams abuse this constraint by providing journalists with spin or misinformation, which a reporter may or may not infuse with the necessary skepticism. Amazon, it seems, is no longer willing to take that chance.
The ecommerce giant—a source of labor strife in the Before Times, and more recently an exemplar of rapacious greed’s incompatibility with a pandemic’s best practices—has taken to producing its own promotional segment, complete with narration and interviews, with the intention to have it run unedited during regular news coverage.
“This type of video was created to share an inside look into the health and safety measures we’ve rolled out in our buildings and was intended for reporters who for a variety of reasons weren’t able to come tour one of our sites themselves,” an Amazon spokesperson told Gizmodo in a statement.
It’s desperate. It’s embarrassing. You can watch the full segment here if you really want, or just gaze upon this eerie montage—courtesy of our former colleague Tim Burke—of 11 different local news stations parroting the exact talking points Amazon wrote about itself.
The site lead who appears in the Amazon-made package, Marty Kuhl, seems to work out of BFI4, a fulfillment center in Kent, Washington—although the segment is conspicuously absent of any geographically identifying details. Two reasons spring to mind, of course. The first is that viewers outside Kent probably don’t care what an Amazon manager in a town they’ve never heard of has to say. The other is that BFI4 may be host to at least 10 cases of covid-19, according to worker estimates. (As with the rest of its logistics network, Amazon has so far refused to release the number of exposures among its workforce, either to the public or to health officials. Gizmodo’s inquiry this morning to determine the accurate exposure count at BFI4 was similarly unanswered.)
Likewise, the spin segment—which the above stations shamefully pushed to their audiences seemingly without caveat—claims Amazon has implemented “more than 150 new health and safety measures.” The company has not specified, to Gizmodo or elsewhere, what those measures are exactly, but workers continue to report social distancing and cleaning procedures inside many warehouses remain inadequate.
Amazon has stated the employees were not paid to appear in the video.
At a minimum, this sort of thing is lazy and emblematic of the slow gutting and neutering of local news across the country; at worst, it’s the unethical airing of company propaganda to an audience that assumes the footage was captured by unbiased reporters from local stations. According to Courier, which compiled the clips above, one of these stations even claimed to be unaware the segment was produced by Amazon.
Beyond the brief and unilluminating statement, the only other communication we’ve received from Amazon in regards to this bizarre video was one of the company’s ubiquitous invitations to tour its warehouse facilities—an option which is no longer available to the lay public but which apparently is still possible for journalists who are inclined to question its pandemic response measures.
Updated with comment from Amazon