Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has tweeted just 68 times at his 144,000 followers in his limited use of Twitter, but he clearly hit a high-water mark on Dec. 7, 2015, when he tweeted at Donald Trump, saying he would reserve a seat for the presidential candidate on one of his Blue Origin rockets. It’s a moment that Bezos now calls a mistake.
Speaking at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit on Thursday, Bezos recalled his reaction to ending up in Trump’s crosshairs. The GOP nominee had taken issue with Bezos’ ownership of The Washington Post — a newspaper that was being particularly aggressive in its coverage of Trump’s campaign.
“My first instinct was to take it very lightly,” Bezos said at the summit. “But the more I thought about it, that was a mistake. I should not have taken it lightly.” He continued:
“We live in an amazing country where one of the things that makes this country as amazing as it is, is that we are allowed to criticize and scrutinize our elected leaders. The appropriate thing to do for a presidential candidate to do is to say, ‘I am running for the highest office in the most important country in the world. Please scrutinize me.’ … To try to chill the media and sort of threaten retribution, retaliation, which is what he’s done in a number of cases, it just isn’t appropriate.”
Bezos elaborated further on how Trump’s rhetoric, in his opinion, “erodes our democracy.”
“I don’t know how dangerous he is, because the United States is remarkably robust, but it’s inappropriate for a presidential candidate. When you look at the pattern of things, he’s not just going after the media and threatening retribution for those who scrutinize him. It’s also him saying he may not give a graceful concession speech if he loses the election. That erodes our democracy around the edges. These aren’t acceptable behaviors, in my opinion.”
Not bending entirely to the notion that engaging Trump on Twitter was a “mistake,” Bezos did manage to sneak in, around his talk of taking it all too lightly, this gem in relation to #sendDonaldtospace:
“I have a rocket company, so the capability is there.”
— The Hive (@VFHIVE) October 20, 2016
In defense of his ownership of the Post and how the newspaper is doing, Bezos said, “I think the newsroom of the Post is absolutely killing it. I’m incredibly proud of that team. The culture at the Post is very unusual … they’re like professional swashbucklers. They have a swagger.”
Bezos said his “day job” at Amazon makes it impractical for him to be at the Post very much.
“I do not introduce myself in any way into the daily activities of the newsroom,” Bezos said, comparing it to intruding on a brain surgery. “Would you go into the operating theater and tell the neurosurgeon what to do?”
Continuing on the subject of Trump and politics, Bezos touched on the subject of Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel, and how the Trump supporter fits into a tech community that is largely opposed to the presidential hopeful.
Thiel, who made a $1.25 million donation to Trump’s campaign, sits on the board of Facebook, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg had to address that in an internal memo, as reported by The Verge. Zuckerberg told employees, “We can’t create a culture that says it cares about diversity and then excludes almost half the country because they back a political candidate.”
Bezos said if Thiel was on the Amazon board he would have treated it the same way.
“It’s way too divisive to say, ‘If you have this opinion, you can’t sit on my board,'” Bezos said Thursday. “That makes no sense.”
You can watch the entire Bezos discussion with The Aspen Institute president Walter Isaacson in the Facebook video below: