Two months ago, the New York Times published a major article describing the means by which Amazon breaks down the minds of its employees and reassembles them into miserable, weeping productivity nodes. Today, Amazon’s flack-in-chief Jay Carney responds while denying nothing.
Carney’s main retort, drawing upon years of professional truth-deflection as the White House Press Secretary, is based on one premise: angry people can’t tell the truth. The post, “What The New York Times Didn’t Tell You,” tries to undo the damage done by one particularly brutal quote from the original Times piece: “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.” (Which is not very different from what multiple Amazon employees told us, as well.) The quote comes from ex-Amazonian Bo Olson, and Jay Carney wants you to know something about Bo Olson:
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.
The implicit claim here is that Bo Olson fabricated the scene of constantly crying Amazon employees as a form of revenge, that he’s nothing more than disgruntled, a liar to the end—but Carney doesn’t say that because public relations requires both malice and cowardice. Carney also doesn’t say, at any point in the post, that what Olson said is untrue, that Amazon is so crushing and cruel a workplace that its employees really do regularly cry in large numbers. Instead, we’re given a political attack ad-style innuendos: If Bo Olson did THIS, can you really trust Bo Olson? Amazon hired Jay Carney for a reason.
After not denying the fact that Amazon breaks its workers down to the point of tears, Carney goes on to try to discredit other sources the Times reporters used, while at no point ever denying their claims, either:
Elizabeth Willet, who claims she was “strafed” through the Anytime Feedback tool, received only three pieces of feedback through that tool during her entire time at Amazon. All three included positive feedback on strengths as well as thoughts on areas of improvement. Far from a “strafing,” even the areas for improvement written by her colleagues contained language like: “It has been a pleasure working with Elizabeth.”
Carney argues what it means to be “strafed” via software, but doesn’t address the negative feedback she received, nor her claim that she was pressured out of the company for taking care of her baby. From the Times article:
After she had a child, she arranged with her boss to be in the office from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day, pick up her baby and often return to her laptop later. Her boss assured her things were going well, but her colleagues, who did not see how early she arrived, sent him negative feedback accusing her of leaving too soon.
“I can’t stand here and defend you if your peers are saying you’re not doing your work,” she says he told her. She left the company after a little more than a year.
Carney again tries to disqualify a source by releasing portions of his internal HR performance record:
Chris Brucia, who recalls how he was berated in his performance review before being promoted, also was given a written review. Had the Times asked about this, we would have shared what it said. “Overall,” the document reads, “you did an outstanding job this past performance year.” Mr. Brucia was given exceptionally high ratings and then promoted to a senior position.
Notice how deftly Carney avoids Brucia’s claim that “he was berated in his performance review,” adding only that he “also was given a written review” with some nice shit in it, as if these two are mutually exclusive.
And then, there’s Dina Viccari:
Dina Vaccari, the former employee who is quoted saying she didn’t sleep for four days straight to illustrate just how hard Amazon forces people to work, posted her own response to the article. Here’s what she said:“Allow me to be clear: The hours I put in at Amazon were my choice. I was enrolled in the University of Washington’s Foster Technology MBA program while I was in charge of building three new Amazon retail categories and going through an emotional breakup when I didn’t sleep for those four days. No one ever forced me to do this — I chose it and it sucked at the time but in no way was I asked or forced by management to do this.”
Never mind that her statement sounds as about as at-ease as an ISIL prisoner’s video confession—here Carney shows that he either completely missed the point of the Times piece, or more likely, that he’s trying to skirt it entirely. Amazon isn’t just a place that’s vicious to its employees, it’s a place that literally changes their psychology, reshapes the way they think about labor, lays eggs of techie productivity worship in their skulls. “[Vaccari] and other workers had no shortage of career options but said they had internalized Amazon’s priorities,” wrote the Times. And that’s what Carney ignores: the fact that someone would choose to work four days straight without sleeping without even being asked is more damning of Amazon than if Dina Viccari had been ordered to do so.
Carney’s apologia is already earning him his paycheck. Silicon Valley sees a vindicated friend, and the easily impressed on Twitter can’t get over how “bruising” and “blistering” Carney’s response is—two months late to the Times, and years after we and others reported on many of the same practices:
Well, until today... https://t.co/FLdM2Y2RE3— Dan Primack (@danprimack) October 19, 2015
And all it took was attacking its employees characters, revealing their HR files, and trotting out the term “Journalism 101” with a straight face. No matter how toxic America’s corporations may be, never doubt the supreme toxicity of their PR staffs.