Early this morning, author Brad Stone replied to a one-star review given his book The Everything Store, about the meteoric rise of Jeff Bezos and Amazon. Why an entire article to reply to one review? Because the review was written by none other than MacKenzie Bezos, Jeff’s wife.
The review called out inaccuracies in Stone’s book, claimed that he didn’t fact check things that he should have and took issue with the characterization of Bezos as cold. She also said that there were many positive things about Bezos and the company that Stone left out of the book because it didn’t support his hypothesis.
In Stone’s response article today, he addresses the topic.
“Bezos said that he married MacKenzie after searching for someone tenacious enough to break him out of a Third World prison. By that standard, I got off easy,” says Stone. “Mrs. Bezos mostly took me to task for what she perceived were subtle biases in my story.”
Stone also addresses the factual errors that MacKenzie’s review of the book appeared to call out:
Mrs. Bezos also suggests that there are a handful of factual errors in my account. As a journalist with a two-decade record of accuracy, that troubles me a great deal more. I spoke to more than 300 people for my book—among them current and former Amazon employees, rivals, partners, and customers. They gave generously of their time, memories, and documents to help me fill in the gaps in Amazon’s history that, as my sources pointed out, were sometimes left intentionally.
Still, 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
Today, Amazon VP of Global Communications Craig Berman gave TechCrunch a statement about Stone’s reply in Businessweek. In the statement, he takes issue with a passage in Stone’s piece:
In the rebuttal Mr. Stone published in Bloomberg Businessweek today, he writes:
“Bezos said that he married MacKenzie after searching for someone tenacious enough to break him out of a Third World prison. By that standard, I got off easy.”
Entertaining, and inaccurate.
Mr. Bezos says “resourceful” – not “tenacious.” Mr. Stone knows that. He also knows that the correct word doesn’t work quite as well for his purpose. “Resourceful” and “tenacious” mean different things. They also have subtle connotations. You might or might not like a tenacious person. It’s easy to imagine someone tenacious that you find a little exhausting and unpleasant. On the other hand, resourceful is hard to dislike. But no matter how well the word choice works for his purpose, it is not Mr. Stone’s choice to make. By beginning with “Bezos said,” he obligates himself to get it right.
It is ironic that he has done this in a rebuttal to a one-star review that comments on the combination of inaccuracy and slanted characterization in his book.
Yesterday, Berman reached out to us to specifically call out Stone’s fact checking opportunities, of which he says there were many.
“Over the course of [Stone's] reporting, Amazon facilitated meetings for him with more than half a dozen senior Amazon executives, during which he had every opportunity to inquire about or fact-check claims made by former employees,” Berman told us. “He chose not to. I met in person with him on at least three occasions and exchanged dozens of emails where he only checked a few specific quotes. He had every opportunity to thoroughly fact check and bring a more balanced viewpoint to his narrative, but he was very secretive about the book and simply chose not to.”
Stone’s reply today also notes that there have not been any issues with the ‘major revelations’ of the book including “Bezos’s Amazon.Love memo, the Cheetah and Gazelle negotiations with book publishers, the MilliRavi press release, the fight with Diapers.com and LoveFilm, and on and on.”
And that’s true, MacKenzie’s review of the book focuses on the tonality and details that she says she feels paint Bezos in the wrong light. As Stone notes, first-hand participation is likely to trump investigative reporting in many instances. But there is also something to be said for distance and perspective. Yes, it’s likely that Stone’s book has incorrect details, and it certainly has a narrative path that it chooses to follow. The accounts that Stone chose to include in the book are likely chosen to bolster that path, which is called writing.
Still, Bezos (and Amazon via Berman at this point) has a right to reply however it chooses. And, in the specific instances where MacKenzie Bezos and other reviewers have first-hand knowledge, I don’t blame them a bit for wanting the details — no matter how small — to be correct. And whether you view MacKenzie as ‘tenacious’ or ‘resourceful’ or both, her taking to Amazon’s own — ostensibly democratic — review site to voice her opposition to her husband’s characterization fits the bill.
And, whether either side of this debate realizes it, it enforces the way that Stone portrays Amazon’s decision (laughed at by other retailers) to allow negative reviews of products that it sells. Namely: aggressive, forward thinking and willing to bet big. Sound like a familiar founder (or his wife)?