After my wonky two part analysis of Jeff Bezos personal politics I should probably steer clear, but at the same time my deep dive into his political activities meant the name did leap out at me as I was reading yesterday’s FT. Lucy Kellaway, who seems to be a management themed comedienne, wrote up a personal detail from an encounter she had with Jeff Bezos. She also tweeted about it as her “extraordinary scoop”, reinforcing the impression she is taking the piss.
But what is she taking the piss of?
Kellaway wants to portray the owner of a rival newspaper as some kind of foolish, awkward and misogynist geek. The “scoop” is that his wife puts vitamin pills in baggies in his socks when he goes on holiday. This is taken to mean he has a traditional relationship with his wife “not seen since the 1950s”, and she also thinks that his decision to eat the vitamins is akin to believing in UFOs because, medically, you don’t need to if you have a “normal” diet. She does not consider whether Jeff Bezos has a “normal” diet when travelling abroad or whether his dietary habits might in fact be disrupted, but nevermind, the story “hints” at something “enigmatic and slightly creepy” inside Mr Bezos and is clearly not in need of any inconvenient empathy.
Nor is it in much need of background knowledge. Kellaway describes Bezos as a “retailer” and expresses boredom at the idea that Bezos prefers “Star Trek”. She forgets about his impressive “AWS” wholesale computing platform (despite bits of the FT running on it), and he seems to have failed to notice that Bezos’ liking for Star Trek is an interesting window into his politics, which she professes to know nothing about (I mean, he could have liked Star Wars, or even mentioned Heinlein).
But I did not pen this post to make a point about a columnist knowing nothing about a list of topics. Nor did I want to write a defence of libertarian Jeff Bezos – if he likes Star Trek chances are he isn’t libertarian at all. I wanted to draw out how unsympathetic this columnist is towards the idea the Bezos has a need to focus. She talks about him sitting in silence in regular meetings as if it is his inate awkwardness at fault; about how accepting the support of his wife (who is also a professional in her own right) is somehow misogynistic; about how his forgetting to take vitamins suggests he might forget anything; and she calls him a man of contradictions despite all of these things being consistent with a laser focus on his business. Signs pointing to the North Pole from Argentina and Australia point in different directions, but they are not inconsistent. How is that a columnist at the top of the business journalism game can fail to see the obvious?
Is this distaff misogyny? No, she ends the section by having a go at “batty” Anne Wojcicki – another businessman – who carries her children with her to a cafe to work. I think this is a simple failure of empathy for the efforts of great people who do great things, and for the mutual support great people in relationships offer to each other, and of the difficulty of getting that right. It is a failure of a business journalist to show respect for business people.