Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has spoken out against Peter Thiel and in defense of Gawker, telling a Los Angeles audience: “Beautiful speech doesn’t need protection. Ugly speech needs protection. That’s where the rubber’s gonna meet the road.”
In reference to Peter Thiel’s recent efforts to punish critical reporters in court, he said: “Seek revenge and you should dig two graves, one for yourself.
“Is that really how you want to spend your time? As a public figure the best defense to speech that you don’t like is to develop a thick skin.”
At the Code Conference on Tuesday evening the Amazon founder went on to say that free speech was ensured both by the constitution and “cultural norms”, implying that although Thiel could legally fund lawsuits against reporters, the PayPal co-founder was violating American culture.
“Without norms … the constitution is just a piece of paper,” Bezos said.
Bezos recommended that someone so offended by negative press ought to go stand on an urban street corner, watch people walk past, and try to imagine what they were thinking about. “I bet you none of them are thinking about you.”
On Donald Trump’s threats against the media, Bezos, who bought the Washington Post in 2013, paraphrased Katharine Graham on how seriously he wants to defend free speech. “I’m very willing to let any of my body parts go through a big fat wringer if need be,” Bezos said.
Bezos, immensely private and known for successful business but high-stress workplaces, has over the past few years expanded far beyond his e-commerce empire to efforts across a range of industries: artificial intelligence with Alexa, space travel with Blue Origin, video with Amazon Studios and news with the Washington Post. Amazon stocks went up 67% in the past year.
His admiration for media has limits, though. Talking about why Amazon is investing in TV series like Transparent and The Man in the High Castle, he said simply: “When we win a Golden Globe it helps us sell more shoes.”
The conversation turned to his commercial space company Blue Origin. Established in 2000, Blue Origin launched and successfully landed its first rocket and capsule this April. Here, he drew a clear line between his work and Elon Musk’s efforts at SpaceX. Musk has said many times that he ultimately wants to colonize Mars, which he sees as eventually replacing Earth. Bezos instead wants to put the bad parts of Earth into space. “I don’t want a Plan B for Earth,” he said.
He said he envisions a system in which space is where heavy, pollution-making industry happens, while Earth is just for people: “I think you go to space to save Earth.
“All heavy industry will be moved off Earth,” he said. “Earth will be zoned residential and light industrial.”
Looking for a better planet than Earth was misguided, he said. “Let me assure you, this is the best planet.”
An Amazon spokesman disputed the description of the company as a high-stress workplace.
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