At least 10 local news stations around the country aired corporate propaganda from online retail giant Amazon praising the company's worker safety protocols ahead of a shareholders meeting on Wednesday where investors are expected to demand better protections for employees from the company's leadership, including CEO Jeff Bezos.
"Maybe Jeff Bezos, the richest man on earth, should focus on providing all his workers with paid sick leave instead of pushing out propaganda to local news stations."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
"Jeff Bezos can run as many scripted news segments he wants," tweeted advocacy group Americans for Tax Fairness. "It still doesn't change the fact that he made $34.5 billion over the course of this pandemic while putting his workers in harm's way and shirking on their hazard pay."
Courier journalist Tim Burke broke the story Tuesday in an article featuring a video showing anchors from the various stations parroting the script.
As Burke explained, the majority of the stations running the package did not acknowledge the material was produced by Amazon spokesperson Todd Walker or that the package came from the company:
Only one station, Toledo ABC affiliate WTVG, acknowledged that Walker was an Amazon employee, not a news reporter. WTVG and WGXA in Macon, Georgia, noted that Amazon had supplied the video.
The segments, which ran about a minute long, praised Amazon's commitment to employee safety and the roll out of new preventive measures at facilities around the nation. The company sent a prepared script (pdf) and video package to producers, as Oklahoma City KOCO 5 anchor Zach Kael said on Twitter.
"No," said Kael, suggesting a different approach to reporting on the Amazon's protocols. "Let us go inside a fulfillment centers with our own cameras."
Just got an email from Amazon’s PR team with a pre-edited news story and script to run in our shows. They are selling this as giving our viewers an “inside look” at the company’s response to COVID-19.
Let us go inside a fulfillment centers with our own cameras... pic.twitter.com/7mDk2xmf4O
— Zach Rael (@KOCOZach) May 24, 2020
The retailer has come under fire over its apparent lack of interest in protecting employee safety in the face of increased demand for products.
As the Verge reported, Amazon's record leaves much to be desired despite the claims of its propaganda:
So far, eight Amazon workers have died of the virus, according to media reports, and countless others have been infected. Yet, Amazon has come under fire for refusing to disclose concrete numbers around COVID-19 infections, cracking down on worker protests against safety conditions and failing to inform some workers when their colleagues have become ill.
Syracuse University communications professor Robert Thompson told NBC News that there was no excuse for stations airing the segments.
"Shamelessly airing portions of something someone else produced, it would be like reporting on new studies about vaping and having it produced by Juul," said Thompson.
Bottom lines, tweeted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), is that there is no excuse for Bezos and Amazon to invest in propaganda rather than worker safety in the midst of a pandemic.
"Maybe Jeff Bezos, the richest man on earth, should focus on providing all his workers with paid sick leave instead of pushing out propaganda to local news stations," said Sanders.