Jeff Bezos: Gawker's Plight Proves "Ugly Speech" Needs Protection

Jeff Bezos - Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

Jeff Bezos - Getty - H 2016

The Amazon CEO also said that Donald Trump should expect to be scrutinized by the media while running for president.

A debate has been raging in Silicon Valley about freedom of speech ever since it was revealed that PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel was funding litigation against Gawker. Now, Jeff Bezos is weighing in.

Both a tech billionaire and the owner of the Washington Post, the Amazon CEO made it clear that he's on the media's side. 

Bezos was asked about Thiel’s funding of Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker during the first night of Recode's Code Conference in Palos Verdes. But he refrained from speaking specifically about that case, saying that he didn’t “know the details of this particular situation.”

He went on to say that at a high level, the issue reminded him of the saying, “Seek revenge and you should dig two graves — one for yourself."

Bezos, who was speaking from experience as a public figure and CEO of a public company, explained that "the best defense to speech that you don’t like about yourself as a public figure is to develop a thick skin." He added that people who do new and interesting things naturally attract critique. “If you absolutely can’t tolerate critics, don’t do anything new or interesting,” he continued.  

The question also prompted Bezos, who bought the Washington, D.C., paper in 2013 for $250 million, to speak about his views on the First Amendment. “This country has the best free-speech protections in the world because of the Constitution but also because of our cultural norms,” he said. “Beautiful speech doesn’t need protection. It’s ugly speech that needs protection, so of course that’s where the rubber is going to meet the road.

“We have these cultural norms that allow people to say really ugly things,” he continued. “We don’t have to like it and we don’t have to invite those people to our dinner parties, but you should let them say it.”

The hourlong interview with Bezos touched on a number of topics, including his purchase of the Post — he’s more optimistic today than he was when he bought the paper — and Amazon’s foray into entertainment with the launch of Amazon Studios — “We don’t compete with Netflix because people are going to subscribe to both.” Midway through the talk he also gave out his email — it's — noting that he might not respond to all messages, but he sees them. 

He also called out Donald Trump for freezing out the media that critiques him, noting that someone running for president should expect to be scrutinized. “I’m very willing to let any of my body parts go through a big fat ringer if need be,” he added.

Gawker owner Nick Denton will also speak at Code. He’s scheduled for a Wednesday session, but Recode executive editor Kara Swisher tweeted Monday that "no SV player will/can debate him."