WASHINGTON—Jeff Bezos, facing political backlash over Amazon.com Inc.’s growing market dominance, said Thursday that while big companies deserve to be scrutinized, politicians shouldn’t “vilify” them.
Mr. Bezos, Amazon’s boss and the world’s wealthiest person, addressed the antitrust concerns in a wide-ranging and rare public interview hosted by the Economic Club in Washington, D.C.
Interviewed by the club’s president,
co-founder David Rubenstein, Mr. Bezos also discussed his new charitable commitments, defended the media and his purchase of the Washington Post, and disappointed the D.C.-connected audience by declining to reveal a winning city for Amazon’s second headquarters.
He also stopped short of taking jabs at his most vocal critic, President Trump, who has blasted Mr. Bezos and Amazon over its use of the U.S. Postal Service, sales tax and widening influence.
Roughly 1,400 people, including nearly 20 ambassadors, the governor of Maryland and the U.S. Postmaster General, crowded into the same ballroom used to host the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in the middle of the city to hear the Amazon chief executive speak.
Amazon’s sheer size and market dominance has made it a favored corporate target of politicians on the left and right, who have criticized the company over the way it treats its workers and pays taxes, as well as its impact on the broader economy as some traditional retailers struggle.
“All big institutions of any kind will be and should be scrutinized,” Mr. Bezos said. “It’s not personal. It’s kind of what we want to have as a society happen.”
The same scrutiny should apply to U.S. presidents, Mr. Bezos said, without naming Mr. Trump. Mr. Bezos said it is important for politicians not to vilify big businesses since they can create so much value.
“There are certain things that only big companies can do,” Mr. Bezos said. “Nobody in their garage is going to build an all-fiber fuel-efficient Boeing 787.”
Asked about Mr. Trump’s recent tweets critical of Amazon, Mr. Bezos said he doesn’t need to defend his company, but would defend the Washington Post.
“It is a mistake for any elected official to attack the media and journalists,” he said. “It is dangerous to demonize the media.”
He added that he has had a couple of conversations with the president, but wants to keep them private.
As Amazon searches for a location for its new headquarters—dubbed HQ2—cities across the country have been trying to woo the tech giant. At stake: 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investments.
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Early in the interview, the crowd booed when Mr. Bezos refused to reveal the winner of HQ2, the company’s second headquarters that Amazon said will bring a $5 billion investment and 50,000 jobs. The D.C. rumor mill swirled this week amid a regularly-planned out-of-town board meeting and multiple scheduled appearances by Mr. Bezos.
“We will announce a decision before the end of the year,” Mr. Bezos said in one of the first public updates on the process since the company announced its finalist list in January. “We’ve made tremendous progress. The team is working their butts off on it and we will get there.”
The need for a second headquarters comes as Amazon recently became the second U.S. company after
Mr. Bezos drew laughs with a joke about his wealth, saying he ran into Mr. Gates recently and the topic of world’s richest man came up. “I said, ‘You’re welcome,’ and he immediately turned to me and said, ‘Thank you.’”
“I’ve never sought that title,” Mr. Bezos said. “And it was fine being the second wealthiest person in the world. That worked fine.”
Earlier in the day, Mr. Bezos announced in a tweet that he planned to commit an initial $2 billion to fund a new charitable organization to help the homeless and educate preschoolers. The Bloomberg Billionaires Index estimates his current net value at roughly $164 billion.
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