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Amazon, New York Times Spar Over Work Culture Investigation

The feud between the New York Times and Amazon goes public as the two sides defend their positions following a blistering exposé.
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Online retailer Amazon launched a high-profile counteroffensive against claims made in an August article written by The New York Times that drew attention to the company's allegedly brutal work culture for its white-collar employees.

The Times wasted no time in producing a rebuttal, which was swiftly followed by a last-word salvo from Amazon, a tit-for-tat exchange that drew substantial interest from the media at large.

The searing Times report highlighted the punishing white-collar work environment and prominently featured a quote by a former Amazon book-marketer named Bo Olson, who claimed he saw nearly every person he worked with crying at his or her desk at some point.

In a public rebuttal posted on Medium, a blog-publishing platform, Jay Carney, a senior vice president for global corporate affairs at Amazon, blasted the newspaper in a 1,300-word essay titled "What The New York Times Didn't Tell You."

In the Oct. 19 post, Carney, a former Obama White House press secretary, said Olson's tenure at Amazon ended after an investigation revealed he had attempted to defraud vendors and conceal the fact by falsifying business records.

After being confronted with the evidence, Carney wrote, Olson admitted to the fraud and resigned immediately.

Carney's litany of complaints extended beyond the omission of Olson's termination from the company, and touches on several sections of the article -- among the Times' most-read this year -- where he feels best journalistic practices were not applied.

"What we do know is, had the reporters checked their facts, the story they published would have been a lot less sensational, a lot more balanced, and, let's be honest, a lot more boring," Carney wrote. "It might not have merited the front page, but it would have been closer to the truth."

Dean Baquet, The Times' executive editor, defended the reporting in the article, arguing that Olson disputes Amazon's account of his departure from the company. Baquet pointed to the more than 6,000 comments left by readers, many of whom supported the claims made in the article.

The editor also defended three specific employees interviewed for the article and mentioned by Carney in his post: Elizabeth Willet, Dina Vaccari, and Chris Brucia -- all of whom had negative things to say about working at Amazon.

"I should point out that you said to me that you always assumed this was going to be a tough story, so it is hard to accept that Amazon was expecting otherwise," Baquet concluded. "As I said in the beginning, this story was based on dozens of interviews. And any reading of the responses leaves no doubt that this was an accurate portrait."

[Read more about Amazon's work culture.]

Carney shot back with a shorter response taking the Times to task for what he believed was a failure to vet sources despite working on the story for six months.

The Times also wrote its own article about the dust-up, which included an interview with Baquet, who reiterated that he believes the paper published a "very honest" investigative piece that stands up to scrutiny.

Amazon has more than 90,000 full-time employees across its more than 50 fulfillment centers and 20 sorting centers in the US. The company recently announced it is creating 100,000 seasonal positions across its US network this holiday season.

The company said in a statement that it had hired more than 25,000 full-time employees since August. It also highlighted its benefits programs and bonuses.