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Journalismism

How Not to Interview an Evil Gazillionaire

Jeff Bezos is getting some of the softest coverage imaginable thanks to his upcoming space flight.

Jeff Bezos and his BLue Origin crew answering questions on ABC, CBS, and NBC
NBC News/CBS News/ABC News

On Tuesday, Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos will go into space. (Before you get your hopes up, he is not staying there.)

Bezos, along with his brother Mark; Wally Funk, an 82-year-old who trained to go to space in the 1960s but couldn’t because she was a woman; and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutch kid whose father paid millions of dollars for him to hitch a ride with Bezos, are all going to sit in a rocket built by Bezos’ private space company, Blue Origin. They will go 62 miles into space, hang out for a little while, and come back. The whole thing will last about 11 minutes.

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Bezos is one of the most ruthless and controversial figures on the planet, and the company he founded is a malign presence in virtually every way. But he is a rich man going into space, so who cares! That, at least, is the message you would have received from watching the mind-numbing coverage of the imminent Blue Origin launch on all three major network morning shows on Monday.

Bezos and his crew showed up on Today, Good Morning America, and CBS This Morning. He was given the softest, most reverential treatment possible on all three shows. The whole thing was a wonderful lesson in the way that the elite media helps manufacture the image of the wise, benevolent billionaire class—just a bunch of genial men who get up every day to make dreams come true.

ABC’s treatment was perhaps the cringiest. It started with a gee-whiz segment from correspondent Gio Benitez, who was reporting from the Texas site where the launch will take place. “You can just feel the excitement here!” Benitez gushed. Sure, if you say so. He then went into the training capsule where Bezos and co. had been practicing, and guess what? It was really cool!

GMA then cut to host Michael Strahan interviewing Bezos and his three space companions. Topics covered included:

  • How was Bezos feeling? (“I’m just really excited to figure out how it’s going to change me.”)
  • How was his brother feeling? (Great, and happy to go on an adventure with his “best friend.”)
  • How was Wally Funk feeling? (Very excited! Also, Jeff Bezos said, Funk had done better than “the men” in training in the 1960s, and “she’s still doing better than the men.” Condescending male stabs at feminism are fun!)
  • How was the little Dutch boy feeling? (Wow, so excited.)

Excitement was the name of the game. “My heart is racing because I am so excited for all of you,” Strahan said at the end of the segment. Awwww.

Over on CBS This Morning and Today, the same exact questions were posed in the same exact way, and received the same exact answers, right down to Bezos’ line about Funk (“She was better than all the men and I guarantee you that’s still true today,” he said to Gayle King) and his professed excitement about seeing “the thin limb of the Earth’s atmosphere.”

These segments took up a combined 23 minutes across all three shows. The idea that Bezos was anything but a benevolent nerd living out everyone’s fantasy of floating up in the cosmos never came up.

There was exactly one attempt at anything approaching a tough question. It came from Hoda Kotb, who asked Bezos, “There are critics who say, look, this is…rich guys on a joy ride. What will come out of this? What concrete thing will come out of this trip?”

A good question, and one that many many people are asking. The answer would appear to be “not much at all,” but let’s give Jeff a chance to reply:

In order for space travel to really build the infrastructure so that maybe Oliver, young people today, the next generation, how are they going to use space? Today, getting into space is so expensive that you can’t do very many interesting things in space. It’s just a small number of things you can do. They will invent new things to do. It’s the job of this generation to build that infrastructure and, of course, people say, look, we have so many problems here on Earth. And they’re right. And we need to do both. And we’ve always done both. We need to focus on the here and now and we need to look to the future. So we’re building a road to space so that Oliver’s generation can blow us away with amazing things and make life better here on Earth. 

There are lots of things you could say in response to this answer. You could say that it was complete gibberish. You could say that Bezos completely failed to list any “concrete” thing that will come out of this voyage, and instead reeled off a series of vague platitudes about the future. You could ask Bezos why, if he is so committed to helping out the Earth, he so frequently fails to pay income tax, or why he said in 2018 that he thought his fortune was best spent on space exploration rather than on anything happening on this planet.

Kotb’s follow-up? “OK, somebody’s gotta take a selfie up there and I nominate Oliver.” Well done, everyone.