Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos said Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is "eroding our democracy around the edges" by threatening retribution against critical media coverage and hinting that he may not gracefully accept a loss in the upcoming election. Speaking at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in San Francisco on Thursday (20 October), Bezos shed light on his clash with Trump on Twitter earlier this year over the entrepreneur's ownership of the Washington Post, alleging that he bought the publication to exert political power and avoid paying taxes.
Trump also banned multiple news organisations such as the Washington Post from news conferences and campaign events earlier in the year.
"My first instinct was to take it very lightly," Bezos said. "I have a rocket company so the capability is there."
However, Bezos now admits that taking Trump's personal attacks in jest was a mistake.
"We live in an amazing country where one of the things that makes this country as amazing as it is that we are allowed to criticise and scrutinise our elected leaders. In other countries you may go to jail, or worse, just disappear," Bezos said, The Guardian reports. "The appropriate thing to do for a presidential candidate to do is to say, 'I am running for the highest office in the most important country in the world. Please scrutinise me.' That's not what we've seen."
"To try to chill the media and sort of threaten retribution, retaliation, which is what he's done in a number of cases, it just isn't appropriate."
Bezos said Trump's retaliation against those critical of him also risks freedom of speech and democracy.
"He's not just going after the media, but threatening retribution to people who scrutinise him," Bezos said. "He's also saying he may not give a graceful concession speech if he loses the election. That erodes our democracy around the edges. He's also saying he might lock up his opponent. These aren't appropriate behaviours."
Bezos, the third richest person in the world, also weighed in on Paypal co-founder and tech billionaire investor Peter Thiel's support for Trump, saying that he is a contrarian and "contrarians are usually wrong".
Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that Thiel donated $1.25m to the Trump campaign after the candidate was met with sexual assault allegations from multiple women from across the country. The news sparked a bitter debate in Silicon Valley and fierce public backlash with many questioning whether Y Combinator, where he is a "part-time partner," would cut ties with him. Critics also called for chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to remove him from the Facebook board.
"Conventional wisdom is usually right, but you get big wins as a contrarian. When they are right it's usually a gigantic win," Bezos said. "I'm not against contrarians. Amazon's most important bets have been counter-intuitive. When we launched Amazon Web Services all the incumbents thought we were crazy. But when being a contrarian you are probably going to be wrong."
He added that if Thiel was on Amazon's board, he would not ask him to leave.
"We don't want to live in a country where you can't associate with people with wildly different opinions from anyone else. It's way too divisive to say if you have this political opinion you can't sit on my board."
Bezos' comments come a day after Zuckerberg defended Thiel's endorsement of Trump and the venture capitalist's place on Facebook's board.
"We can't create a culture that says it cares about diversity and then excludes almost half the country because they back a political candidate," Zuckerberg wrote in an internal Facebook post accessible only to employees.