Editor’s Note: The following was lightly edited from a series of chats with an author who wishes to remain anonymous.
People think too much about Mark Zuckerberg because he is Jewish and not very good at playing along with the PR he pays for. I don’t know, maybe it’s all an act. I talk with Facebook engineers who talk with Mark, some of them he gave pitches to, personally, back in the day, and they say he’s pretty convincing in person. But it’s different being convincing in person versus convincing the country you’re not a psycho. So who knows.
Jeff doesn’t go in for the big PR though. He’s not trying to convince you that he’s not a nerd. Or that he’s a nerd like he used to, like Buffett does the whole grandpa-soda-pop bit even though he is a straight killer. His name doesn’t even show up in the wiki for the clock guys he financed! Every so often his rocket guys put out PR stuff. There was all the cringe around those sexts and his divorce. But the guy tries to stay off the radar, so a lot of this is from a guy who knows a guy.
If you want to understand what Jeff is after, you’ve gotta look at the Washington Post. Everyone looks at the whole CIA cloud contract thing, and the defense follow up, the JEDI thing. There’s plenty of guys who got rich selling crap to the government. It’s an American tradition. You build a big cloud platform, they’re gonna come to you when they want a cloud platform. WaPo is different, they’re not just a paper, they’re hooked up. There’s no contract you can bid on to buy WaPo, they’re an institution. They’re the government’s newspaper, they set up Nixon for god’s sake. Anything the government wants printed goes thru WaPo sooner or later.
God only knows why Bezos wanted the WaPo, it’s a good investment probably just for killing bad PR. Like that Steve Sailer line about why Carlos Slim loaned all that money to the NYT. And it lets you do favors for people who matter. So who owns the WaPo. It’s the Grahams. It used to be Katharine Graham, then she died, it all went to her holding company, and Donald Graham, her son, was running the show. Don Graham, incidentally, was on the Facebook board for six or so years, that’s just interesting and beside the point. But all these guys know each other at that level.
Don finds himself in kind of a Trump situation, where his guy is his son-in-law, Tim O’Shaughnessy. People say he’s a nice guy, but he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. Never met the other kids, I can’t say how he compares. He’s got the derp face, but he’s Don’s guy. He graduates from Georgetown and decides he’s gonna go into tech, so he hits AOL, leaves with the founder, Steve Case, for his next thing, Revolution Health. I have no idea what these guys were doing, something with medical records I think, but the company imploded. So the next thing is Tim co-founds a startup with some buddies from Revolution.
He’s got funding connections, obviously, so he gets to be the CEO, and at the time the whole startup scene was blowing up, even in DC where they were based out of. They caught on fast, they were basically doing a Groupon thing. 15 for 20 restaurant stuff. This is all just window dressing so you understand the lead up. But this is where the timing gets important.
So in 2010, Amazon invests a shitload of money, like 175 mil, into LivingSocial. I don’t know who reached out to who there. Don was on the Facebook board at the time, so maybe that’s it. But they start spending cash like it’s on fire, ridiculous leases in downtown DC, these huge parties, the works. Maker’s Mark supposedly tried to do a discount with them, no shit. It’s “growth mode”, whatever, supposedly they’re making money hand over fist (not profit obviously, but customers).
In 2011 shit goes sideways all over the middle east. Egypt has all these street protests, their general resigns, it’s a mess. This is like May. In June, Tim buys this company GoNabbit, basically another clone of the same concept. They’re supposedly doing volume in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, UAE. It’s all “supposedly” because this is kind of where the spookery comes in. So in the ME, you don’t just whip out your visa and buy something online. Back in the day it was cash on delivery. For coupons. Their whole pitch, the GoNabbit guys, was that they figured out how to get these Arabs to do credit card processing, but that wasn’t really true exactly, especially in Egypt. They had all these guys running around on motorbikes, collecting cash, for coupons. For restaurants and laser beauty shop stuff. In Egypt. While it’s on fire. Supposedly the acquisition almost didn’t go through because of the whole situation, but the founder, this Canadian guy Dan Stuart, flies to Washington DC, and they get convinced to wire the check.
At the same time you’ve got Google guys in Tahir Square, and Twitter is bragging about how they set the whole thing off. So it’s not like these are the only tech guys screwing around there.
But in like June of 2012 the whole revolution thing in Egypt gets wrapped up, they elect the Muslim Brotherhood guy, Morsi. I kid you not, a month later they shut down the whole LivingSocial mideast operation, they only have it running for like a year.
Six months later, Jeff gets the CIA cloud contract, and like six months after that, he gets to buy the WaPo. Six months after that, it’s apparent LivingSocial spent way too much money, people aren’t buying more than a couple deals and they’re cheap when they get to restaurants, so businesses start to drift off too. Tim resigns and the company shuts down a little bit after, but Tim comes out of it gold. He runs the Graham holding company now.
So when I hear that Jeff Bezos basically writes arch-spook Don Graham’s son in law a giant check, they wire it to the mideast so a bunch of guys on mopeds can run around with fistfuls of cash while the government is being overthrown, and he later gets to buy the arch-spook’s spook journal with a spook cloud contract along the way, I kind of feel like something spooky is going on.