Several Washington Post reporters have criticized the paper's decision to shell out millions of dollars on an advertisement that ran during Sunday's Super Bowl, insisting that the money would have been better spent hiring more reporters or improving benefits at the Jeff Bezos-run broadsheet.
The 60-second spot, narrated by actor Tom Hanks, was a somber ode to the free press and featured images of reporters who have disappeared or died in the course of their work.
"Knowing empowers us," Hanks intoned at the ad's climax. "Knowing helps us decide. Knowing keeps us free." The ad closed by invoking the paper's recently minted slogan "Democracy Dies in Darkness."
When Bezos posted the ad on Twitter with a message saying that he was "[g]rateful for the journalists at the @washingtonpost and around the world who do the work, no matter the risk or dangers they face."
Reporter Dan Zak responded with a list of less elevated concerns, writing: "Now unfreeze our pensions, pay an equal wage, and strengthen maternity benefits." Another reporter, Wesley Lowery, tweeted that he "[c]an’t lie and pretend it’s not exciting to watch us have a commercial tonight. Also really wish we provided better paid parental leave."
Still another reporter, Sarah Kaplan, tweeted that she was "really proud to work at a newspaper that does this vital work. But maybe next $10 million could go toward better health benefits, parental leave, equal pay, and more jobs for reporters?"
Post staffers' gripes with Bezos are not new. This past June, more than 400 employees signed an open letter demanding pay raises, equal pay, better retirement benefits, a higher 401(k) match and improved severance pay.
A Post spokeswoman had no comment on the employee backlash and would not confirm how much it cost to reserve the ad time. However, reports from last week indicated that CBS was asking more than $5 million for a 30-second spot.
The Post reported that the paper purchased the ad time last week after it was made available and produced it in that time. The New York Post reported that Bezos had originally reserved the spot for his spaceflight company Blue Origin, but scrapped the ad after it was reported that his mistress -- former television anchor Lauren Sanchez -- had shot some footage for the commercial.
Adding insult to injury, the commercial -- which aired during the fourth quarter of the New England Patriots' 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams -- was seen by the lowest Super Bowl viewing audience in a decade, according to initial overnight ratings. The game did a 44.9 overnight household rating, the lowest since 2009 when Super Bowl 43 between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals did a 42.1 overnight rating.