Jeff Bezos philanthropic efforts start to take shape — with no strings attached

Byers Market is a daily newsletter from NBC News senior media reporter Dylan Byers that takes you behind the scenes in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, New York and Washington.
Image: Jeff Bezos, chief executive officer of Amazon, at a news conference in California on Sept. 6, 2012.
Jeff Bezos, chief executive officer of Amazon, at a news conference in California on Sept. 6, 2012.Patrick Fallon / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

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By Dylan Byers

Good morning. 🇭🇰 Hong Kong International Airport has now suspended check in for all departures and is urging customers not to come to the airport amid continuing pro-democracy demonstrations.

🤝 Meanwhile, Shari Redstone is inching ever-closer to finalizing her CBS-Viacom merger. The deal, which Redstone had hoped to close yesterday, could be announced as early as this morning.

Join the Market.


Jeff Bezos gives, no strings

The new philanthropy: Jeff Bezos, who has pledged $2 billion to supporting homelessness services and early childhood education, is taking a radically laissez-faire approach to his donations, Recode's Teddy Schleifer reports.

• Bezos "has done something that even the nonprofits receiving his millions remark is highly unusual: He has given them life-changing money with virtually no restrictions, formal vetting, or oversight."

• "Funders of Bezos’s stature typically cast an open call for proposals, spending months poring over applications from nonprofits and sometimes insisting on site visits, interviews, and reams of financial data."

• "Bezos’s team instead quietly cold-called the nonprofits he was already interested in backing, asked them for a few 500-word answers, and then wired them millions of dollars in cash or Amazon shares within about six weeks of making initial contact."

The big picture: "Multiple experts told Recode this strategy actually makes a lot of sense. They think philanthropies should give nonprofits substantially more leeway."


Who Jeffrey Epstein knew

Moving the Market: Jeffrey Epstein recently told a journalist that he had damaging information on several rich, famous and powerful people, a claim that has reignited scrutiny over which business leaders and public figures stand to be compromised by their relationship with the late financier.

Top talker: During the conversation, Epstein reportedly mentioned "prominent tech figures" who he said he’d witnessed "taking drugs and arranging for sex."

The backstory: New York Times columnist James B. Stewart says he spent 90 minutes visiting with Epstein last August amid rumors that Epstein was privately advising Elon Musk — a rumor Musk and Tesla "vehemently deny."

• But "the overriding impression" Stewart says he took from the meeting "was that Mr. Epstein knew an astonishing number of rich, famous and powerful people, and had photos to prove it."

• "He also claimed to know a great deal about these people, some of it potentially damaging or embarrassing, including details about their supposed sexual proclivities and recreational drug use."

• "Mr. Epstein... said people in Silicon Valley had a reputation for being geeky workaholics, but that was far from the truth: They were hedonistic and regular users of recreational drugs."

The big picture: "Many prominent men and at least a few women must be breathing sighs of relief that whatever Mr. Epstein knew, he has taken it with him," Stewart writes. That said, the investigation into Epstein's network and his leverage over others is far from over.

What's next: Attorney General William Barr says there were "serious irregularities" at the federal jail where Epstein died.


🇺🇸 Talk of the Trail 🇺🇸

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Bernie vs. Bezos: Washington Post editor-in-chief Marty Baron has accused Bernie Sanders of trafficking in conspiracy theories after the candidate suggested that the paper's coverage was influenced by owner Jeff Bezos.

• "Contrary to the conspiracy theory the senator seems to favor, Jeff Bezos allows our newsroom to operate with full independence," Baron told CNN.


Zhang Yiming plays the fame

Big in Beijing, big in the Bay: It's been one year since Zhang Yiming shut down Musical.ly and migrated its users to TikTok. Now, Rolling Stone's Elias Leight looks at how the social network became so influential so quickly.

The big picture: "TikTok has benefitted from greater resources [than Musical.ly], an algorithm that enhances social mobility, and targeted outreach efforts that ensure popular users are up on the latest trends."

Put more simply, TikTok's greatest innovation may be that it allows anyone's content to go viral fast. It does this by constantly pushing viewers toward new videos, then elevating the ones that people seem to enjoy.

• TikTok's "vaunted algorithm... is constantly searching for new clips, rather than just pushing out the latest videos from already popular users."

• "Once the all-knowing TikTok mothership observes videos that are performing well, the platform takes an active interest in elevating these clips... which enhances the churn from bottom to top."

The big picture: TikTok “allows people to get famous really easily,” TikTok creator KevboyPerry tells Leight. “And if you can get famous easily, you’re gonna do it.”


Market Links

Susan Wojcicki faces a big problem in Brazil (NYT)

Dean Baquet wrestles with a Times identity crisis (VF)

Hans Vestberg will sell Tumblr to Automattic Inc. (AP)

John Stankey eyes a Chuck Lorre megadeal (Deadline)

Reed Hastings expands Netflix's global footprint (THR)


Jim Gianopulos re-ups

Talk of Tinseltown: "Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos has signed a new multiyear contractthat will keep him atop the studio as parent company Viacom prepares to merge with CBS," THR's Pamela McClintock reports.

The big picture: Gianopulos has turned around the ailing studio with films like "A Quiet Place" and "Rocket Man." The forthcoming "Top Gun" reboot is "one of the most anticipated movies of the coming year."


Jeff Zucker backs Chris Cuomo

Talk of TV Land: "CNN is standing by anchor Chris Cuomo after a profanity-laced video of him threatening a heckler went viral Monday," USA Today's Cydney Henderson reports.

• "The 'Cuomo Prime Time' host, 49, was captured during a heated exchange with an unidentified man who called him 'Fredo,' which Cuomo called a racist slur toward Italians, comparing it to the N-word."

• "As the conversation escalated, Cuomo added: 'I’ll (expletive) ruin your (expletive). I’ll (expletive) throw you down these stairs like a (expletive) punk … you’re gonna call me Fredo, take a (expletive) swing?'"

CNN statement: "Chris Cuomo defended himself when he was verbally attacked with the use of an ethnic slur. We completely support him."

• Sean Hannity, Michael Avenatti and Anthony Scaramucci all voiced support for Cuomo, while others, like Donald Trump Jr., criticized him for drawing comparisons between "Fredo" and the N-word.

Hottest take, via The Daily Beast's Max Tani: "A disproportionately swole guy in a hat and tight t-shirt yelling at a stranger in an NY bar? Now I’ve seen everything."


📺 What's next: I finally watched the "Succession"season premiere. It hits on a fundamental truth of the media business, which is that it's never just business. It's always personal.

• Meanwhile, The Ringer's Katie Baker notes that the show's female characters are taking on more prominent roles, "independent of the man-children who are so desperately clinging to their power."

See you tomorrow.