Amazon gave TV stations coronavirus propaganda, and some aired it

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Amazon has been successfully feeding talking points, video footage, and other corporate messaging to local television news stations ahead of its annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday. The footage and script are designed to paint Amazon in a positive light as it faces a torrent of bad media coverage and criticism from activists and politicians over its handling of workplace safety issues during the coronavirus pandemic.

As Zach Rael, an anchor for ABC affiliate KOCO 5 News in Oklahoma City, pointed out on Twitter earlier this morning, Amazon’s public relations team has been emailing TV stations around the country with prepared scripts and b-roll packages that promote the company’s safety precautions and other measures to combat COVID-19 among its warehouse workforce.

So far, eight Amazon workers have died of the virus, according to media reports, and countless others have been infected. Yet, Amazon has come under fire for refusing to disclose concrete numbers around COVID-19 infections, cracking down on worker protests against safety conditions and failing to inform some workers when their colleagues have become ill.

These PR strategies have been deployed by corporations for decades, but a disturbing video put together by local news-focused outlet Courier Newsroom demonstrates how effective Amazon’s approach is and why so many companies use similar strategies to seed narratives to news media. The video showcases 11 news stations running parts of Amazon’s script verbatim, with the words spoken by local news anchors and without any acknowledgment that they were written by Amazon spokesperson Todd Walker, a former broadcast journalist who also performed the on-site interviews.

“Only one station, Toledo ABC affiliate WTVG, acknowledged that Walker was an Amazon employee, not a news reporter, and that the content had come from Amazon,” Courier reports. When reached for comment, Wes Armstead, the news director for Bluefield, West Virginia NBC affiliate WVVA, told Courier, “I was not aware the package was provided by Amazon,” adding, “We’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Courier says Amazon has denied any wrongdoing, instead pointing to the publicly available press release it issued on May 23rd through Business Wire containing the script text and b-roll footage it provided to media outlets.

In a statement, Amazon said the package was designed to aid news media that cannot shoot on location during the pandemic. “We welcome reporters into our buildings and it’s misleading to suggest otherwise. This type of video was created to share an inside look into the health and safety measures we’ve rolled out in our buildings and was intended for reporters who for a variety of reasons weren’t able to come tour one of our sites themselves,” a company spokesperson tells The Verge.

Amazon also says the video supplied to the news stations was not promotional in nature and no one involved in it was paid to participate.

Update May 26th, 6:12PM ET: Updated to include a statement from Amazon.

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