Updated 5:03 p.m. ET
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is lashing out at the media coverage of his presidential campaign — in a way that might sound familiar.
"I talk about that all of the time," Sanders said of Amazon paying "nothing" in taxes.
"And then I wonder why The Washington Post, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon, doesn't write particularly good articles about me. I don't know why," he said at a campaign event in New Hampshire on Tuesday. Bezos is the founder and CEO of Amazon and privately purchased The Post.
The remark sounded an awful lot like the kind of criticism leveled by someone else.
"...[T]he failing New York Times and the Amazon Washington Post do nothing but write bad stories even on very positive achievements - and they will never change!" President Trump tweeted last year.
...and the Amazon Washington Post do nothing but write bad stories even on very positive achievements - and they will never change!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2018
Trump has tweeted or retweeted criticism of the paper, tying it to Amazon more than 20 times since his campaign for president. Candidates voice criticism of the media all the time in an attempt to curry better coverage. Every campaign pushes back against stories it thinks were done unfairly, including Democratic presidential candidates in this field. Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign does not like what it sees as the media's focus on his gaffes, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang's loyal followers don't believe he gets enough coverage.
But none are echoing the president's language or accusing news outlets' owners of influencing coverage in quite the same way. The Post's editor, Marty Baron, noted that Bezos does not influence the newspaper's coverage and accused Sanders of peddling a "conspiracy theory."
"Sen. Sanders is a member of a large club of politicians — of every ideology — who complain about their coverage," Baron said. "Contrary to the conspiracy theory the senator seems to favor, Jeff Bezos allows our newsroom to operate with full independence, as our reporters and editors can attest."
Sanders pivoted Tuesday afternoon, saying that his criticism was more of a general one of corporate-owned media and that he doesn't believe Bezos was on the phone directing coverage.
"So this is not into conspiracy theory," Sanders told CNN. "We are taking on corporate America. Large corporations own the media in America, by and large, and I think there is a framework, about how the corporate media focuses on politics. That is my concern. It's not that Jeff Bezos is on the phone every day; he's not."
Sanders went on to criticize Trump for lambasting the media and calling them the "enemy of the people." He called that a "disgusting remark which undermines American democracy."
Sanders added, "There are some really great articles out there, like investigations, which we use, so I don't think media is fake news."
The Post reported last month on a labor fight within the Sanders campaign. It noted that workers wanted annual salaries at least equivalent to a $15 an hour minimum wage, coverage of health care costs for those making $60,000 a year or less and reimbursement for travel and use of their own vehicles at $0.58 a mile.
Sanders has argued that Amazon, the online shopping behemoth, should pay more in taxes and pay its workers more. Several communities, for example, had offered tax abatements in exchange for Amazon setting up its second headquarters to their cities, and it's unclear whether Amazon paid anything in taxes at all last year, The Wall Street Journal reported. Amazon moved part of what would have been its second headquarters out of New York recently because of protests against the deal the city gave it.
Sanders has been critical of corporations, including Amazon, that do not or did not have a $15 minimum wage, the level he wants to be a federal minimum. Facing pressure, including from Sanders, Amazon raised its minimum wage to $15 in October of last year.
"...establish a corporate welfare tax on large employers equal to the amount of federal benefits received by their low-wage workers. For example, if a worker at a large employer receives $300 in food stamps, the employer would be taxed $300. ... The Stop Bezos Act gives large employers a choice: pay workers a living wage or pay for the public assistance programs low-wage workers are forced to rely upon."
There appeared to be a detente between Sanders and Bezos with the move to raise Amazon's minimum wage in October. Sanders praised the move, calling it "enormously important."
Bezos replied on Twitter, saying he was "excited about this" and that he hoped "others will join in."
While Sanders has again shown fundraising strength during his 2020 presidential bid, he has struggled to gain the kind of traction he had in the 2016 presidential election.
He is competing with a much broader field of progressive candidates, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who has now passed him in an average of national polls. She is ahead of him in the key early states of Iowa and polling close to him in New Hampshire, where Sanders won handily in the 2016 primary.
Note: Amazon is one of NPR's sponsors.
A previous version of this story incorrectly said Amazon and The Washington Post share a parent company. The newspaper is not directly connected to the online retailer. Additionally, a Web summary on the homepage incorrectly said Bezos owns Amazon. He is the founder and CEO.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
OK. Politicians rarely like the coverage they get from the media. And that includes Senator Bernie Sanders, who is apparently not very happy with coverage from The Washington Post about his presidential candidacy so far. Listen to what he said yesterday in New Hampshire.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BERNIE SANDERS: Anybody here know how much Amazon paid in taxes last year?
UNIDENTIFIED SANDERS SUPPORTERS: Nothing.
SANDERS: Yeah. So, you know, I talk about that all of the time, and then I wonder why The Washington Post, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon, doesn't write particularly good articles about me. I don't know why.
CHANG: NPR's senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro tells us that there's a bit of history between Sanders and Amazon.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there.
CHANG: So what started all of this?
MONTANARO: Well, look. Sanders has continuously made an example of Amazon on the campaign trail. He's blasted the company for what you hear in that clip, which is for not paying much, if anything, in taxes. Sanders has also criticized Amazon for what he says is not paying a, quote, "living wage" to its workers. His push actually got Amazon, in part, to increase their minimum wage to $15 an hour last October. But since then, the Post reported on a labor dispute within the Sanders campaign. Its unionized workers want better pay and benefits.
CHANG: So what's been the response from the Post?
MONTANARO: Well, the Post editor, Marty Baron, put out a statement and said that Bezos does not influence the newspaper's coverage and accused Sanders of peddling a, quote, "conspiracy theory," which is not something you usually hear from a newspaper editor about a presidential campaign. And he said that Sanders is part of a large club of politicians who are upset about coverage every day.
Now, Sanders today pivoted, saying it was more a general criticism of corporate-owned media and that his concern wasn't exactly that he thought Bezos was on the phone every day with its editors at the Post.
CHANG: That phrase large club of politicians - we know who Baron's probably referring to.
MONTANARO: (Laughter) In part, yes. And what - that certainly perked the ears up of a lot of political reporters. And also, Sanders' statement certainly echoes a lot of what we've heard from President Trump. Take a listen to what the president told reporters at the White House while standing in front of the presidential helicopter Marine One.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So I think it's a horrible thing when a paper, which is really just a paper for the benefit of Amazon - The Washington Post is fake news, just like The New York Times is fake news. It's put there for the benefit - The Washington Post - of Amazon. That's my opinion, and I think it's a disgrace.
MONTANARO: Of course, Bezos owns the Post and is also the founder and CEO of Amazon, which is the link here. Trump has repeatedly criticized the Post and tied it to Amazon. He's actually done it more than 30 times on Twitter, where he's linked the two together. And, obviously, you know, this is a major deal on the campaign trail and especially because campaigns always work the refs. Right? I mean...
MONTANARO: What was different here was not just echoing the president's language but also accusing a mainstream news outlet's owner of influencing coverage, which, of course, Sanders walked back. And that's the kind of thing that really does misinform the public, which is already pretty distrustful of the media about how good outlets do their jobs and safeguards that are put in place.
CHANG: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro.
MONTANARO: You're so welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.