Mea Culpa: Donald Trump’s not-so-secret attack on Amazon


We carried this headline yesterday: “Trump openly attacks Amazon over taxes and business practices.” This is the opposite of the usual journalistic device of reporting a “secret” document or plot, to which readers are likely to respond, to themselves at least, “Well, it’s not secret now.” 

In this case, the president’s attack was indeed carried out “openly” in that it was, as with so many news stories about him, from his Twitter account. It was a strange word to put in the headline, because it implied that Trump’s usual style is to criticise people in private.

The other thing about Amazon – which has nothing to do with the style or usage of our writing, but which I find puzzling – is that it pays hardly any taxes because it earns hardly any profits. Its low tax bill is not mainly the result of devious accounting practices, but of the company’s business strategy. It deliberately avoids earning profits, preferring to expand instead. 

Yet the company is often lumped in with other multinationals that earn large profits but find ways of not paying much tax on them. The problem, if there is one, with Amazon is one of dominant market share rather than tax avoidance, and we journalists ought to understand that, even if Donald Trump doesn’t. 

Football boot: In our rundown of who might be in the England squad for the World Cup we said that Danny Rose was “once a shoe-in at left wing-back”. I suspect it might cause confusion to restore this to the original form, which was “shoo-in”, meaning a horse that would win a rigged race by just being shooed over the line. In other words, a racing certainty. A “shoe-in” sounds like a foot that fits comfortably in an old shoe, so it works just as well, but it is interesting to know the 1920s origin of the phrase. 

Surplus syllable: To what extent should we tidy up other people’s language? I ask because we quoted the Vote Leave campaign’s response to allegations about its conduct of the EU referendum: “Vote Leave is obligated to review … all such allegations.” I would have been unable to resist improving it by changing it to “obliged”. 

Live reporting: I missed this while I was away last week. “Iceland is a nation built on volcanoes, and the 10th century Eldgja lava flood is the island’s largest volcanic eruption in living memory.” David Taylor drew it to my attention. Presumably we meant that this lava flow occurred during human history, because there aren’t going to be any living beings who remember it.