I think the judgement that this is a “PR failure” is taking a fairly tactical analysis. It’s evaluating Amazon’s response in the context of this story & new cycle, rather than considering all the ones to come.
This move was clearly not intended to neutralize and kill the story. This move was not intended to improve Amazon’s brand perception in the market. Attacking the story and highlighting the most negative aspect of it really invariably serves to double down on the impact of the story on Amazon. That’s why this kind of response is done so rarely. This move was intended to harm the brand of the writer and the New York Times.
If you consider a policy of *never* responding in this fashion, it creates an environment where anyone can and will produce even outright libelous stories without fear of consequences.
Every now and then you need to throw an elbow, just to demonstrate that you won’t be taken advantage of. In this case, they went after the New York Times… in public… represented their work as not even meeting basic professional standards… The NYT actually made the same “mistake” you are highlighting here by responding… and Amazon responded *again* to that response, no doubt doing more PR harm to both brands.
The overall message is clear: if you are write an irresponsible story about them, expect that Amazon is willing to sacrifice their brand image in order to exact as much of a toll on your brand as they can.
I don’t think it will stop an intrepid reporter from writing a hit piece on Amazon. It will likely make both the reporter and their editor far more cautious about whether they’ve dotted their i’s, crossed their t’s, and given Amazon every chance to respond to the story before they publish.
Assuming they achieve that outcome, that’s a PR success. Heck, that’s PR *gold*.