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Web pioneer to be next US ambassador

David Landes · 16 Jun 2009, 15:52

Published: 16 Jun 2009 15:52 GMT+02:00

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Matthew Barzun, a Louisville, Kentucky-based internet publishing executive, is expected to be named soon as President Obama’s pick as US ambassador to Sweden, The Local has learned.

Barzun, who began his career as one of the first employees of the CNET media company, joined the Obama campaign’s National Finance Committee for the 2008 presidential election and helped pioneer events which catered to small donors.

According to statistics from the Center for Responsive Politics, an independent research organization that tracks money in politics, Barzun helped bring in more than $500,000 to the Obama campaign for the 2008 election cycle.

Part of the total raised by Barzun included more than $290,000 in overall contributions from Barzun and his family to various Democratic candidates, party organizations and political action committees (PACs).

The nearly $300,000 given by Barzun and his family put him as the sixth highest contributor to Obama’s campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“We’ve heard nothing but positive things about him,” Eva Engdahl, secretary to the chief of protocol within the Government Offices of Sweden told The Local.

“While it’s hard to say for sure, we hope that he arrives sometime in late summer or early autumn.”

Engdahl confirmed that Barzun’s name had passed through her office recently as part of a process known in the diplomatic world as agrément.

In early June government officials in Stockholm sent word to Washington through the US embassy that Sweden had no reservations over Barzun’s appointment, paving the way for an official announcement from the White House.

Neither the US Embassy nor the White House would confirm Barzun’s pending appointment, however.

“I can’t confirm anything,” said US embassy spokesperson Robert Hilton.

“An announcement of the new ambassador will be made by the White House and the embassy has no information to share.”

According to the White House, it has a policy “not [to] confirm, deny, or speculate on appointments”, and as a result no information will be made available “until it is officially announced by the White House”.

The White House also refused to confirm when Barzun’s appointment would be announced, but sources told The Local an announcement could come as early as this week.

Before taking up residence in the posh mansion reserved for US ambassadors serving in Stockholm, Barzun must still be confirmed by the US Senate, a hurdle which has been known to trip up presidential political appointments in the past.

Speculation around a possible ambassadorship for Barzun has been buzzing for months in Kentucky, where Barzun has made his home since 2001.

Back in early November, within days of Obama’s victory in the 2008 race for the White House, a Louisville, Kentucky television station reported that Barzun’s fundraising prowess would likely result in an ambassadorial appointment.

And in early March, kypolitics.org, a website dedicated to Kentucky politics, reported that Barzun had recently turned down a job in the West Wing, but was “poised to land a top appointment” from Obama, likely a “prominent ambassadorship” in a “major European country”.

Born in New York, Barzun was raised in Massachusetts and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College before joining CNET in 1993, helping the company to capitalize on the internet’s rising popularity.

Moving with the company to San Francisco, Barzun was an early advocate of purchasing domain names which CNET could use to launch new, content-specific sites. Barzun later launched and managed a number of sites, including download.com.

With its 1996 initial public offering, CNET became the first publisher of content on the world wide web to go public, according to the New York Times.

In 2008, the company was purchased by US broadcasting giant CBS for $1.8 billion, by which time Barzun had risen to the position of executive vice president.

Currently, Barzun is head of BrickPath, an internet media company “devoted to lifelong learning” according to his biography on the Louisville Free Public Library Foundation, where Barzun sits on the Board of Directors.

Story continues below…

Barzun is married to Brooke Brown Barzun and the couple has three children.

His wife is the daughter of Owsley Brown II, the retired chairman and CEO of Brown-Forman, a Louisville-based producer of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, Fetzer Wines, and Finlandia Vodka.

When contacted by The Local, Barzun was otherwise occupied and unable to comment on his pending appointment.

The last US ambassador to Sweden, Michael Wood, left his post in January following the conclusion of the George W. Bush presidency.

Wood's tenure in Stockholm was marked by his efforts to promote enhanced cooperation between the United States and Sweden on the promotion of renewable energy technology.

The initiative, coined the “One Big Thing”, won Wood accolades on both sides of the Atlantic.

David Landes (david.landes@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

17:07 June 16, 2009 by Marley420
At least someone can download from Pirate Bay without prosecution.
17:21 June 16, 2009 by askin
Congratulations to Mr. Matthew Barzun.

Askin Ozcan

20:31 June 16, 2009 by Andy from NYC
What a joke... 300,000 USD--he's soooo big! Seriously, doesn't have any bigger payoffs to make?
04:00 June 17, 2009 by GefleFrequentFlyer
It's no surprise that Barack will reward his buddies for thier contributions. Freinds in Embassies, Hollywood in the Whitehouse, and dare not release the WH guest list, might uncover some real favors.

Change you can believe in folks.
09:59 June 17, 2009 by Random
So thats how things works?? Who ever donates the most money secures the big jobs...what happened to the best person for the job??

America seems pretty different with its morals (from my opinion - no offense meant)

WHy cant people who are good at their job do well there...its all about the money!!
15:25 June 17, 2009 by GefleFrequentFlyer

You are exactly right. Historically, since the Kennedy admin, politicians have appointed thier freinds/big donors to lavish embassies and staff jobs within the presidency. Top spots are obviously vacation paradises, such as the Nassau, London, Paris, etc.

I believe Michael Wood, the former ambassador, was a friend of George Bush as well.

You are right, it isn't the best person for the job. Same as the elected president isn't the best person for the job, he is just able to win a popularity contest. Often, people sent to embassies can't speak the language, or know little about the country they were appointed to.

It's a backwards game of "Old Boy Network"
15:32 June 17, 2009 by mkvgtired
Random, what would you expect from a guy who lied about virtually every campaign promise he made? He promised to "go through the budget line by line and eliminate wasteful spending", now he is set to increase the national deficit by 65 - 75% while he is in office (this is by White House estimates so Im sure it will be higher). He has increased the deficit more in 6 months than either one of GW's entire terms. His solution for every problem is to throw money at it, so it is not a surprise that money is his principal motivation. I just hope there are enough voters in the next election who feel cheated to get this idiot out of office. This is coming from someone who voted for this waste of space. I hated GW, but surprisingly this guy is even worse!

19:10 June 17, 2009 by spidra
Political patronage certainly pre-dates the Kennedy Administration. I agree that the job ought to be filled purely on merit. However, BOTH Republicans and Democrats use political appointments (not just Ambassadorships) to reward big campaign contributors.
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