The Good Billionaire: Buying the Media

This is Section C of IWNSPTB XI: The Good Billionaire.


“He who pays the piper, it is said, calls the tune.”

“So today Gates remains cartoonishly rich, and free to step down from Microsoft’s board on his own terms. Meanwhile, the corporate media happily help to spit-shine his reputation as a generous benefactor of humanity instead of a petty, bullying scumbag.”

Rob Larson

Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) found BMGF pouring at least 250 million dollars into the fourth estate, raising questions on the “ethical issue” of “billionaire philanthropists’ bankrolling the news.” Donations have been made to major media outlets and journalistic institutions: NPR, PBS, ABC, BBC, NBC, The Atlantic, Univision, The Daily Telegraph, The Financial Times, Le Monde, Al Jazeera, ProPublica, The Texas Tribune, Gannet, the Poynter Institute, the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the National Press Foundation, the International Center for Journalists, etc. The Guardian’s entire Global Development section was made possible through a partnership with BMGF. Money given to newsrooms are restricted in what they can be used for viz. content that elevates the agenda of BMGF.

Quoting the Seattle Times, CJR says, “To garner attention for the issues it cares about, the foundation has invested millions in training programs for journalists. It funds research on the most effective ways to craft media messages. Gates-backed think tanks turn out media fact sheets and newspaper opinion pieces. Magazines and scientific journals get Gates money to publish research and articles. Experts coached in Gates-funded programs write columns that appear in media outlets from The New York Times to The Huffington Post, while digital portals blur the line between journalism and spin.”

BMGF has directed significant wealth towards global health news coverage. Allegedly to “perhaps suppress criticism of its more unsavory activities.” Fact-checking platforms such as PolitiFact and USA Today – run by Poynter Institute and Gannet respectively, both of which receive funds from BMGF – actively defend Gates against “conspiracy theories” and “misinformation”. Critics of Gates’ outsize power and ability to dictate “solutions” in everything from public health to agriculture are drowned out by the louder voices of “the many academics, nonprofits, and think tanks that Gates funds.” An indicator of media bias is the fact that Gates should be “viewed as a totem of economic inequality” whereas he is regarded as a “moral authority on poverty.”

BMGF invests millions in “journalism training and in researching effective ways of crafting media narratives.” And these investments have paid off. It is said that “[T]wenty years ago, journalists scrutinized Bill Gates’s initial foray into philanthropy as a vehicle to enrich his software company, or a PR exercise to salvage his battered reputation following Microsoft’s bruising antitrust battle with the Department of Justice. Today, the foundation is most often the subject of soft profiles and glowing editorials describing its good works.”

BMGF is said to be unwilling to engage or respond in any way to journalists that questioned their enormous investments in media, and the conflicts of interest it raises. Organizations that benefit from gracious funding are said to indulge in what is called “solutions journalism,” journalism that overlooks problems and glorifies solutions. BMGF is the largest donor – directing over 6 million dollars – to one such organization: the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN).

Media Freedom Foundation president, Mickey Huff, said that BMGF “exerts influence in a way that is typical for foundations working through PR firms, grants, and endowments of professors.” For example, BMGF hired a PR firm – Emerging Ag for 1.6 million dollars – to manipulate the United Nations on gene drives, a project Gates is heavily invested in. “Edward Bernays would be proud of the achievements of this type of propaganda,” said Huff. Such a level of investment explains both the glowing coverage the foundation receives and lack of scrutiny it is under. Sociology professor Linsey McGoey claims that billionaire motives for giving to the media are “to help legitimate the spurious idea that large corporate actors can rectify the economic harms and economic inequality that their practices have often compounded.”

“I don’t know if the Gates Foundation’s projects work,” says Marc Cooper, assistant professor at the University of Southern California. “And if the Gates Foundation is going to pay for all the news coverage around this, we’re never going to know.” Cooper finds it laughable when media claim Gates money doesn’t influence their coverage. “Every grant comes with at least one string attached,” he says. “Recipients can be reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them. […] It’s an echo chamber.”

(Source: MintPressNews)

The Seattle Times asks, “How can reporting be unbiased when a major player holds the purse strings?”

Alan Macleod says, “It appears that once billionaires have purchased every worldly material good possible, the only things left to buy are power and influence.”

CJR summarizes: “Bill Gates has shown how seamlessly the most controversial industry captain can transform his public image from tech villain to benevolent philanthropist. Insofar as journalists are supposed to scrutinize wealth and power, Gates should probably be one of the most investigated people on earth—not the most admired.”


The next section is Bad Company.

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