Summary: Articles and posts from around January, in particular ones that show the Gates Foundation’s influence over the press it paid
TECHRIGHTS has covered the Gates Foundation for several years. At the end of last year we came to the stage where we basically made similar observations and merely produced/shared (through accumulation and organisation) new evidence to support and further validate all the claims. In some sense, we had already gathered a body of work sufficient to explain a pattern of operation which not only characterises Gates but a few other plutocrats too (there is overlap and collaboration at the top). They use similar tricks and the public needs to be equipped with critical skills to spot the public relations and antagonise the fairy tales/misdirections.
Bill Gates is one of the largest owners of the press, putting aside people like Rupert Murdoch whose main business is the press. It’s a business. News is about making money, not informing the public. Here are articles from January of this year. They hopefully show how Gates bends coverage that people are exposed to on a daily basis in many languages.
ABC News will debut a $6 million, year-long reporting project on global health tonight called “Be the Change: Save a Life.” The Gates Foundation gave the news organization $1.5 million for the project that kicks off with Diane Sawyer on 20/20 but also will be on Good Morning America, Nightline and the Evening News.
Also this week, Public Radio International debuted a series on rationing health care around the world. It also was funded by the Gates Foundation. NPR, PBS NewsHour, The Guardian, AllAfrica and Viewchange.org all received funding in the last year or so from the Gates Foundation.
Will the Global Health Hub be the only media source left not receiving Gates funding? Oh wait, we volunteer, and my salary comes from a Gates grant so technically, we too, are indirectly Gates-funded.
• Warren Buffett to Retire From Board of Washington Post He Joined in 1974 (is this related to the Melinda scandal?)
Billionaire Warren Buffett is retiring from the board of Washington Post Co., the publishing company in which his Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is the largest shareholder.
Buffett, who joined the board in 1974, will remain a director until the end of his term in May and won’t seek re- election, Washington Post said today in a statement distributed by Business Wire. He’ll continue to consult with the company.
Would this fly in another industry? Can you imagine a Citibank-financed investigative series on the financial industry? That’s probably a bad example for several reasons, including the Citibank-Gates comparison and the fact that the financial industry is not underreported. I’m having a hard time thinking of a comparable example: an industry that doesn’t get much news coverage, where a big actor funded the media — if you can think of an example, please let me know.
Obviously this induces a bias in the coverage. To say otherwise is pretty much indefensible to me. Think of it this way: if Noam Chomsky had a multi-billion dollar foundation that gave grants to the media to increase news coverage of international development, but did not have specific editorial control, would that not still bias the resulting coverage? Would an organization a) get those grants if it were not already likely to do the cover the subject with at last a gentle, overall bias towards Chomsky’s point of view, or b) continue to get grants for new projects if they widely ridiculed Chomsky’s approach? It doesn’t have to be Chomsky — take your pick of someone with clearly identifiable positions on international issues, and you get the same picture. Do the communications staffers at the Gates Foundation need to personally review the story lines for this sort of bias to creep in? Of course not.
Which matters more: the bias or the increased coverage? For now I lean towards increased coverage, but this is up for debate. It’s really important that the funding be disclosed (as I understand it has been). It would also be nice if there was enough public demand for coverage of international development that the media covered it in all its complexity and difficulty and nuance without needing support from a foundation, but that’s not the world we live in for now. And maybe the funded coverage will ultimately result in more discussion of the structural and systemic roots of international inequality, rather than just “quick fixes.”
• Tachi of the Gates Foundation predicts that technology is going to make everything all right (The Guardian is now funded by the Gates Foundation, so it stopped criticising the Gates Foundation, instead posting its self-promotional PR)
Tachi writes in the Guardian (where else?) that polio will be eradicated, vaccine prices will decrease, and their availability will increase. These are accurate and safe predictions, assuming civil wars don’t get in the way.
That seems to be the reaction I get from people who have yet to learn that one of our region’s — and, I dare say, the nation’s — best sources of news about the Gates Foundation, PATH, Global Partnerships, the wacky world of microfinance and Seattle’s rapidly growing influence in the do-good industry is kaput.
• The Gates Foundation funded PBS’s controversial ‘coverage’ of Cuba (Gates Foundation knows everything best)
The Gates Foundation funded a commiebashing. Is PBS ‘public’ any longer or does the Gates Foundation sponsor it and thus ‘own’ it?
But let’s bring this into the present. Why have I had to endure a klugey operating system with lousy file and memory management for nigh onto thirty years? Why have I had to pay outrageous amounts for every version of said operating system and put up with trojans and viruses and worms that are only possible because one operating system has captured 75% of the market? The homogeneity of our computing infrastructure is probably the single greatest threat to national security. And for it, we all paid monopoly prices, the proceeds of which are now being spent at the discretion of Gates and his foundation. Am I better off because of his philanthropy than I would have been paying lower prices, retaining some consumer surplus, having more market choices? If some rich philanthropist, either alone or in concert with a non-profit or a government agency, is making decisions about how to spend the “extra” money he gained from me, how is that different from the government making decisions about how to spend the tax revenues it gains from me? Do not both usurp my economic power and autonomy?
Here is a YouTube video of a 13-minute excerpt of the 60 Minutes video interview of Melinda Gates in which they attribute high infant mortality to midwives using non-sterile instruments and say that they lay newborns on cold, dirt floors. Now, supposedly these rates have improved since they have taught the midwives to use sterile razor blades to cut the umbilical cord and they’ve taught them to wrap the newborn in a blanket, and infant mortality has gone down.
“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.”
That’s not the case for much of today’s super-elite. “Fat cats who owe it to their grandfathers are not getting all of the gains,” Peter Lindert told me. “A lot of it is going to innovators this time around. There is more meritocracy in Bill Gates being at the top than the Duke of Bedford.” Even Emmanuel Saez, who is deeply worried about the social and political consequences of rising income inequality, concurs that a defining quality of the current crop of plutocrats is that they are the “working rich.” He has found that in 1916, the richest 1 percent of Americans received only one-fifth of their income from paid work; in 2004, that figure had risen threefold, to 60 percent.
Not all plutocrats, of course, are created equal. Apple’s visionary Steve Jobs is neither the moral nor the economic equivalent of the Russian oligarchs who made their fortunes by brazenly seizing their country’s natural resources. And while the benefits of the past decade’s financial “innovations” are, as Volcker noted, very much in question, many plutocratic fortunes—especially in the technology sector—have been built on advances that have broadly benefited the nation and the world. That is why, even as the TARP-recipient bankers have become objects of widespread anger, figures such as Jobs, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett remain heroes.
Together, Slim, Gates, Buffett, and Ambani control more wealth than the world’s poorest 57 countries. The danger is that while we have a global economy that knows how to concentrate money and power in an ever smaller set of hands, we have no robust mechanism to alert us to the injustice, dangers, and instability that come along with this package. Someday, to our peril, the poor will find their own way to remind us.
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