All the News That’s Fit to Print About Bill Gates

The New York Times, known as the newspaper of record, started out 2021 with its characteristic Bill Gates sycophancy. In January, his book on climate was featured in “13 New Books to Watch For.” (1) Oddly, a link for the Gates book took readers to Bill McKibben’s review published twelve days earlier. McKibben found the book “underwhelming,” concluding that Gates is “surprisingly behind the curve on the geeky parts, and he’s worse at interpreting the deeper and more critical aspects of the global warming dilemma.” (2)

At the end of the month, in celebration of the 125th anniversary of The New York Times Book Review, the staff dipped into the archives to revisit the “most thrilling, memorable and thought-provoking coverage”–and came up with “25 illustrious figures.” There sat Gates, along with John F. Kennedy, John Kenneth Galbraith. H. G. Well, Vladimir Nabokov, Toni Morrison, and 19 other “thrilling, memorable and thought-provoking” writers. (3)

For The Times, this acclaim is just the beginning of a month of Gates, Gates, and more Gates. Early in February, the Times interviewed Gates about what books were on his nightstand. (4) Two days later, the Times Editorial Board published a piece on changes in foreign aid to Africa, noting the Gates Foundation’s ability to be nimble and shift an increasing number of decisions from Seattle to Addis Ababa, Johannesburg, and Abuja. (5)

Two days after that, here’s the headline for Kara Swisher’s “Sway”: “How Bill Gates Plans to Save the Planet.” (6)

The next day an article featuring Dr. Jessica Manning’s work in Cambodia noted that the Gates Foundation program officer, helped choose Dr. Manning’s project as a grant awardee. (7) On March 3, headline writers asked, “Can Bill Gates Vaccinate the World?” (8) This podcast header was pretty much a repeat from a previous November headline: “Bill Gates is on a quest to vaccinate the world. Can he do it?” (9)

March 9 offered readers “Why Bill Gates is Worried about Bitcoin.” (10) Then, the March 13 headline asked “Can the World Learn from South Africa’s Vaccine Trials?” and the reader was informed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contributed $7.3 million, cementing its role as a linchpin of efforts to steer vaccine trials to the global south. (11)

Acknowledgment of Gates Foundation money also came in the April 6 piece, “Researchers Are Hatching a Low-Cost Coronavirus Vaccine.” (12)

Then came May and a media circus that had The New York Times doing summersaults. Suddenly, with Bill Gates and Sex, content writers in the newspaper of record seem to be competing with scribes at All About the Tea (“We deliver the hottest news on your favorite celebrities”), US Sun (“news, sport, celebrities, and gossip”), Vanity Fair, New York Post, Lew Rockwell.

  • May 3 Bill and Melinda Gates Are Divorcing After 27 Years of Marriage (David Gelles, Andrew Ross Sorkin, & Nicholas Kulish)
  • May 4: DEALBOOK The Big Stakes in the Gates Divorce (Andrew Ross Sorkin, Jason Karaian, Sarah Kessler, Michael J. de la Merced, Lauren Hirsch, & Ephrat Livni)
  • May 4: What the Gates Divorce Means for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Nicholas Kulish)
  • May 5: Who Gets Xanadu 2.0, the Gates Family Mansion? (Valeriya Safronova)
  • May 8: The Separate Worlds of Bill and Melinda Gates (Nicholas Kulish, Rebecca R. Ruiz, & David Gelles)
  • May 13: The Gateses’ Public Split Spotlights a Secretive Fortune (Nicholas Kulish, David Gelles, Anupreeta Das, & Kate Kelly)
  • May 16: Long Before Divorce, Bill Gates Had Reputation for Questionable Behavior (Emily Flitter & Matthew Goldstein)
  • May 17: DEALBOOK: More details emerge about the Gates divorce (Andrew Ross Sorkin, et al)
  • May 21: DEALBOOK: Tracking the Epstein Scandal’s Fallout (Andrew Ross Sorkin, et al)

Standards Oligarch

The New York Times has long cozied up to the Bill Gates approach to public schools. In September 2009, the City Room blog described the Gates Foundation as “one of the most influential forces in education reform.” Noting that the Foundation had a plan–called Measures of Effective Teaching–to “spend half a billion dollars to study and improve teacher quality at schools throughout the country,” the blog provided info on how teachers could earn $1,500 for participating. (13)

In May 2011, Sam Dillon gave Times readers a look at the myriad of groups receiving Gates funds to influence education policy–from Harvard’s “strategic data fellows” placed in school districts as “entrepreneurial change agents”–to teacher unions to a small organization sponsored by two Bronx teachers. Professor Bruce Fuller at University of California, Berkeley, did offer some caution: “It’s Orwellian in the sense that through this vast funding they start to control even how we tacitly think about the problems facing public education.” (14) The Tampa Bay Times picked up on this information and published the Bruce Fuller quote along with this summary: “the foundation spent $3.5 million creating an advocacy group to buttress its $290 million investment in programs to increase teacher effectiveness in four areas of the country….” (15) That was the end of the story. Not mentioned was the fact that districts chosen by Gates would have to come up with many more millions to implement the effective-teaching plan he was .

In the summer of 2013, offering fulsome praise of Obama education policy, Times opinion columnist Charles Blow offered his education policy expertise by announcing that “the Common Core is for the common good, if only we can get our act together and properly implement it.” (16) The Times Editorial Board followed up in November with “Advertisements for the Common Core,” praising the initiative. (17) There was no mention that the Common Core was funded and heavily promoted by the Gates Foundation.

In her June 2014 headliner,”How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution,” Lyndsey Layton at the Washington Post moved beyond the habitual media position of promoting school standards and offered readers info on how Gates buys endorsement. “The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation didn’t just bankroll the development of what became known as the Common Core State Standards. With more than $200 million, the foundation also built political support across the country….Money flowed to policy groups on the right and left, funding research by scholars of varying political persuasions who promoted the idea of common standards. Liberals at the Center of American Progress and conservatives affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council who routinely disagree on nearly every issue accepted Gates money and found common ground on the Common Core.” (18)

Press Coverage of Gates Failure

Now let’s jump to June 2018, when the Rand Corporation released its report concluding that the Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching initiative (IP), designed and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, had failed to achieve its goals for student achievement or graduation. (19)

Certainly this bombshell was worth front page headlines. But maybe, after all the press accolades about the Gates-funded Common Core and Race to the Top, the media silence is not surprising. Mea culpa is a hard phrase to headline.

Press mention of this huge Gates failure was scarce, but there were a few articles. On June 21, 2018, an Education Week headline summarized the findings of the Rand report: An Expensive Experiment: Gates Teacher-Effectiveness Program Shows No Gains for Students. The thrust seemed to put the blame for the Gates failure on the fact that principals are unwilling to rate teachers “ineffective.” Reporter Madeline Will informed readers that Gates is moving in a different direction: “The foundation plans to pump $1.7 billion into K-12 education, with a focus on improved curricula that match state standards for learning and helping networks of middle and high schools scale up best practices.” (20) Philanthropy News Digest took notice on July 2, 2018: Gates’ Teacher Effectiveness Initiative Fell Short, Study Finds. “A $575 million initiative designed and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve teacher effectiveness failed to measurably boost student achievement….”(21)

In her Atlanta Journal-Constitution blog, Maureen Downey concludes, “A failure of this massive scale tells me we can’t keep focusing reform hopes on superstar teachers…we’ve tried sorting teachers by the numbers for more than two decades, and it just doesn’t work. Student success cannot rest solely on the person in front of the room.” (22)

Madeline Will repeated her Education Week piece on the PBS News Hour. (23) On June 29, with the headline “Bill Gates spent $215 million to improve teaching; new report says it was a bust,” Valerie Strauss offered an information-filled and scathing evaluation of the Gates Foundation meddling in public schools. in her Washington Post Answer Sheet blog. (24) This column was also printed in syracuse.com. In the Stamford Advocate, Wendy Lecker noted that “Rather than indulge the whims of wealthy solutionists such as Gates, it would be nice if our political leaders would focus on giving our children all the tools we already know they need to learn.” (25)

In his blog, school choice stalwart Jay P. Greene figured the Gates enterprise cost about one billion dollars and asks, “So what did we get for $1 billion?  Not much.” (26)

On August 29 Los Angeles Times columnist Howard Blume noted Gates is changing its focus while making a new push in education reform,” with funding to the KIPP national charter school network, to Teach Plus,  and to Core Districts, a consortium of large California school systems. (27)

On Oct. 4, The Courier-Journal published a piece by the executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, which describes itself as “an independent, bipartisan, citizen-led organization working to improve education in Kentucky.” It made no mention of any Gates failure but sang the Gates theme song:”The academic performance of Kentucky’s public school students remain largely stagnant, with persistent achievement gaps and many high schoolers graduating unprepared for college or the workforce….” (28)

And that’s it for any media notice of the huge failure of the Gates Foundation initiative. Earlier, there had been small mention of money matters. In 2016, the Memphis Commercial Appeal had noted that Gates money for fixing teaching in their schools didn’t come free. Far from it. “Since 2009, Shelby County Schools has spent a total of $173 million on the initiative: more than $74 million from the Gates award; $82 million from the district; and more than $17 million from local philanthropists. (29)

In 2010, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had mentioned a heavy cash outlay: in addition to the $50 million grant from the Foundation, “the district will have to raise another $40 million to fully implement the effective-teaching plan.” (30) Likewise, the Tampa Tribune made mention that Hillsborough “will have to match the Gates funds with $102 million, and at least $30 million a year after the grant runs out” (31) In 2020, the Tribune offered news of a $50 million deficit and this evaluation: The district spent years digging out of spending imbalances related to teaching reforms the district had implemented in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.” (32)

Subject mentioned and then dropped.

Like papers in cities receiving big Gates grants, The New York Times ignored the Rand notice of Gates failure in overhauling teacher professionalism, but three days after Rand published their report, the newspaper of record ran a puff piece on another Gates-funded professional development project, EdcampUSA, describing it as offering empowerment to teachers. (33) Another piece mentioned a gender equality council led by Melinda Gates and Canada’s ambassador to France and Monaco. (34)

Gates good news continued: Information about a Gates funded blood test that might predict pregnancy due date and preterm birth (35) was followed the next day with a piece about the Foundation injecting billions of dollars into stopping AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. (36)

September 2018, just three months after the Rand Report release, was Gates month at the newspaper of record, the paper that has declared since 1896 that it contains “all the news that’s fit to print.” Melissa got a crossword puzzle; Bill got a book review, and they co-authored an article about their foundation’s work. In the September New York Times Magazine Education issue, “Raising Student Performance the Right Way: Can Good Teaching Be Taught,” didn’t mention the Gates Foundation until paragraph 14, where the reader was told that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation “rushed to invest in Atlanta’s miracle”; two paragraphs later the Rand study conclusion was mentioned–noting that teacher effectiveness contributed no more than 14 percent to outcomes. This was followed by an acknowledgment very rarely seen in any newspaper: “A far bigger wedge is influenced by out-of-school variables over which teachers have little control: family educational background, the effects of poverty or segregation on children, exposure.” But note: there was no mention that Gates spearheaded this failed teacher effectiveness effort. (37)

Other September New York Times articles mentioned Gates research studies against HIV, Malaria, and Tuberculosis; Bill reviewed Yuval Noah Harari’s book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century; (38) Bill and Melinda co-authored “We Were Making Headway on Global Poverty. What’s About to Change?” (39) And Melinda got to do a crossword puzzle with the help of puzzle editor Joel Fagliano. (40) Wordplay columnist Caitlin Lovinger paid fulsome tribute and interviewed Melinda about her love of puzzles, noting, “I jumped at the chance to be the one who got to collaborate with her, as I’m a huge admirer of the selfless work she does for the world.” (41)

The Gates Celebratory month ended with a conversation between New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof and Melinda Gates at the New Rules Summit.(42)

After the September Gates glut, October offered only four articles mentioning Bill or Melinda Gates, one being a reminder of his immense wealth. A feature on Leonardo da Vinci’s Scientific Notebook related that in 1994 Bill Gates bought this notebook, called the Codex, at a Christie’s auction, paying $30.8 million. (43)

All the News That’s Fit to Print

Reminder: The Rand Corporation published their report on Gates failure in June 2018. In August 2018, in the midst of their Gates lollapalooza, The New York Times also printed 8 articles mentioning Rand research findings–from the impact of chronic sleeplessness (44) to recovery of bones from North Korea (45) to China’s Challenge of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific (46)–and more. There was no mention of the Rand report on that Gates Foundation $574 million project.

Then came Spring 2021. After the flurry of headlines about the Gates split, The New York Times offered a number of Guest Essays wherein people took another look at Bill Gates, offering views drastically different from what had come before.

Dr. Linsey McGoey, professor of sociology and director of the Center for Research in Economic Sociology and Innovation at the University of Essex and author of “No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy, offered an opinion piece with this headline: “Why Billionaires Like Bill Gates Can’t Fix the Problems They Helped Create.” The piece includes the observation: “Asking Bill Gates to fix inequality is like asking an arsonist to hose down your house after he just set it on fire.” McGoey followed this with a devastating summary of Gates proclivity to lend big pharma a helping hand.(47)

Two days later, Times regular Timothy Egan offered “Scenes From a Mogul’s Marriage or: The Troubling Fourth Act of Bill Gates. (48) Then came Jeff Yang, editor, the Asian American superhero anthologies “Secret Identities” and “Shattered,” co-author of the forthcoming book Rise: A Pop History of Asian America from the Nineties to Now. His Times piece was titled “The Problem With the Genius Billionaire Philanthropist Superhero.” (49)

Question

Where are the The New York Times Guest Essays on the troubling consequences of the Gates effect on public schools– essays by a kindergarten teacher, a third grade teacher, a seventh grade teacher, a high school teacher?

And what about taxpayers? How many know that a district that gets a grant from Gates to try out one of his pet theories, will end up shelling millions and millions of their own money. Take Shelby County: Their award from Gates was $74 million. They needed $82 million district dollars plus another $17 from local philanthropists, a rather pricey endeavor.

References

  1. Joumana Khatib, “13 New Books to Watch For in February,” New York Times, Jan. 27, 2021
  2. Bill McKibben, “How Does Bill Gates Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis?” New York Times, Feb. 15, 2021. A version of this article appears in print on March 7, 2021, Page 10 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”
  3. Tina Jordan, Noor Qasim, and John Williams,”25 Great Writers and Thinkers Weigh In on Books That Matter,” Jan. 25, 2021
  4. Unidentified Interviewer, “Bill Gates Has Always Sought Out New Reading Recommendations,” New York Times Sunday Book Review, Feb. 14, 2021
  5. Editorial Board, “Foreign Aid is Having a Reckoning,” New York Times, Feb. 13, 2021
  6. Produced by ‘Sway,’ “Innovation, Not Trees. How Bill Gates Plans to Save the Planet,” New York Times, Feb. 15, 2021
  7. Amos Zeeberg, “Piecing Together the Next Pandemic,” New York Times, Feb. 16, 2021
  8. The Daily, hosted by Michael Barbaro and powered by New York Times Journalism,”Can Bill Gates Vaccinate the World,” podcast, New York Times, March 3, 2021
  9. Megan Twohey and Nicholas Kulish, “Bill Gates in on a quest to vaccinate the world. Can he do it?” November 23, 2020
  10. Andrew Ross Sorkin, et al, “Why Bill Gates Is Worried About Bitcoin,” Dealbook Newsletter, New York Times, March 9, 20221
  11. Benjamin Mueller, “Can the World Learn From South Africa’s Vaccine Trials?” March 14, 2021
  12. Carl Zimmer, “Researchers Are Hatching a Low-Cost Coronavirus Vaccine,” April 6, 2021
  13. City Room Blog, “A 2-Year Study To Learn What Makes Teachers Good,” New York Times, Sept. 1, 2009
  14. Sam Dillon,”Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy, Bill Gates,” March 21, 2011
  15. posted by Tom Marshall”Report: Bill Gates Funds Many Voices,” Tampa Bay Times, May 23, 2011
  16. Charles Blow, “The Common Core and the Common Good,” New York Times, Aug. 22, 2013
  17. Editorial Board, “Advertisements for the Common Core,” New York Times, Nov. 20, 2013
  18. Lyndsey Layton, “How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution,” Washington Post, June 7, 2014
  19. Brian M. Stecher, et al, “Improving Teacher Effectiveness: Final Report,” Rand Corporation, June 2018
  20. Madeline Will, “An Expensive Experiment’: Gates Teacher-Effectiveness Program Shows No Gains for Students,” Education Week, June 21, 2018
  21. _____,”Gates’ Teacher Effectiveness Initiative Fell Short, Study Finds,” Philanthropy Digest,” July 2, 2018
  22. Maureen Downey, “Costly effective teacher project from Gates Foundation proves ineffective” Atlanta Journal Constitution blog, July 9, 2018
  23. Madeline Will, “Why didn’t this program aimed at boosting teacher effectiveness help students?” PBS News Hour, July 20, 2018
  24. Valerie Strauss, “Bill Gates spent $215 million to improve teaching; new report says it was a bust,” Washington Post Answer Sheet, July 29, 2018
  25. Wendy Lecker, “Bill Gates’ failed experiment,” Stamford Advocate, June 30, 2018
  26. Jay P. Greene, “The Gates Effective Teaching Initiative Fails to Improve Student Outcomes,” Education Next, June 22, 2018
  27. Howard Blume, “Gates Foundation dumps ‘big idea’ approach to build on school progress in L.A. and elsewhere,” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 28, 2018.
  28. Brigette Blom Ramsey, “Kentucky’s alarming school ratings show students need our help now,” Courier Journal, Oct. 4, 2018
  29. Ruma Kumar, Chalkbeat Tennessee, “Gates Foundation extends Shelby County Schools Grant,” Commercial Appeal, April 12, 2016
  30. Karamagi Rujumba, “Bill Gates Lauds City’s Steps to Improve Schools,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 11, 2010
  31. Tom Marshall, “Hillsborough Schools win $100 million Gates Grant,” Tampa Bay Times, Nov. 20, 2009
  32. Marlene Sokol, “Hillsborough school district in financial straits, again,” Tampa Bay Times, July 8, 2020
  33. Katherine Schulten, “Edcamps: The ‘Unconferences,’ Where Teachers Teach Themselves,” New York Times, June 5, 2018
  34. Farah Nayeri, “Gender at the Group of 7: Can Making It a Priority Accelerate Change?” New York Times, June 7, 2018
  35. Pam Belluck,”Blood Test Might Predict Pregnancy Due Date and Preterm Birth,” New York Times, June 7,2018
  36. Donald G. McNeil, Jr, “The Man Who (Almost) Wiped Out the Guinea Worms,” New York Times, June 18, 2018
  37. Sarah Mosley, “Raising Student Performance the Right Way: Can Good Teaching Be Taught,” New York Times Magazine The Education Issue, Sept. 6, 2018
  38. Bill Gates, “What Are the Biggest Problems Facing Us in the 21st Century?” New York Times, Sept. 4. 2018
  39. Bill and Melinda Gates, “We Were Making Headway on Global Poverty. What’s About to Change?” New York Times, Sept. 22, 2018
  40. Caitlin Lovinger, “Loll: Daily Crossword Column,” New York Times, Sept. 25, 2018
  41. ibid.
  42. Nicholas Kristof and Melinda Gates, Interview, New York Times, Sept.30, 2018
  43. Elizabetta Povoledo, “In Leonardo da Vinci’s Scientific Notebook, the Mind of a Genius at Work,” New York Times, Oct. 30, 2018
  44. Bilal Choudhry, “You’re Getting Very Sleepy. (So Is Everyone Else.) New York Times, Aug. 21, 2018
  45. Dave Phillips, “Whose Bones Has North Korea Returned? It May Take Years to Know.” New York Times, Aug. 1, 2018
  46. Steven Lee Myers, “With Ships and Missiles, China Is Ready to Challenge U.S. Navy in Pacific,” New York Times, Aug. 29, 2018
  47. Dr. Linsey McGoey, “Why Billionaires Like Bill Gates Can’t Fix the Problems They Helped Create,” New York Times, May 25, 2021
  48. Timothy Egan, “Scenes From a Mogul’s Marriage or: The Troubling Fourth Act of Bill Gates,” New York Times, May 27, 2021
  49. Jeff Yang, “The Problem With the Genius Billionaire Philanthropist Superhero,” New York Times, June 20, 2021