Marc Benioff owns Time magazine and is a shareholder in Elon Musk's SpaceX.
As you may have heard, Time magazine named Elon Musk its "Person of the Year" on Monday. The description portrays Musk as a dreamer and a crazy genius with a prickly disposition, more akin to Steve Jobs than Jeff Bezos, celebrating his long-shot objectives and successes before mentioning — surprise, surprise — that he's not a nice guy about a third of the way down.
Near the end of the story, it is revealed that Time's owners, Marc and Lynne Benioff, are investors in one of Musk's firms, SpaceX. Marc Benioff revealed the investment in June, and in the months since he hasn’t shied away from sending Musk love on social media and calling him a visionary leader in the press.
(Speaking of Netflix, Benioff is also a second cousin of Game of Thrones co-creator David Benioff, who’s working on a whole bunch of Netflix projects these days. But that’s neither here nor there.)
It's not like Time or Benioff have been attempting to hide the connection, but I believe if my Media Ethics professor chimed in right now, he'd say the relationship should've been mentioned right at the start of the piece. Actually, he would have reflexively vomited at the thought of folks like Benioff and Bezos “saving journalism,” then passed out from the fatigue.
The Benioffs “have no involvement in TIME’s editorial decisions,” the disclaimer reads. Benioff, who is also CEO of Salesforce, has dabbled in penning articles for Time, like “Yes, We Can Grow 1 Trillion Trees To Help Fight Climate Change” and “What I Learned From Colin Powell.” At least in those cases, the disclaimer is right below his byline.
Benioff bought Time in September 2018, likening it to Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post in 2013. A New York Times story about the Time acquisition upon its announcement stated Benioff’s primary motivation was to “preserve the title.”
Mr. Benioff said his decision to buy Time was motivated by a desire to preserve the title. He said he did not expect the magazine to reflect his own social or political views, which he is not shy about sharing. In 2015, for example, he threatened to reduce Salesforce’s business in Indiana in protest of a state law that critics said discriminated against gay and transgender communities.
He has since taken a stand on the gender pay gap and recently spoken out on the problematic aspects of social media. Mr. Benioff has an affinity for Buddhism, attending meditation retreats and installing meditation rooms throughout the Salesforce Tower.
“We don’t plan to be operational or involved in editorial,” he wrote in a text message. “We are only stewards of a historic and iconic brand.”
Still, if Time was ever going to name Musk as Person of the Year, 2021 was arguably a good year to do it. The publication defines the distinction as “the individual or group who most shaped the previous 12 months, for better or for worse.” It continues:
Person of the Year is a marker of influence, and few individuals have had more influence than Musk on life on Earth, and potentially life off Earth too. In 2021, Musk emerged not just as the world’s richest person but also as perhaps the richest example of a massive shift in our society.
A marker of influence, for better or worse. Well, influence is certainly what Musk has had, with stock prices rocketing and cascading at the whim of his shit tweets, in the same year he was named the world’s richest person, then lost the title, then gained it back again. In and of itself, I don't have a problem with the pick, but the tone of the accompanying profile is typically positive. When billionaires run media firms that place their wealthy friends and business interests on pedestals, things are certain to become nasty.