Time magazine named Elon Musk its “Person of the Year” on Monday, as I’m sure you’ve heard by now. The profile paints Musk as a dreamer and a manic genius with a prickly personality, more in the vein of Steve Jobs than Jeff Bezos, extolling his long shot goals and accomplishments before giving brief mention about a third of the way down that— surprise, surprise — he’s not a nice guy!
The story also admits nearly halfway through that Time owners Marc and Lynne Benioff just so happen to be investors in one of Musk’s companies, 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 has been trying to bury the association, but then I also imagine that if my Media Ethics professor were to chime in right now, he’d probably say that link maybe should’ve been disclosed at the very top of the story. 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. I don’t disagree with the choice in isolation, but the tone of the accompanying profile is generally pretty laudatory. Things inevitably get messy when billionaires own media companies that put their billionaire friends and business interests on pedestals.