The New York Times did some A/B testing for those of us on the political right who believe the paper has an axe to grind against conservatives and treats them less charitably, to say the least, than their liberal counterparts.
Enter a pair of visionary, billionaire businessmen moved, at the end of their long and successful careers, to hand over the massive wealth they’ve generated to nonprofit entities that will advance their political views.
The first, the Patagonia founder and green fanatic Yvon Chouinard, got a glowing sendup on Thursday, in a feature that gushes over his "disregard for business norms" and "his lifelong love for the environment" and states, point blank, that "the Chouinards … have established themselves as among the most charitable families in the country."
"Hopefully this will influence a new form of capitalism that doesn’t end up with a few rich people and a bunch of poor people," Chouinard, 83, is quoted as saying in an "exclusive interview."
Well, every hero needs a foil, and Chouinard is compared favorably with his right-wing counterpart, Barre Seid, identified as "the only other example in recent memory of a wealthy business owner who gave away his company for philanthropic and political causes." But wait: "Mr. Seid took a different approach in giving 100 percent of his electronics company to a nonprofit organization, reaping an enormous personal tax windfall as he made a $1.6 billion gift to fund conservative causes, including efforts to stop action on climate change."
The Times wrote about Seid’s $1.6 billion charitable donation in a separate piece three weeks ago. That contribution was "arranged through an unusual series of transactions that appear to have avoided tax liabilities." Maybe we missed the part where Seid was hailed as a visionary philanthropist.
What’s most galling is that, in their quest to hail Chouinard and sully Seid, the Times got it flat wrong. Chouinard has employed precisely the same tax maneuver as Seid, but on a grander scale given that the value of Patagonia is roughly twice that of Seid’s firm, Tripp Lite. The only tax Chouinard will pay is on the 2 percent of his firm—the voting shares—that he’s put into the trust that will control Patagonia, and even there he will only pay a paltry $17 million gift tax.
Moreover, the family’s control of the nonprofit that will hold the vast majority of Patagonia stock means that the family may yet rake in tens of millions of dollars from the restructured business even as it steers the untaxed profits into pet political projects.
This is what happens when bias meets financial illiteracy and gross incompetence: Two New York Times stories, three weeks apart, paint a liberal as a hero for executing the same transaction for which the paper’s reporters had just villainized a conservative.
For us and our ideological allies, it is an eternal question: Can you imagine how the Times would cover this if a liberal did it? Now we have the answer.