— Wall Street Journal, September 16, 2018
Real-life billionaires aren’t young Citizen Kane. They don’t buy media properties as vanity projects or as part of a crusading public interest. No, real-life billionaires are old Citizen Kane. They buy media properties because they understand the political and economic power of Fiat News. They buy them because these properties are the indispensable asset in an effective metagame strategy to maintain their empires.
Fiat News isn’t counterfeit news. It’s not an outright lie. Fiat News is opinion presented as news, and once you start looking for it, you will see it everywhere. For Charles Foster Kane, modeled after real-life billionaire William Randolph Hearst, the opinion presented as news could be as personal as a glowing review for the screeching operatic debut of his songbird wife, or as political as blaming Spain for blowing up a battleship. As real-life Hearst once said to a staffer, “you provide the pictures and I’ll provide the war.”
For modern-day William Randolph Hearsts, like Jeff Bezos (personal owner of the Washington Post) or Marc Benioff (the new personal owner of Time Magazine), I don’t think the goal is to start a jingoistic war in order to further a political career. But these modern-day Citizen Kanes DO have political goals in mind when they purchase these media assets.
As the old saying goes, you have to fight fire with fire. And to withstand the political barrage that the White House has rained down on Amazon over the past year … a barrage that is only going to increase in scope and intensity over the next decade regardless of who wins the 2020 election, as Bernie and Elizabeth and Kamala all get in on the Amazon-bashing act … Jeff Bezos needs the Washington Post to rain down a barrage of his own.
Salesforce.com isn’t getting the same sort of treatment from D.C. that Amazon is getting. Yet. But I think it’s coming. I think a hard rain is going to fall for modern-day robber barons like Benioff, men who have built multi-billion dollar personal fortunes out of serial acquisitions of profitless software companies and constant stock sales. And by constant I mean constant. From 2004 through 2010, under a series of 10b5-1 plans filed with the SEC, Marc Benioff sold at least 10,000 shares of Salesforce.com stock … Every. Single. Day. You can go on the SEC’s EDGAR website and look it up yourself. It’s really pretty awe-inspiring when you think about it.
What does Marc Benioff want from Time Magazine? He wants this. He wants the ability to create Fiat News. It’s the smart play for an Oligarch like Benioff. A really smart play.