The New York Times’ largest stakeholder is the 4th richest man in the world — Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim — but readers might not know that because it’s news the Times often considers unfit to print.
Slim owns the Mexican telephone monopoly, America Movil (which reportedly cost Mexicans an extra $13 billion a year), and has donated to The Clinton Foundation. He’s been criticized as a “crony capitalist.” Slim is also the largest stakeholder in The New York Times Company, with a 16.8 percent shareholding. But The Times failed to disclose his ties in 53 percent of their stories about him in the eight years since he invested in the company.
The Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics code states that journalists should “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.” Yet the Times failed to live up to those guidelines. Fifty-four of the 102 stories about Slim between his initial 2008 investment and October 2016 did not disclose his connection.
The Times included disclosures even less often in 2015, the year Slim became the largest Times Company shareholder. That year, the Times did not acknowledge his ownership stake in 77.8 percent of stories (7 out of 9 stories).
Whether or not Slim’s stake in the Times impacted its coverage of him, the relationship is still a “perceived” and “unavoidable” conflict of interest which should be disclosed as a matter of good ethics.
Slim began investing in The Gray Lady in September 2008, according to Forbes, when he purchased a 6.4 percent stake (9.1 million shares) in the Times Company. Less than five months later, Slim lent the Times $250 million, with a steep interest rate of 14 percent, The Washington Post reported.
The loan, which the Times repaid three years early, gave Slim options to increase his stake in the company to 16.8 percent — he did that in January 2015. The acquisition made Slim the largest individual Times stakeholder, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Even when the paper disclosed Slim’s stakeholdings, their amount of information varied dramatically — from “Mr. Slim is the second-largest shareholder in The New York Times Co,” (Dec. 4, 2011) to “Mr. Slim holds a minority stake in The New York Times Company,” (May 19, 2013).
While both were true, they sent vastly different messages to readers.
In March 2013, Paul Gregory, a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution and a professor of economics at University of Houston, criticized the Times for not exposing that “Carlos Slim is a crony capitalist.”
In April 2013, the Times said “crony capitalism” was an obstacle in Mexico, causing Mexicans to “pay much more for goods and services like phone calls, medicines and airfares.” But the phrase didn’t show up in any of the other 102 stories.
While the Times admitted multiple times in stories that Slim’s phone company was a monopoly the paper didn’t spell out how it impacted Mexico until August 2016.
“His [Slim’s] monopoly was so dominant that it cost Mexicans an extra $13 billion a year between 2005 and 2009, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,” The Times finally said in the Aug. 10 article, “Mexico’s Richest Man Confronts a New Foe: The State That Helped Make Him Rich.”
Despite Slim’s critical view of philanthropy (In 2007, Slim said he thought businessmen could do more good than philanthropists, who give money away “like Santa Claus”), Free Beacon discovered he donated to The Clinton Foundation. The Clinton Foundation has faced ongoing criticism for accepting donations from countries that kill and imprison gay people. Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has also been accused of giving Clinton Foundation donors special treatment while she was secretary of state.
Methodology: MRC Business searched for all mentions of “Carlos Slim” in New York Times newspaper articles published between Sept. 1, 2008 and Oct. 1, 2016. Stories that did not include a significant mention of Slim were excluded (like a list of dinner guests from March 2016, and a February 2014 article noting a Mexican artist’s newest art installation was next to a museum owned by Slim). The remaining 102 stories were analyzed to see if the Times acknowledged Slim’s shareholder status.