Turning the anti-philanthropy media tide?

The Guardian newspaper is my paper of choice, and read by pretty much everyone that I know and like. I met my husband with the help of the Guardian Soulmates service, and a highlight of last summer was our son’s joke being published in the Guardian kids page. So it’s fair to say that the Guardian is the most significant brand in my life and the one aspect of living in the UK I miss the most when I can’t get my daily fix.

But no relationship is perfect, and that paper’s coverage of philanthropy has long been the imperfection I’ve put up with in return for getting a reliable update on what’s going on in the world, and for the joy of reading my favourite columnists (thank you Tim, Lucy, Hadley, Zoe). If you don’t agree, or never noticed, that the Guardian has it in for generous rich people, here’s two particular low points in their coverage of philanthropy:

(1) Michelle Hanson’s barbed response to news that Bill Gates was committing over $30 billion to good causes:

“Bill Gates is giving millions [sic] to charity. So? Why not? What else could he possibly do with all his money except coat himself in treacle and roll in banknotes?” (28/11/06).

(2) Simon Jenkins’ comment on Warren Buffett’s decision to add another $30+ billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation:

“when the world’s second-richest man gives most of his money to the world’s richest man, we do well to count our spoons” (28/06/06).  (If anyone can tell me what he means, I’d be glad to hear it).

So the broadly positive article on philanthropy, published  in yesterday’s Guardian, asking why the UK public is so suspicious of philanthropists, was a very welcome novelty. Granted, I’m quoted in it a few times – that’s nice and good for our university ‘impact’ scores – but I am genuinely delighted to see someone (thank you Jon Henley) make the argument that it’s time to cheer, rather than jeer, at wealthy people who decide to use some of their private wealth for the public good.

Plenty of fellow Guardian readers disagree, as the comments beneath the online version of the article make clear. But as Jenkins might say: when the world’s best newspaper provokes the world’s best readership, we do well to count our spoons.

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