On November 27, 2011, in prime position on the front page, The New York Times published a lengthily essay by David Kocieniewski entitled A Family’s Billions, Artfully Sheltered. This piece specifically targets, for reasons unknown, Ronald S. Lauder, an Estée Lauder family heir, as the subject and example of how wealthy families protect their income. Mr. Kocieniewski conveniently fails to mention that this is a widely utilized practice is not only the provenance of the wealthy; millions of American families of middleclass and upper middle class backgrounds create trusts for tax sheltering and asset protection.
The tone of the piece, its title and the sheer hypocrisy feeds the theme of the current presidential campaign being waged by Mr. Obama; that is, the rich are to be despised and for the most part haven’t earned the largesse they inherited- as the son of a fabulously wealthy fashion icon, Mr. Lauder developed aristocratic tastes-and grand aspirations-at an early age. Further on in the essay we are told that while the family’s wealth was created by hard work and ingenuity, it was bolstered by aggressive tax planning, a skill that has become Ronald Lauder’s specialty. So let me understand this. Is the Times suggesting that Ronald Lauder is the only individual who practices aggressive tax planning? The sainted Kennedy’s, whose money came from the illegal sale of alcohol during the prohibition, amongst other things, don’t protect their wealth? The Clintons have no trust for their daughter nor do they have a Foundation they have established to protect their wealth, which undoubtedly was gained by purely legal and appropriate means.
Adding to the deceit, slight of hand and smarmy tone of the piece (a de facto front page editorial decrying the evils of ill-gotten wealth and calling for class warfare) is the paragraph describing the establishment of family trusts on the part of the Lauder family- Significant portions of his inherited stock are held in family trusts, which reduce the ultimate estate tax. Mr. Lauder and his wife have also established their own family trusts, allowing them to bequeath their wealth to their heirs with minimal taxes. Wow, what insight, what perspicacity! Only Ronald Lauder and his wife, with their inherited filthy lucre, have established such trusts; no one else in the United States has. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are Democrats and Lauder is a Republican. I have to wonder why those two former names were not submitted as additional exemplars of this legal practice?
The information about Lauder’s receiving the Carnegie Foundation’s Medal of Philanthropy is written towards the end of a rather lengthily pontification pillaring the rich; I’m so shocked! Furthermore, even closer to the end of this rubbish is, finally, the intellectually honest description of why the tax breaks for art exist and if one knows anything about the Lauder Family, they not only meet the goals and intent of the tax law, but also exceed them. What do the Clintons contribute to society and what about their trusts and specifically Bill’s new found financial gains (remember when the President was so strapped, he had to have a defense fund)? What about the Strauss family, right here in Dallas? Are we supposed to believe they have no tax shelters and trusts? Now tell me about Gates and Buffet themselves who have utilized trusts to avoid the payment of these same income taxes to the American people, as does Lauder. Do you wish to throw in any of myriad Democrat Goldman Sachs executives for flavoring?
This pretense, sanctimony and blatant disregard for what used to be the rules of good journalism has become the basis for the new motto of The New York Times, that is, All the news that fits, We print. What was once editorial is now front page. What was once a read of perfect grammar is now a dangling jumble of participles. What was once scrupulous fact checking and sourcing is now the scandal of a fabricated front page.
This once great newspaper has lost readership and credibility. This latter state of affairs is perhaps the unkindest cut of all. Why? It was this paper of record to which we looked for verification of what the politicians told us. It was to all the credible newspapers that we used to look for some semblance of truth. The Times as well as all the rest have squandered this responsibility having now erased the line between fiction and fact, the last line of public scrutiny and defense from an overly abusive political class. Now there is nothing except the 24 Hour News Cycle- the new televised and readily available National Enquirer for what has become minds that are anything but inquiring. That fact, coupled with, a) increasing and near total national ideological polarization, b) the President’s declaration of Class Warfare and c) economic instability, fear and uncertainty (all secondary to either leading from behind or voting present) is what may eventually lead to open civil disturbance and violence.
The New York Times, the national paper of record, will be one of those institutions and organizations responsible for that chaos and violence by violating and mocking the public trust. Shame on them and shame on everyone else in the news business! Most of all, shame on us because if we are not part of the solution, we are the problem!