There's a lot to pore over in the New York Times Style section's coverage of a conference for über-wealthy "next-generation" philanthropists that was recently held at the White House.
There's the list of attendees, which includes the young progeny of such hallowed, moneyed families as Hilton, Rockefeller, and Pritzker. There's the breathless, classically Style section-y way in which participants and organizers are described: eloquent, nimble, and commanding gravitas, wearing pinstripe suits and "scraggy Brooklyn-style facial hair." There's the reference to one 19-year-old attendee's "swooping" Bieberesque bangs, despite the fact that Bieber hasn't had that haircut in years.
Most of all, however, there's this disclosure notice from the reporter, about halfway through the article:
Disclosure: Although the event was closed to the media, I was invited by the founders of Nexus, Jonah Wittkamper and Rachel Cohen Gerrol, to report on the conference as a member of the family that started the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical company.
At a conference for such refined people as these, not just any reporter will do. No, it must be a writer who intimately knows the struggles of the young and wealthy, and who can accurately transmit the ways in which they're saving the planet to the unwashed Times-reading masses. It must be Jamie Johnson (net worth about $610 million, according to Business Insider in 2011), heir to the Johnson & Johnson company fortune.
To be fair, Johnson has cast a critical eye on extreme wealth before. His 2003 documentary Born Rich examined the lives of super-rich kids like himself, and his follow-up, The One Percent, explored income inequality in America. Still, that he was the only reporter invited to cover the event sends a message from its organizers: we're not interested in any perspective but our own.
Given Johnson's past willingness to bite the hand that gives him money, it seems that we're looking at a textbook Style section appeal to two audiences at once. Let half the readers be awed by these young, rich crusaders out to impact invest their way to a better, more peaceful world; let the rest of us scoff at them.
[Image via: Wikimedia Commons]