June 22, 2010

Dogs Inherits 12 million - A Look at Reporting and the Media

Well I've noticed that my postings on naturalism are among my least popular for some reason. I'm not sure what that reason is, but it's interesting anyway. I think they are of the quality I try to maintain, but with this post I'll go in a very different direction. This post was inspired by a news story of Gail Posner leaving 3 million dollars and her 8.3 million dollar mansion to here 'three beloved dogs'. That story inspired a strong gut reaction, as well as an interest to look into the subject further. First I will do my best to summarize the Gail Posner story, along with the story of Leona Helmsley and compare the two together. I will then assess the different online media stories I read and talk about them.

The Gail Posner and Leona Helmsley storys are interesting and short. Each were older women with a lot of money and treated their dogs exceptionally. Gail Posner "Always showered riches on her dogs. It was said that at one occasion she went ahead to purchase a $15,000 Cartier necklace for her favorite dog “Conchita”. When asked about it she told the media that “Conchita” is the only girl in the world who doesn’t consider diamonds to be a girl’s best friend. As a matter of fact, all Gail Posner dogs took regular spa treatments, had their own wardrobes and a full-time staff at their service." She left her dogs a, "$3 million trust fund...along with her mansion in Miami which is worth $8.3 million." While leaving her one son Brett Carr 650 000 or a million according to other sources. 

As for Leona Helmsely I couldn't find out much about how well she treated the dogs before her death but after it they did have a heck of a budget according to Wikipedia, which includes an, "annual $100,000 for full-time security, $8,000 for grooming and $1,200 for food. Lekic is paid a $60,000 annual guardian fee." That annual fee of course comes not only from the 2 million dollars left to the dogs (Down from the original 12) but also from a trust, "Valued at $5 billion to $8 billion and amounting to virtually all her estate, be used for the care and welfare of dogs, according to two people who have seen the document and who described it on condition of anonymity." Now that is one rich dog. Leona also cut 2 of her 4 grandchildren out of the will entirely (which a judge later changed).

Yet there is not much that separates these two women. Leona's much vaster fortune went to a charitable trust which among other things has been, "A primary pillar of their giving was the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Mr. and Mrs. Helmsley’s gifts there totaled over $71 million, enabling its medical and research teams to substantially augment activities in several areas of medicine, including cardiovascular disease, rehabilitation medicine, and digestive diseases. The last grant from the Trust before Mrs. Helmsley’s death, made in the summer of 2006, was a gift of $25 million to establish a comprehensive center for digestive diseases at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center." Yet this is only a start to the vast contribution to worthy causes that will take place.

Gail Posner, after taking care of a few people, ordered that the mansion be sold after the dogs died and the proceeds given to charity. Also the remainder of her assets and estates were left to charity as well.

These two ladies are much in the spirit of what Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have been trying to encourage other people to do. These are the richest people in the world giving away at least 50% of their wealth upon their death and their contributions are noble, unexpected and greatly needed. This money will ensure a lot of good causes will be able to continue.  Yet what is reported for the most part is only the large sums of money left to the dogs, as you can notice by reading the articles I have cited, but you don't have to do that. I'm going to talk about each one now, in no specific order, and give a brief account of how they covered the story.

1.Gail Posner's Dogs Inherit $3 Million Dollars and Miami Mansion (From the Thaindian News) - Starts off with the Dogs inheritance, Talks about her Sons compliant that she was brainwashed, and has no mention of any money given to charity and just compares Posner to Helmsley, and leaves the impression that these two ladies only cared about their dogs. This is total fluff.

2. Leona Left Dogs Billions in Her Will (New York Times) - Starts out by pointing out the 12 million left to the dog, and then points out two anonymous people who have seen a mission statement made by Leona  stating that the entire trust should go to the dog. Yet it is unclear if her declaration would be legally binding, and even if it is the money will be distributed to 'dogs' and 'dog causes' not just her dog trouble. (If this is true and she wanted to give her dog 5 Billion dollars I have a response for that will be my next post). This is a well written and thought out article with real implications.

3. What Ever Happened to Leona Helmsley's Dog? (The Wall Street Journal Blogs) - Starts off by talking about the sale of one of the properties of the trust and then gets to the dog and points out that it is still alive and thriving. (Total Fluff)

4.Little Dog, Large Estate (The Wall Street Journal) - Talks about the dog and the money/estate it inherited. Then goes on to talk about Brett Carr's lawsuit he is filing after being left 1 million dollars, and actually mentions that the estate left to the dogs will go to charity after the dogs die. There is then a long discussion dedicated to the people in question and it concludes that the remainder of her assets were donated to charity. This article was pretty informative, but did tend to overplay the sensational aspects of the story.

5. NY Judge trims dog's $12 million inheritance (Reuters) - Starts off much like the others noting that the inheritance of the dog, but this time notes that it has been cut by 10 million dollars. Then talks about how the two grandchildren that were cut out of the will, will now be given 6 million dollars. It then points out the budget of the dog, with no explanation of why it needs the 100 000 security detail (it has received numerous death threats) and plays off Helmsley as 'the queen of mean' who said that 'only the little people pay taxes. (This one has good information, but has an obvious and horrible spin, that is negative towards Helmsley).

6. Lucky dog inherits $12m fortune (BBC News) - Leads with the amount of money the dog was given, and then talks about how some family members 'fared less well' and two grandchildren were cut out entirely. It then calls her the Queen of Mean and talks more about the family. It ends by noting that Helmsley's possessions and residences will be given to charity, with no mention of the amount of money that was actually given to charity. This is much like #5, and while it has most of the relevant information it spins Leona as a person who left 12 million to a dog, and cut out her grandchildren. It also downplays the vast amount that her trust will give to charity and notes it at the end without even commenting on it.

Those are just the articles I looked at and by no means is a consensus on the totality of the coverage, but a lot can be learned about the media in how the story was covered. Everyone lead with the shock factor, and noted that a dog was left a large sum of money. Then four of six mention how the dogs were given more then some family members as the next main point. Only two of the six articles note that anything was given to charity and it is mentioned as an aside near the end, if not the end of the article.

The story is obviously spun to show that Hemlsley and Posner were lunatics who left more money to their dogs then they did to some family members. This angle shows two heartless ladies and gets a gut reaction that I too got from reading the first story. Yet, these aren't two heartless ladies, these are two ladies who are as commendable as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. I can't find out how much Posner actually donated to charity, but Helmsely left Billions, exponentially more then she left anyone else. The story of rich people not being selfish and crazy wasn't what the media wanted to show though and it is unfortunate. I think there is a better story, of how the ultra-rich aren't always out of touch, and are sometimes giving back. That story didn't get any play.

The media likes to roll with the sensational, as it did with this story. The media failed to really talk about anything good these two ladies did, and didn't balance out the dogs inheritance with how much was given to charity, but instead balanced it agianst how much other family members were given making the two look like lamentable loons, which isn't the case. Fair and balanced? Not in these two cases. These were two girls who cared deeply about their dogs and wanted them well looked after, and while the case could be made that more was left to them then they needed, it should also be noted how much more then the dogs received that was given to good causes and also that the residences will be given to charity after the dogs deaths.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic

No comments:

Post a Comment