Billionaire Marc Benioff's $190 million deal for Time could drag tech deeper into Trump's firing line

Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for FortuneSalesforce CEO Marc Benioff.

  • Marc Benioff, the billionaire CEO of Salesforce, and his wife Lynne Benioff have bought Time magazine.
  • US President Donald Trump is fascinated by Time magazine, particularly by who the publication chooses to put on its front cover as “Person of the Year.”
  • Trump has a tendency to conflate publications with their owners, as he has done with Jeff Bezos when The Washington Post writes negative coverage about the White House.
  • Trump is developing a taste for attacking tech, and negative coverage in Time could provide him with more ammunition in the future.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and his wife Lynne Benioff may find that their purchase of Time magazine comes with strings attached.

The two announced on Sunday that they would be buying the iconic US magazine for $US190 million (£145 million), only eight months after its previous owner, Meredith Corp., completed its acquisition of the title.

Tycoons buying press titles is nothing new, but Benioff’s move signals something of a new trend in tech billionaires acquiring publications.

He’s the third big tech mogul to buy a print title – Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post in 2013 for $US250 million and biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong acquired the LA Times earlier this year.

Like Bezos, the Benioffs may find that the acquisition draws the scrutiny of US President Donald Trump, for better or worse.

Trump is fascinated by Time, and particularly by who the magazine chooses to feature on its covers and as its annual “Person of the Year.”

At one point, the publication had to ask Trump to remove fake covers from several of his golf clubs showing him as its person of the year. Trump did appear once as person of the year in 2016, the year he was elected president.

Trump has tweeted about real Time covers on numerous occasions.

There was the time Trump claimed that he shunned the honour. Time disputed the claim, saying there was “not a speck of truth” to his comments.

A year earlier, he was actually Time’s person of the year.

He also made the front page in 2015.

There was the time Trump was unhappy that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was chosen as person of the year, making her the first woman named since 1986.

The president has also ruminated, like he does with The New York Times, about Time’s imminent demise and who should run the magazine. Bill O’Reilly, the political commentator referenced in the latter tweet, was forced out of Fox News this year after multiple accusations of sexual harassment.

Donald Trump will use publications to attack their owners

Controversial Time CoverTime Photo-Illustration/Getty

Trump has, in the case of The Washington Post, shown a tendency to conflate publications with their owners.

He’s attacked Bezos, Amazon, and The Post on several occasions. He’s claimed The Washington Post is just a lobbying tool for Bezos, and called the newspaper the “Amazon Washington Post.”

The Post, along with much of the rest of the US media, has published numerous unflattering stories about Trump and his administration.

Benioff may feel that he is comparatively safe. He has been circumspect about Trump, originally proclaiming support for Hillary Clinton in 2016 but subsequently engaging with Trump and even praising him.

Benioff notably avoided making negative remarks about Trump during election campaigning. And in March 2017, he met with Trump and pitched him a jobs program that the president was reportedly interested in pursuing.

And he was one of the few business leaders to praise Trump at Davos this January, where the president gave a speech to woo big business but also used the platform to attack the media.

“I thought it was a great speech,” Benioff said at the time. “I thought his economic narrative has become greatly enhanced now that the tax cuts have passed.” In August, the Salesforce CEO attributed a boost in business to Trump’s tax cuts.

Trump storm timeTime

But despite this caution, and the fact that Time will have no connection to Salesforce, Benioff may find himself under attack for any negative coverage Time chooses to run on the president.

The publication put Donald Trump on its cover earlier this summer looking sternly down at a crying girl to highlight the administration’s harsh border policy with Mexico. It has also produced a series of covers depicting Trump being battered by stormy weather in the Oval Office.

Benioff might need to brace himself for some presidential Twitter ire when the acquisition is completed.

There’s also a risk the deal drags the tech sector as a whole deeper into Trump’s firing line. The president has developed a taste for attacking Amazon and, more recently, Google. Negative coverage in Time could provide him with more ammunition in the future.

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