“They Conjure Stories From Thin Air” – Former ‘Junk Bond King’ Slams “Mendacious” New York Times

“They Conjure Stories From Thin Air” – Former ‘Junk Bond King’ Slams “Mendacious” New York Times

Ray Dalio isn’t the only American billionaire railing against the mendacious American press.

Another legendary financier (and ex-con) Michael Milken, who has reinvented himself as a major philanthropist over the last three decades, took to the commentary pages of the Wall Street Journal on Monday (ironically, the paper with which Dalio is feuding) to rail against America’s ertswhile paper of record, the New York Times.

During the editorial, Milken asserts that the New York Times essentially libeled him in a story published late last year, rendering him collateral damage in the Grey Lady’s war on President Trump’s ‘opportunity zones’ initiative that was passed as part of the 2017 tax reform plan.

Milken

The NYT newsroom, as Milken correctly asserts in his editorial, has adopted a stance that’s clearly hostile to the policy, which offers incentives for private capital to invest in economically-adverse communities (instead of the direct government assistance often favored by liberals like the editors of the NYT).

At some point, the paper figured out that it could “conjure a news story virtually out of thin air” if it could link Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin with investors in a tract of land impacted by the ‘opportunity zones’ program.

Basically, investors in property within an opportunity zone can receive valuable tax benefits for development that might have already been in the works, or at least that’s how the NYT has chosen to spin it.

The policy is obviously intended to incentivize developers to build things like affordable housing by making it easier for them to do so profitably (typically, by offering the tax breaks mentioned above). But the NYT claims the program is essentially a giveaway to big developers and friends of the administration, despite not having any evidence linking boogeymen like Milken to insiders like Mnuchin.

The specific story to which Milken is referring transformed coincidences into nefarious conspiracies. The slant is obvious from the headline: “Symbol of 80s Greed Stands To Profit From Trump Tax Break For Poor Areas.”

Basically, the only fact in this story is that Milken is an investor in a tract of land covered by an opportunity zone in California. As Milken notes, many other much more high-profile investors are also involved (many of them tech giants like Microsoft). These companies spend billions on lobbying every year. Yet, Milken gets the blame for influencing the legislation to his benefit, via a tenuous connection to Mnuchin. The only vaguely incriminating detail is that Mnuchin intervened in the process of shaping the policy at all. And he could have had a million reasons for doing so.

Despite deploying a team of six reporters to work on the story for months, they couldn’t find anything definitively linking Milken to Mnuchin and the opportunity zone legislation. So they went with the slightly attenuated angle crystalized in the story’s headline: Yes, Milken may have stood to profit from this investment (which represents just a sliver of his overall portfolio). But as far as we know, it’s not illegal to make money in America – at least not yet.

Apparently I fit the bill, and the paper deployed six reporters and researchers for several months looking for dirt. They didn’t find any—I did none of the things they hinted at. But the editors weren’t about to let an absence of facts kill a breathless front-page exposé about how I and other investors stood to “Profit From Trump Tax Break for Poor Areas.” The Times claimed, wrongly, that the Treasury secretary directed regulatory changes for my benefit. Not only did he not make the changes for my benefit, the changes didn’t benefit me. The article reached false conclusions by claiming that mere coincidences proved intent, or by conflating events that occurred months apart in a dizzying feat of obfuscation. This ignored the public record of what really happened.

This is irresponsible journalism. The Times, which sometimes seems to exist in an alternate universe, knew before publication that important conclusions and implications in the article about me were wrong because we and the U.S. Treasury gave them every relevant fact. I’ve never spoken to Mr. Mnuchin, any other government official or anyone else about putting TRIC in an opportunity zone; I have never authorized anyone to act for me on that matter and no one has ever asked me to take any action related to it; I had no knowledge of any lobbying to put TRIC in an opportunity zone.

We gave the Times these and many other facts. They, and anyone with an internet connection, could have easily found the truth. I asked my lawyers to do just that by retaining someone to go online and figure out the real story from the public record. In three days this person found a deep trove of facts that the Times’s six reporters had apparently chosen to ignore. Anyone who wants to know the truth can find an article telling the real story plus a fact sheet and timeline at www.mikemilken.com. These documents provide a sobering antidote to the errors, omissions, deceptions and bias in the Times article.

The Times has now sent my office new questions that suggest another article is in the works. I will vigorously counter any further journalistic mendacity with hard facts and, where appropriate, other actions. But the greater risk is that no one is safe when a previously respected news organization deploys its considerable resources to twist the truth. Keep that in mind as you read future articles attacking opportunities for upward mobility through job creation.

Milken referred to an earlier screed against the NYT written by FedEx founder Fred Smith to help articulate exactly what the paper did that was so dishonest.

As Fred Smith, founder and CEO of FedEx, wrote in these pages in November, the Times attacked his company by “printing selected facts, connecting unrelated events, and implying nefarious activities when there were none whatever.” That’s exactly what the Times did to me last fall in a long article about Nevada real estate investments. Mr. Smith’s complaint centered on provisions of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and its benefits to FedEx that the Times asserted were unfair.

Now, Milken says the Times is gearing up to write another story exposing imagined skullduggery. He’s decided to fight back, by publishing his side of the story online.

We’re curious to see how the paper and its editors will react to Milken’s decision to try and ‘correct the record’ on his own.


Tyler Durden

Tue, 02/04/2020 – 22:45

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Author: Tyler Durden

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