Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

What Does New York Times Investor Carlos Slim Want? Ask the New York Times.


“Let’s keep an eye on Señor Slim and get to know him better. A lot better.” That’s Slate columnist Jack Shafer on Friday afternoon, worrying that the New York Times will have a difficult time covering Carlos Slim, its billionaire investor/loan shark:

If Times reporters and editorialist criticize Slim, he can wave the clips to prove to his countrymen that he isn’t a vengeful brute. If the Times doesn’t cover Slim’s every move, it will be charged with cutting its investor slack.”

And here, on cue, is the Times’s first deep dive on Slim, via Mexico City bureau chief Marc Lacey. OK, not so much a deep dive as a series of interviews with other journalists who have covered Slim. But that’s sort of appropriate, since the article is trying to assess whether one of the richest men in the world tries to control what the press says about him.

That depends, the Times seem to say, on where the press is based. No one suggests that Slim plans to affect coverage at Britain’s Independent, where he owns one percent of the newspaper, or at the New York Times, where he may one day own 17 percent of the company.

But media in his own backyard? That’s a different story:

Raymundo Riva Palacio, a veteran journalist in Mexico City, said that after he wrote a column in El Universal newspaper in 2006 condemning Mr. Slim as a monopolist, a Slim adviser threatened to remove newspaper ads from his companies.

That was no small threat. Mr. Slim’s holdings are so vast that he controls a large chunk of all advertising countrywide. Eduardo García, a Mexican journalist who runs a Spanish-language financial news Web site and follows Mr. Slim, estimated his wealth at almost $44 billion as of the end of 2008.

‘I took it as part of the natural dynamic between the media and the powers that be in Mexico,’ Mr. Riva Palacio said, adding that the incident was quietly resolved. ‘That’s how things work here.'”

If you want to learn more about Slim’s business background, let me suggest this excellent (and long) August 2007 profile in the Wall Street Journal.

But here’s a nice summation of his influence in his native land:

Carlos Slim is Mexico’s Mr. Monopoly.

It’s hard to spend a day in Mexico and not put money in his pocket. The 67-year-old tycoon controls more than 200 companies–he says he’s ‘lost count’–in telecommunications, cigarettes, construction, mining, bicycles, soft-drinks, airlines, hotels, railways, banking and printing. In all, his companies account for more than a third of the total value of Mexico’s leading stock market index, while his fortune represents 7% of the country’s annual economic output. (At his height, John D. Rockefeller’s wealth was equal to 2.5% of U.S. gross domestic product.)…

How did a Mexican son of Lebanese immigrants rise to such heights? By putting together monopolies, much like John D. Rockefeller did when he developed a stranglehold on refining oil in the industrial era….As Mr. Rockefeller did before him, Mr. Slim has accumulated so much power that he is considered untouchable in his native land, a force as great as the state itself.”

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus