I have written quite a few headlines over the past four decades or so and read a kazillion more. Still, I have to admit that a news headline the other day in The Washington Post stopped me in my tracks: “If Bill and Melinda Gates can’t make a marriage work, what hope is there for the rest of us?”
I immediately assumed this was some kind of first-person commentary.
However, it appears that this was a news feature — using the break-up of one of the world’s richest couples as a chance to examine the marital stress caused by COVID-19 lockdowns, life changes for aging Baby Boomers and the resulting need for professional counseling. Here’s the overture:
Just imagine how many hours of couples therapy you can afford when you’re among the world’s richest people. Or the shared sense of purpose you could forge while raising three children and running a $50 billion charitable foundation with your spouse.
Then imagine that it’s not enough to keep you together.
In announcing their decision to divorce, Bill and Melinda Gates cited the work they’d done on their marriage, and a mutual sense of pride in their children and philanthropy. But, they said in identical joint statements shared on Twitter, “we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives.”
Now, for millions of Americans it would be logical to ask another question whenever a couple faces a crisis of this kind. It’s a kind of two-edged sword question that can be carefully worded as follows: Did religions and-or moral issues have anything to do with the break-up of this marriage?
All of the initial coverage that I saw didn’t include any religion/moral information at all. There is a chance that these questions will be asked in the days ahead, now that the Wall Street Journal and other publications have added a rather problematic name to the cast list in this drama — Jeffrey Epstein.
However, I had already opened a digital file folder on this topic because my pre-Internet (think dead tree pulp) files on this couple included a lengthy 1997 Time magazine feature with this headline: “In Search of the Real Bill Gates.” This long-ago article included several details of interest, including at least two of the religious-moral nature. We will take the less famous of these two details first:
Gates met Melinda French 10 years ago at a Microsoft press event in Manhattan. She was working for the company and later became one of the executives in charge of interactive content. Their daughter Jennifer was born last April. Melinda, 32, is no longer at Microsoft, and she is active in charity work and on the board of Duke, where she studied computer science as an undergraduate and then got a graduate degree in business. Like Gates, she is smart and independent. Like his mother, she is also friendly and social, with an easy manner of organizing trips and activities. But she zealously guards her privacy and doesn’t give interviews.
“I used to think I wouldn’t be all that interested in the baby until she was two or so and could talk,” says Gates as he shows off the more intimate family quarters. “But I’m totally into it now. She’s just started to say ‘ba-ba’ and have a personality.”
The arrival of a first child often raises religious questions about how this child will be raised. Apparently, Bill and Melinda Gates needed to do some negotiating on that point:
Melinda is Catholic, goes to church and wants to raise Jennifer that way. “But she offered me a deal,” Gates says. “If I start going to church — my family was Congregationalist — then Jennifer could be raised in whatever religion I choose.”
Gates admits that he is tempted, because he would prefer she have a religion that “has less theology and all” than Catholicism, but he has not yet taken up the offer. “Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient,” he explains. “There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.”
In terms of moral and doctrinal matters, the United Church of Christ vs. the Church of Rome is certainly an interesting pair of options. There are questions there that were worth raising in 1997 and that remains the case today.
Why? Well, that Time feature became famous for another detail — the kind that was sure to appear, somehow, in coverage at The New York Post. Check out the headline on this news story: “See inside Bill Gates’ secret love nest with gal pal Ann Winblad, now up for rent.”
Here is the overture for what is billed as a real estate feature, including the Time link:
Shock waves were sent around the world when the most powerful philanthropic couple, Bill and Melinda Gates, announced they were divorcing after 27 years of marriage.
Following their announcement, unusual details about their marriage from a 1997 Time magazine profile resurfaced. Gates, now 65, revealed a questionable “arrangement” he had with his ex-girlfriend, Ann Winblad, while married to Melinda. Each spring, Gates and his former gal pal spent “a long weekend” together at her Outer Banks, North Carolina, beach residence, enjoying several activities including long walks on the beach.
“We can play putt-putt while discussing biotechnology,” Gates said of his yearly trip, which he had done for decades.
The Post obtained photos of their secluded Outer Banks hideout home — now used as a “retreat” for “beach lovers” — where they reportedly spent private time together annually during his marriage. The escape was famously part of an “arrangement,” according to Time, long before the high-profile divorce.
There are also relevant money questions, of course. The Post team noted:
… [The] couple — one of the richest and most powerful in the country, who had made a mark in the world through their humanitarian efforts and foundation — said they would stay on as co-chairs and trustees of their foundation, which they started in 2000. On the same day they announced their divorce, Gates transferred $1.8 billion in stock to Melinda.
Why bring this up?
I realize that, at some point, journalists may end up covering some of the moral-and-political issues linked to Bill Gates and his philanthropy work over the decades. He has, of course, been a Sexual Revolution progressive from the get go, pursuing an agenda that often would, let’s say, fit better with the United Church of Christ than with the contents of the Catholic Catechism.
Then there will be news stories about his role as a Maypole for the dances of conspiracy theorists, both secular and religious.
Oh well. Whatever. Nevermind. I am asking a simple question: At some point, journalists may search once again for the “real Bill Gates.” Do questions about his personal beliefs — in terms of religion and morality — have anything to do with this topic? Why not?
FIRST IMAGE: Illustration from the US Sun, by way of Flipboard.