Bill Gates' New Image

The image of Bill Gates in the news this week is of a smiling, happy man who's given his fortune to help children. But what about when serious people referred to Gates as the antichrist?

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

A couple of items in the news this week may remind us how stories and images freeze people into a single instant. The result can be illuminating and insightful, and sometimes narrow and unfair. The image of Bill Gates this week has been of a warm, smiling man holding one of the millions of children that his billions of dollars of philanthropy have helped inoculate against a killing disease.

Do you remember when serious people referred to Bill Gates as the antichrist, evil, ruthless and greedy? Type Bill Gates and evil into Google and you find four million mentions. Movies were made that showed Mr. Gates as dweebish, callous, cruel and stingy with his unrivaled fortune.

When the U.S. government sued Microsoft for antitrust, hundreds of witnesses testified that his company crushed competition and strangled innovation. When we profiled Mr. Gates back in 1987, he turned away complaints about his lack of charitable giving at the time by saying, when we begin to do that, it will have maximum impact. The answer smacked of being self-serving then. It seems almost prophetic now.

The man whom the U.S. government sued for antitrust was this week entrusted by Warren Buffet with most of his own billions. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which by the way has given $807,000 over the past three years to NPR, will be the largest in the world by far.

Mr. Buffet says he is relying on Mr. Gates to turn his intensity, as well as their fortunes, on the problems of the world, and he expects the results to be profound.

His change from monster to benefactor raises utterly human questions. Was Mr. Gates ever the greedy bossy miser depicted by his critics? Has his vast wealth made him feel more responsible for the world? Were his critics unfair, if not wrong, or - and I'm sorry if this sounds like the Michael Douglas character in Wall Street - was greed exactly what enabled Bill Gates to be so historically generous now?

Staff sergeant Raymond Plower was the Flint, Michigan U.S. Army recruiter in the film Fahrenheit 9/11 shown cornering a couple of kids in a shopping mall parking lot and trying to interest them in joining the army. Sgt. Plower tells the camera it's better to get them in ones and twos and work on them that way.

The unflattering implication of the scene is that smooth recruiters try to sign up young people who are starved for opportunity. The kids are sent to war, where they can be killed while smug recruiters stay back in shopping mall storefronts signing up more kids.

What the people making the movie did not show, and probably did not know, was that Raymond Plower was a recruiter because he had taken a leave from a combat unit so that he could donate a kidney to his uncle. After his recovery, Sgt. Plower volunteered for combat duty in Iraq and served two tours there.

He was killed by a roadside bomb this week in the Al Anbar Province. Raymond Plower was 30 years old and leaves a wife and two young sons. His father said this week, My son wanted to protect the freedom of this country, whether we agree with the war or not.

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Correction July 13, 2006

Staff Sgt. Raymond Plouhar was a Marine, not affiliated with the Army as stated in this piece.

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