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Elon Musk’s selection as Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2021 has drawn criticism for numerous reasons. They include allegations of tax dodging, resistance to unions, and downplaying the hazards of COVID-19. But another issue that recently surfaced involves a conflict of interest with the magazine. The fact that Time’s owner has a financial stake in SpaceX, one of Musk’s business endeavors, has cast doubt on the distinction’s legitimacy.

The announcement of Elon Musk as Time’s Person of the Year

Elon Musk attends Time Person of the Year on December 13, 2021, in New York City
Elon Musk attends Time Person of the Year on December 13, 2021, in New York City | Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Time

When Time named its recipient for Person of the Year, many were shocked and dismayed. The Tesla CEO has come under fire for not paying his fair share of taxes and not allowing unions to form within his companies. He has also used Twitter to insult a former presidential hopeful and Vermont senator. 

When Sen. Bernie Sanders recently called Musk out, the multibillionaire replied, “I keep forgetting that you are still alive.”

Time is quick to point out that Person of the Year is not an accolade or award but rather an indication of the person’s effect on the year’s events — for better or worse. 

Marc Benioff is an investor in Elon Musk’s SpaceX

Salesforce founder Marc Benioff bought Time magazine in 2018. And in recent months, he has shown his affection for Musk on social media. Benioff and his wife are also investors in SpaceX. Naming Musk Person of the Year might be considered a conflict of interest because doing so could boost interest in Musk and, by extension, SpaceX. 

According to Jalopnik, a disclaimer in the article contends the Benioffs “have no involvement in Time’s editorial decisions.” So the magazine doesn’t try to hide the fact. However, it seems suspicious the couple invested in SpaceX not long before the Person of the Year announcement.

Some people aren’t convinced the connection is accidental


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On Reddit, some observers believe the choice was anything but coincidental.

One commenter writes sarcastically, “Marc Benioff is an investor in SpaceX. What do you know? All of a sudden, Elon Musk is Time Person of the Year. That makes total sense. Logic checks out.”

Another Redditors notes, “I’m not surprised at all, and I’m not upset. They rate people on influence, and Elon Musk surely has plenty of influence, nothing wrong with that evaluation.”

The matter has drawn mixed opinions. Time claims its editors make the ultimate decision in who receives the title. But if the guy who signs your paychecks asked you for a favor, you might find it difficult to say no.

There’s little doubt that Musk has changed the landscape of road and space travel. His innovations in the automotive and space industries are taking both in new directions. One could argue that Musk single-handedly privatized space exploration, which has led other entrepreneurs to follow in his footsteps. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, having recently flown into space, is a prime example.

Although the link between Benioff’s investment and Musk’s designation as Person of the Year seems a bit more than coincidence, it’s hard to deny that the SpaceX founder has done his part to earn the title. He has changed how we think about Earth and space travel.