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The Unethical Washington Post by Bill Ackman

Originally posted on X (formerly Twitter) on February 10, 2024.


I am sure all of us have had the experience of reading a story about a subject you know well and finding it replete with inaccuracies and falsehoods. One then turns the page and reads an article about a subject one knows less well and makes the mistake of believing that this other story is accurate. I am guilty of this sin.

I am sadly repeatedly reminded to mistrust what I read in the media, and I am not alone. Destruction of confidence in our media is contributing to societal breakdown, and that is a very unfortunate state of affairs.

During the past few weeks, I spent several hours cooperating with a Washington Post story. I spent time with the reporter in an effort to increase the probability that the story would be accurate as the issues she was writing about were important, nuanced, and at risk of being misunderstood.

I really like the reporter, believe that her intentions were good, and I also believe that her goal was to write a story that was accurate. Unfortunately, unconscious or other bias of hers and/or her editor led to bad journalism.

The story was published this morning. Despite my hopes, my optimism was misplaced as the public has been again misled, important issues are not addressed fairly or accurately, and false impressions have therefore been created in the minds of readers about important issues.

The story can be found here:


The subheading of the story is:

“Bill Ackman used Wall Street tactics to oust Harvard’s first Black president. He’s part of a wave of business leaders attacking diversity initiatives spurred by George Floyd’s death.”

To translate for the Washington Post audience, a rich, racist jerk (or worse) used ‘Wall Street’ (read by the WaPo audience as “crooked”) tactics to fire Harvard’s first Black president. He is part of a group of other rich people (i.e., business leaders) who are opposed to diversity and who are indifferent or worse to George Floyd’s murder.

In other words, the subheading explains that Bill Ackman is an anti-environment, anti-social justice, elitist warrior working to reverse recent social and environmental progress in the world.

I also made the mistake of agreeing to be photographed. The subheading is followed by a portrait where half of my face is in shadow. This is a well-known media tactic to create the impression that the subject of the story is two-faced and evil.

The opening sentence then suggests that I am an investor with my “tennis buddy” in a “anti-woke” company (tennis being an elitist, country-club sport, and ‘buddy’ implying an investment with a member of my club) that is anti-social justice and anti-climate, someone who is opposed to social justice and pro-climate initiatives that have been making progress in the business world, but are now at risk due to my actions and advocacy.

The “tennis buddy” referred to in the article is Vivek Ramaswamy, the Republican candidate who recently ended his campaign and endorsed Trump. It is true that I played tennis once with Vivek, but he is by no means a tennis buddy. I like and respect Vivek, but we have vastly different views on many issues, and ones about which we strongly agree. By selecting Vivek from the dozens of sources the reporter spoke to for the opening sentence, the reporter creates the impression that I am a right wing idealogue, which is totally false.

While the reporter spoke to dozens of people I know for many hours, she only quoted a few of them, sources whose views, for the most part, were consistent with the theme that she was trying to advance in the article. I have already heard from many others whom the reporter contacted and spent hours interviewing, whose words would have likely shed substantial additional light on me and the topics in the article, but they and their opinions were entirely omitted.

Consider the journalistic approach of collecting data from dozens of sources, and then including only those sources in the story that are consistent with the thesis that you intend to advance. In science, this is called academic fraud. It is severely punished because it can cause enormous harm.

Billions of dollars of societal capital have been wasted funding cancer and Alzheimer’s research based on studies that were later determined to be fraudulent. Many lives have been lost due to experimental procedures and drugs tested on volunteers based on research that was later determined to be fraudulent.

In journalism, this same form of research fraud is considered ordinary course and apparently appropriate. Journalists advance through the ranks and get paid large bonuses for stories that generate massive numbers of clicks because the stories appeal to and confirm their core readership’s politics, regardless of the accuracy of the reporting. This approach to journalism is incredibly destructive to our confidence in the media, which in turn is enormously damaging to society.

The second sentence in the article suggests that my views on DEI and ESG represent a massive ideological reversal for me because the story explains that: (1) I have been a long-term Democratic donor, (2) I have paid for thousands of scholarships for undocumented immigrants to attend college, (3) I have been a huge supporter of Democratic Senator Cory Booker, and (4) I have supposedly previously endorsed ESG in a letter to shareholders, which is untrue. The article presents as received wisdom that one cannot be supportive of the first three issues/people, and be opposed to DEI and ESG.

While all of the above makes for an interesting narrative, it is misleading and fundamentally untrue.

On DEI compared with diversity, equity, and inclusion

I am a strong believer in the importance of building diverse teams in businesses and other organizations. I also believe that inclusive cultures are important for business success and the long-term happiness of employees. I am also a strong believer in the importance of equity, by that I mean the common understanding of that word, i.e., fairness, not the equality of outcome that is demanded by DEI, and when not achieved, is deemed evidence of structural racism by the DEI movement.

The unfortunate truth is that the DEI movement is not fundamentally about advancing true diversity, equity or inclusion as I have explained in considerable detail in the below post which the reporter said that she had read as have more than 35 million others:

In summary, in the post, I explain that:

DEI is not about diversity in its purest form, but rather it is a political advocacy movement on behalf of certain groups that are deemed oppressed under DEI’s own methodology. Under DEI, one’s degree of oppression is determined based upon where one resides on a so-called intersectional pyramid of oppression where whites, Jews, and Asians are deemed oppressors, and a subset of people of color, LGBTQ people, and/or women are deemed to be oppressed.

Under DEI’s ideology, any policy, program, educational system, economic system, grading system, admission policy, (and even climate change due its disparate impact on geographies and the people that live there), etc. that leads to unequal outcomes among people of different skin colors is deemed racist.

As a result, according to DEI any merit-based program, system, or organization which has or generates outcomes for different races that are at variance with the proportion these different races represent in the population at large is by DEI’s ideology deemed racist.

In fact, DEI itself is racist because reverse racism is racism, even if it is against white people (and it is remarkable that I even need to point this out). Racism against white people has become considered acceptable by many not to be racism, or alternatively, it is deemed acceptable racism. While this is, of course, absurd, it has become the prevailing view in many universities around the country.

Despite what the Post article suggests, I am highly supportive of diversity, equality of opportunity, and inclusive organizations, while I am wholly opposed to anti-meritocratic ideologies that are racist against those the DEI idealogues deem oppressors: straight White males and others deemed successful including Jews, Asians, and people from India. This is the DEI movement that I believe is harmful and dangerous and the one that I have been advocating against.

On ESG, and the environment, society, and governance

The article also suggests that I am opposed to initiatives to help the environment, while suggesting that in the past I have “praised the [“ESG”] movement Ramaswamy opposed.” I am strongly in favor of the environment, society, and governance to state the obvious, but for similar reasons to the DEI movement, I am opposed to the ESG movement.


Because the ESG movement has caused enormous harm as it has led to disinvestment in nuclear and carbon-based energy, and to our defense companies. This disinvestment effort has impaired our energy independence, led to more global environmental damage as production has shifted to regions of the world which care less about the environment than we do, enriched our enemies, reduced our defense capabilities, and has been one of the proximate catalysts for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The ESG movement led to Europe’s increased energy dependence on Russia and the Nordstream pipeline, and to U.S. and European underinvestment in munitions and defense development and manufacturing capabilities. Energy dependence and the defunding of defense companies coupled with our catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan, failure to adequately respond to Russia’s invasion of the Crimean peninsula, and our failure to hold Obama’s “red line” in Syria, gave Putin the confidence the U.S. and West would not seriously respond to his invasion of Ukraine.

One need only consider the catastrophic environmental damage from the war in Ukraine, a war for which the ESG movement deserves serious responsibility, to understand the problem with weaponization of ESG when it became a political movement.

ESG also became a marketing device as many asset managers created ESG funds to amass more capital, charging high fees to investors with very little consideration about the environment, society or even governance.

In short, I care enormously about the environment and have invested in numerous organizations which are working to address human beings’ impact on the environment. I of course also care enormously about society as evidenced by the Pershing Square Foundation and affiliated foundation’s investment of more than $700 million to help address some of society’s most important failures.

Good governance is also a key precept of our approach to investing, and I and the shareholder activist movement we have helped advance have been important catalysts for improvements in corporate governance over my 35-year career.

Yet, ESG has largely been a disaster for society for the reasons I describe above. And yes, you can be pro- environment, society, and governance and anti-ESG, but you would not understand this by reading the article.

On Former President Gay

With respect to the article’s reference to my advocacy to seek former President Gay’s retirement, I did not seek her removal because she was a Black woman. I did so because of her failures of leadership, which led to an explosion of antisemitism on the Harvard campus, the destruction of collegial norms on campus, the elimination of free speech and the advancement of cancel culture, and their collective impact on the education of Harvard students and their safety on campus.

Had Gay been a white, older male, no one would have accused me of being a racist or questioned my motives. The article unfortunately creates the perception that my advocacy was somehow related to her race.

It also went unmentioned in the article that the other two university presidents whose resignations I sought were white, with one being Jewish and the other Christian. Yet, no one accused me of being antisemitic when I sought President Kornbluth’s resignation or anti-Christian when I advocated for Ms. Magill’s removal.

Other Issues in the Article

The article makes the typical billionaire reference to “his private jet,” and to “his mansion.” While I am sure I have posted in flight and we do have a nice beach house, these insertions in the article are simply designed to cast me as an out-of-touch, odious billionaire, and serves no legitimate purpose to be included.

The below corrections are not nearly as important, but I include them for completeness:

“Still, his bold bets were wrong almost as often as they were right.” Emphasis in the original.

This is false. My firm, Pershing Square, has an extremely high batting average in our investments. The substantial majority of our investments have been profitable. The reporter is likely confused by the fact that our handful of investment errors get a lot more press than our numerous highly successful ones.

“Ackman says he had never given much thought to diversity initiatives until this past fall.”

This is false. I had not studied the DEI movement until this past fall, but I have been focused on helping disadvantaged people from diverse communities for decades, and have invested hundreds of millions behind these efforts.

“(Pritzker declined to comment. A person close to her, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive conversations, described Ackman’s phone call as “verbally abusive.” Ackman said the call was “polite and respectful.”)”

Whoever is the “person close to her, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive conversations,” he or she is lying.

Journalists should not be allowed to quote so-called ‘sources’ in this manner. People who would like to say highly critical and slanderous statements should not be allowed to do so anonymously.

Penny Pritzker and I had a perfectly respectful and polite conversation, albeit one that I found extremely disappointing due to her apparent unwillingness to take the steps I believed necessary to stop the explosion of antisemitism on campus. My wife was in the room at the time and heard my side of the conversation. I was not the slightest bit “verbally abusive.” I am not a person who verbally abuses others.

““The letter,” a massive 3,138-word tweet he also sent to Harvard, was written in the style of his strident shareholder missives. He demanded that Harvard release the names of the students whose groups had signed the protest letter to block them from Wall Street jobs.”

This paragraph is misleading in multiple respects. First, it conflates my first letter to Harvard which I sent by email and posted on November 4th where I offered to help President Gay address antisemitism on campus, which can be found here:

with my first post about Harvard after October 7th where I and other CEOs asked Harvard for a list of students who signed the letter which stated that Israel was “solely responsible” for the heinous and barbaric acts of the Hamas terrorists.

The purpose of my post was not to block students who protested from Wall Street jobs. Rather, it was to make sure that we didn’t hire students who supported terrorists who raped, murdered, burned and tortured their victims.

Would you want to work alongside someone who blamed Black people for the actions of the KKK?

“A person involved in the presidential search process, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe it, said that Ackman’s actions were ‘destructive, racist, and reprehensible’ and that DEI-criteria had no influence on the hiring process.”

Again, I ask why someone should be allowed to call someone else “destructive, racist, and reprehensible” anonymously. If the quoted person is indeed one of the handful of people on the search committee, he or she should be strong and upstanding enough to criticize me openly.

The statement that: “DEI-criteria had no influence on the hiring process,” is totally false. I know from first-hand knowledge from a member of the search committee that chose Gay that the committee would not consider a candidate that did not meet the DEI office’s criteria. This person did not ask that I keep his/her name anonymous, but I am doing so here because of the consequences he/she would suffer if I shared his/her name publicly.

I was also able to separately confirm that the DEI criteria were requirements for the job from the partner of another member of the Corporation Board who shared this fact with me. Others have also questioned former President Gay’s qualifications for the job in light of her limited and undistinguished academic oeuvre, and her leadership failures as Dean of the university prior to be appointed president.

“He keeps a stack of thank you letters on his desk to prove it.”

While it is true that I have received hundreds of handwritten and typed letters supporting my recent initiatives, I don’t keep them to prove anything, and I don’t have them on my desk.

In summary, even the most well-intentioned movements can cause enormous societal, economic, and racial harm. These issues are nuanced and are therefore easily weaponized by a good and even a well-meaning reporter with an agenda or at best, unconscious bias.

That is why I greatly prefer @X to advance ideas and learn from others, as my words can’t be edited, and there is a permanent record of what I actually said and when I said it.

And that, my friends, is the latest elephant in the room.

Ara Norwood is a multi-faceted and results-oriented professional. Spanning a multiplicity of disciplines including leadership, management, innovation, strategy, service, sales, business ethics, and entrepreneurship. Ara is also a historian, having special expertise on the era of the founding of our republic.
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