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Facebook founder making friends

I had the same initial reaction as many folks to Mark Zuckerberg's sudden outbreak of philanthropy: What's he trying to get out of it?

It's all about the movie, isn't it?

Why would the Facebook founder give 100 million bucks to schools in the decaying city of Newark, to which he's had no previous connection?

Bzzt! Wrong question. A better one is, can this huge gift help turn around one of the nation's failing school systems, which has been taken over by New Jersey authorities?

Much of the press coverage, though, was downright cynical.

Take New York magazine: "It's hard not to notice the timing -- or the venue -- of Mark Zuckerberg's latest move. Word came out last night that Facebook's CEO plans to announce a $100 million donation to Newark's ailing public school system on the Oprah Winfrey Show tomorrow. You get an education, you get an education, everybody gets an education!"

In the WSJ, Robert Frank says: "If I were a publicity-shy 26-year old who is anxious about suddenly being outed as The Six Billion Dollar Man (not to mention being the protagonist in an unflattering feature film), I might consider the benefits of announcing my giant philanthropic gift around the same time.

"On, say Oprah.

"Mr. Zuckerberg may be young. But he already has learned a lot about the offsetting PR value of philanthropy."

But surely things look very different in Newark, which doesn't attract a lot of trendy celebrities. Let's check out the Newark Star-Ledger and its columnist, Stephen Whitty:

"How much is your good name worth to you?

"How about $100 million?

"The news on Wednesday that Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg was going to spend that much money helping revamp Newark schools shocked everyone.

"Everyone except those who've already seen the upcoming and caustic Zuckerberg biopic, 'The Social Network' -- and see this gift as an expensive, but not unexpected, attempt to change the subject.

"That movie, which opens Oct. 1, gets its first big New York Film Festival press screening today -- the same day that Zuckerberg is set to announce his donation on Oprah Winfrey's show.
"The film draws a portrait of an abrasive, insecure genius deeply concerned with social acceptance."

Ho-kay.

On this one, Arianna Huffington nails it:

"So the $100 million donation to Newark's crumbling public schools is not in and of itself the story? The story is figuring out the motivation behind it? Is this what we have come to? Can you think of anything more ridiculous?

"I really don't care why Mark Zuckerberg is donating $100 million of his own money that will make a profound difference to the lives of Newark's children. I care very much that it's being done -- that one of America's worst school systems will be getting a massive infusion of funds."

The announcement was leaked to the New York Times, which played it straight (and provided the national publicity that the Star-Ledger couldn't). Turns out Zuckerberg met Mayor Cory Booker at a conference in July and that led to a series of conversations.

It may well be true that the Facebook founder is trying to make friends, and get more "likes," to buff his image. But Arianna is right: Who cares? It's still $100 million.

By Howard Kurtz  | September 24, 2010; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Latest stories, Top story  | Tags:  Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, Newark, philanthropy, schools  
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Comments

I'm sure that lack of funds is about 1% of the reason that school system is failing but it's his money. Easy come, easy go. Personally, I would've given it to kids that are really trying to excel and could use some help with college tuition.

Posted by: peterg73 | September 24, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

It was very charitable, but throwing money at schools has been going on for a long time; bad schools continue to be Bad schools, no matter how much money you throw at it.
There are successful schools out there that
get much, much less money than some of the worst schools.
It has more to do with having 2 "real" parents at home than anything else.
Brand new beautiful schools are popping up
everywhere, and time will tell. Its not about the building, or the number of books even, its mostly about the kids and their parents.

Posted by: ohioan | September 24, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

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