Bill Gates' Most Controversial Moments

As you might've heard once or twice, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is one of the world's wealthiest and most powerful people. At the time of writing, Forbes lists his net worth at over $130 billion, and his staggering fortune will just keep growing. Still, his work as well as his stance on spreading wealth have not made him a hero to all.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, Gates became the focal point for several conspiracy theories around the vaccines in addition to myriad other topics. In a January 2022 Twitter interview with Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of Global Public Health at the Edinburgh University Medical School, Gates said, "People like you and I and Tony Fauci have been subject to a lot of misinformation. I didn't expect that. Some of it, like me putting chips in arms, doesn't make sense to me — why would I want to do that?" Meanwhile, individuals like former national security advisor Michael Flynn's claim that Gates is supposedly trying to set up a Godless "New World Order" which is somehow connected to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

All the same, there are legitimate controversies in Gates' life worth talking about that aren't related to a theory about microchipping the public.

Bill Gates' divorce news

In May 2021, Bill and Melinda Gates announced via Twitter that they were ending their marriage of 27 years. Melinda has been open about her divorce, telling USA Today in March 2022 that realizing she needed to end her marriage was "the lowest moment" of her life. "That wasn't something I ever thought would happen to me," she told the outlet. "It certainly wasn't what I thought on the day I got married, but I realized for myself, I needed to make a healthier choice, and that was just a very, very sad day." She added that her best moments were the days her three children were born. "Those were blow-away days," Melinda said.

Bill Gates has admitted to having an affair while he was with his ex-wife, and as noted by CBS News, reports suggest that wasn't the extent of his cheating. Melinda told Gayle King at "CBS Mornings" that there are things Bill "needs to answer" about his reported extramarital behavior. She also told King that she was frank with Bill about his meetings with Jeffrey Epstein, the latter of whom Melinda called "abhorrent" and "evil personified."

After the divorce was finalized in August 2021, Bill Gates told the Independent that he spent most of the rest of the year online with very little "face-to-face" interaction. "It's been a strange and disorienting experience," he said. "My personal world has never felt smaller than it did over the last twelve months."

Bill Gates' affairs were an 'open secret'

According to folks who have ties to Bill Gates, stories of affairs were something of an "open secret," according to Vanity Fair. A former employee told the magazine that it wasn't uncommon for Gates to come to work with one car and leave in a different one. "We all assumed that it was when he was with women," the source explained to the publication. "I knew there were many offsite meetings that were not on his calendar." While an insider close to Gates also told the magazine that his alleged affairs were no secret to people outside of work either.

Infidelity was not a new thread in Gates' story when the divorce became public knowledge. In 2020, The Wall Street Journal reported that Gates had stepped down from the Microsoft board during an investigation into a claim of a sexual relationship with an employee which that employee said lasted for years. However, a Microsoft representative told Insider that a board committee had investigated a letter in 2019 about Gates seeking a relationship with a Microsoft employee in 2000 but that their hired law firm had not finished the investigation before he stepped down. The Wall Street Journal also reported that Microsoft said the resignation was not tied to the investigation.

Allegations of misconduct within Bill Gates' company

Bill Gates evidently has a history of trying to strike up relationships with employees — heck, his ex-wife was working for Microsoft when they started dating. According to The New York Times, Gates asked out a Microsoft employee in 2006 and then a Gates Foundation employee again in 2007 and 2008. Per The Wall Street Journal, Gates was reportedly told by Microsoft leadership to quit emailing a particular female employee but they didn't follow up on it after Gates told them he'd stop. What's more, there have been several reported instances of misconduct within the companies run by Gates.

Per USA Today, Microsoft faced a class-action lawsuit in 2015 alleging gender discrimination launched by women who had worked there. As recounted by the NYT, Gates' long-time money manager Michael Larson also kept his job after he was accused of sexually harassing a woman whose lawyers reached out to Gates for help. The Microsoft Board of Directors announced in January 2022 that they would be reviewing the company sexual harassment and gender discrimination policies. 

"Our culture remains our number one priority and the entire Board appreciates the critical importance of a safe and inclusive environment for all Microsoft employees," the company chairman and CEO Satya Nadella said in the release. "We're committed not just to reviewing the report but learning from the assessment so we can continue to improve the experiences of our employees. I embrace this comprehensive review as an opportunity to continue to get better."

Bill Gates made a 'mistake' meeting with Jeffrey Epstein

Like many of the famous ties to the late convicted child predator Jeffrey Epstein, that link has followed Bill Gates. In 2021, Gates told PBS he regretted meeting with Epstein, even if it was for philanthropy. "Those meetings were a mistake," Gates told the outlet. "They didn't result in what he purported, and I cut them off. That goes back a long time ago now. There's nothing new on that."

Sources told the Daily Beast that Bill Gates' ex-wife is still "haunted" by his ties to a sexual predator. The New York Times reported that Gates met with Epstein several times from 2011 onward including being at Epstein's Manhattan home. That first 2011 meeting was after Epstein got out of jail in 2009 for forcing a child into sex work and had been, at that point, already accused of assault by 36 women and girls, per The Cut.

The New York Times reported that after that first meeting Gates wrote in emails of Epstein's "charm and intelligence" and added, "his lifestyle is very different and kind of intriguing although it would not work for me." Finally, in an email referring to being at Epstein's townhouse, Gates reportedly wrote, "A very attractive Swedish woman and her daughter dropped by and I ended up staying there quite late." The woman he referred to was former Miss Sweden Dr. Eva Andersson-Dubin and her daughter who was 15 at the time.

The Gates Foundation and transparency

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the largest foundations in the world with $60.1 billion in payments since its foundation in 2000. But because it's a private organization it "is only accountable to its three main trustees,' per Vox. Despite the myriad efforts the organization has made in funding health initiatives all over the world, because it doesn't have to be transparent to anyone there is little to be said for the effectiveness of the work. Sociologist Linsey McGoey of the University of Essex told Vox that studying a foundation's "efficacy" isn't so clear-cut, and when asked her about the work the foundation has done, she replied, "I honestly don't know, and that's the scary thing."

"You may have foundations with assets larger than almost 70% of the world's nations making decisions about public policy and public priorities without any public discussion or political process," Pablo Eisenberg of the Georgetown Public Policy Institute explained to Nature. He added that those foundations can make major decisions without "public discussion or political process," which Nature explained is problematic since the foundations end up treating research like a business.

Bill Gates' initial take on the coronavirus vaccine patent

In April 2021, Bill Gates told Sky News (via Common Dreams) that he was not on board with the idea of sharing vaccine recipes despite the global need for access to the coronavirus vaccine. A few weeks later the Gates Foundation announced a change of mind after the Biden administration made a public statement that organizations should give up their intellectual property rights to the crucial vaccines. The World Health Organization launched the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool in May 2020 to help alleviate the inequities of the pandemic's effects worldwide. 

Hoarding access to vaccines for private interest is one reason why activists started calling the global disparity a "vaccine apartheid." Dean Baker, economist and co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told The Guardian, "This is a classic case where you have an industry that has a very direct stake in protecting itself, and there's very little understanding among the public how much is at issue." Baker added that not sharing the knowledge, as it helps everyone, is absurd.

When Slate spoke to Tim Schwab, who has been investigating the Gates Foundation for years, he told the outlet that the foundation "feels more like an investment bank than it does a charity." Schwab went on to explain that Bill Gates has made his "not enough manufacturers" deflection in other public health crises which critics have said is an act of colonialism as it implies other countries aren't prepared or capable of producing the vaccines.

The Gates Foundation and the media

Being one of the largest funders of health in the world, trying to avoid money trails from the Gates Foundation is nearly impossible. Investigative reporter Tim Schwab told Slate that is true even for journalists. "If you look across global health, they're funding everybody," he explained. "Nobody is more than one degree removed from the Gates Foundation. So it's really difficult to avoid the foundation's money. ... If you're a journalist writing about global health, you might end up getting a fellowship or a grant to do reporting that's funded by the Gates Foundation. So it's really hard to overstate how much influence that gives the foundation."

In August 2020, Schwab published a piece with the Columbia Journalism Review on his recent Gates Foundation research which focused on its influence on journalism. He wrote that through June 2020 the foundation had given more than $250 million to journalism and outlets such as the BBC, NBC, The Atlantic, and the Center for Investigative Reporting. One such organization is the "the Leo Burnett Company, an ad agency that Gates commissioned to create a 'news site' to promote the success of aid groups," according to Schwab.

The Seattle Times dug into the issues regarding bankrolled news organizations in 2011. Per the newspaper, the foundation isn't just investing in organizations — it's funding the research around journalism, training for journalists, crafting media fact sheets, and even shaping op-eds which have been found in places like The New York Times.

Microsoft has butted up against antitrust laws

In the early 1990s, the Federal Trade Commission went back and forth on whether or not Microsoft was monopolizing the software industry. David Bradford of Novell Inc., one of the biggest software companies at the time, told The Washington Post in 1993, "These people are bent on creating a monopoly." The paper also reported that Microsoft was adamant that they were following antitrust laws at the time per company statements.

Still, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Microsoft in May 1998 for violating antitrust laws by taking over too much market power, per Insider. Eventually, over the course of several years and appeals, Microsoft and the U.S. government had a stalemate in which the company had to conform to a set of "behavioral remedies" to stop from keeping other companies down in their industry, according to Wired. During the early days of the Microsoft antitrust issues in August 1998, Bill Gates was called to give his deposition to the New York attorney general. A source told CNET at the time that Gates was "evasive and nonresponsive" when asked questions which was much of what he did in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in March 1998.

The Gates children will get a sliver of his fortune

Following the news of Bill and Melinda Gates' divorce in 2021, the conversation of their vast fortune kept coming up, particularly in reference to their three children. Per Newsweek, Bill revealed in a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" thread in 2017 that each of his kids would inherit $10 million, which is but a drop in the ocean that is his net worth. "I definitely think leaving kids massive amounts of money is not a favor to them. Warren Buffett was part of an article in Fortune talking about this in 1986 before I met him and it made me think about it and decide he was right," he said in the thread.

Newsweek also reported that half of Bill's fortune will go to charity. As the Independent noted, he said at a TED conference in 2014 that he would be putting his fortune into the Gates Foundation. In 2017, Bill shared on "This Morning" that not leaving a beyond mammoth mound of cash to his children will mean they can make their own lives for themselves. The former Mr. and Mrs. Gates aren't alone in diverting their fortunes elsewhere either. According to CNBC, other ultra-wealthy folks doing the same include Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Bloomberg, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Warren Buffett.