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Paper Monitor

13:42 UK time, Thursday, 5 August 2010

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

It's comforting, in these straitened times, to learn that others are ticking along nicely - so nicely, in fact, they can afford to give away half of their billion-dollar fortunes.

Is "comforting" the right term? Or should that be "teeth-grindingly infuriating"?

The newspapers understand that so many of us regard the super-rich with a complicated mixture of envy, awe and resentment. Hence the prominent coverage given to the story that 40 US billionaires have pledged to hand over at least 50% of their wealth to good causes.

The Daily Mail lays out in loving detail profiles of what it calls the "megabucks donors" - Bill Gates with his estimated £33bn, and CNN chief Ted Turner, who has "the largest herd of bison on the planet", and Barron Hilton, pictured alongside granddaughter Paris, as if to demonstrate that the ultra-wealthy can be worthy of our sympathy.

Of course, as the Times points out, not all of those on the Forbes 400 list were so philanthropic. Investor Warren Buffet, a ringleader of the scheme, admits that some of them, when approached about making the pledge, launched "a tirade" about excessive taxation and the scale of government.

The Guardian, perhaps unsportingly, scours the rich lists to identify those among America's richest who have not signed up. The Walton family, owners of Wal-Mart, and Google founders Sergei Brin and Larry Page are among those conspicuous by their absence.

However, the paper notes that "publicly declared philanthropy is much greater in the US than Britain, where wealthy individuals tend to shy away from the public gaze".

Paper Monitor notes with approval this patriotic depictions of the UK's wealthiest as bashful, Hugh-Grant-in-Four-Weddings-and-a-Funeral-style billionaires, as opposed to brash Yanks in stetsons ostentatiously throwing around dollar bills. Mostly because this characterisation neatly ducks the more obvious conclusion: that our tycoons are just tighter than theirs.

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