Jun 23, 2023 - Economy & Business

Hamish Harding and the making of a "billionaire"

Illustration of quotation marks with an overlay of a hundred-dollar bill.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

In thousands of news stories over the course of 25 years, the late Hamish Harding was never a billionaire. And then, suddenly, he was.

Why it matters: Harding — one of five men who perished in the Titan submersible — was an adventurer and an explorer; he also founded a smallish aircraft brokerage in Dubai.

  • His memory, however, is now inextricably — and unnecessarily — intertwined with all of the positive and negative connotations associated with billionairedom.

Flashback: Five years ago, I wrote about how the word “billionaire” had "become the vaguest and most annoying of words" — and also a way "to artificially boost pageviews on any given story."

Where it stands: Major publications like Fortune, NBC News, Insider, CNN, Fox, People, the New York Post and many more have described Harding as a billionaire.

  • None of them provides any evidence for the soubriquet, beyond the fact that he seems to have been able to afford six-figure sums to travel into space or the ocean.

By the numbers: Harding was described as a billionaire in 2,222 of the first 6,912 stories published about him after June 19, per LexisNexis — a ratio of roughly 1 in 3.

The bottom line: If Harding had been a billionaire, that fact would still have been one of the less interesting things about him.

  • Now that the term is frequently weaponized on social media, it behooves the press to use it with much more circumspection.
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