Fact check: Bill Gates didn't hand journalist a blank check on TV

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The claim: Bill Gates once gave a journalist a blank check to make a point about taking opportunities

Bill Gates is no stranger to misinformation. The Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist has frequently been the subject of falsehoods online, particularly conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, some social media users are sharing a story about Gates, one of the wealthiest people in the world, to make a point about taking opportunities when they arise.

"Bill Gates handed a blank check to a journalist telling her to write the amount of money she wanted," reads the caption of a Sept. 30 Facebook post. "She became offended and responded: 'Mr Bill Gates, I'm not taking it. I asked you what is the secret to your success.'"

The post, which accumulated more than 1,000 shares in five days, includes a photo of Gates purportedly giving a television journalist a wrapped gift. The caption goes on to say the billionaire "handed her the check again, but she refused to accept it."

"#BillGates told her, 'It's your last chance, take it and put the amount you want,'" the caption says. "She didn't accept it. He ripped up the check and replied: 'The secret to my success is that I don't miss any opportunity like you just did.'"

The details of this purported interaction have been circulating online since at least 2019. But it didn't actually happen.

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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation told USA TODAY the claim in the post isn't true. The photo comes from an episode of a British TV magazine show during which a co-presenter gifted Gates a coffee mug.

USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook user who shared the claim for comment.

Gates Foundation refutes claim, image shows gift for billionaire

The earliest version of the claim USA TODAY could find online appeared in a December 2019 Medium post from Sylvain Saurel, a self-described developer and entrepreneur who runs a newsletter called "In Bitcoin We Trust."

"For several years now, I have often read a story about Bill Gates and an interview he might have given to a journalist one day," Saurel wrote before recounting a story similar to the one in the Facebook post. "Actually, I do not know if this interview really took place or if it’s just some kind of urban legend that was launched one day and has grown over time."

Saurel told USA TODAY in a Twitter message that "only Bill Gates and the journalist can tell the truth about this."

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation told USA TODAY the story is an urban legend after all.

"This is an internet rumor that has been circulating for some time and is not true," a spokesperson told USA TODAY in an emailed statement. "I have verified that with Bill’s private office."

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The photo in the post is a still from an Oct. 26, 2016, broadcast of "This Morning" on ITV, a British free-to-air TV channel. During the broadcast, co-presenters Holly Willoughby and Ben Shephard interviewed Gates about his career and success as a business magnate.

Near the end of the six-and-a-half-minute interview, Willoughby presents Gates with a wrapped gift.

"Well this isn't a book, a movie or a puzzle," Willoughby says in the clip. "But we think it's a gift that money can't buy, and that's our little present for you."

Gates opens the gift to reveal a coffee mug with the "This Morning" logo on it.

"Money cannot buy that," Shephard says in the video.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that Gates once gave a journalist a blank check to make a point about taking opportunities. The Gates Foundation told USA TODAY the claim isn't true. The image in the Facebook post comes from a 2016 broadcast of a British TV magazine show during which a co-presenter gifted Gates a coffee mug.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Bill Gates didn't give journalist a blank check

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