Tesla CEO Elon Musk is a billionaire. He has access to a private jet. It was a holiday weekend. Faced with similar circumstances, he could’ve done literally anything the human mind could conjure up. Instead, he spent the weekend tweeting, getting caught up with Actual Nazis, and then tweeting some more. This is a play in three acts.
Musk, truly a modern-day Henry Ford, has been on a Twitter rampage against “journalism” and capital-M Media ever since independent investigative publication Reveal did an expose on safety conditions at Tesla. And as Tweetstorms go, Musk started traditionally, with a bit of wildly ignorant media criticism.
Naturally, he set himself up to get wildly owned.
First he conducted a Twitter poll asking people if they wanted a “media credibility rating site,” because if there’s anything the past couple of years has proven, it’s that what is popular is always better than what is right.
Also, he wanted to name it Pravda, which Bloomberg pointed out was coincidentally already registered as a company back in November 2017, andthe filing agent and address listed are “identical to the name and location used for at least two other Musk entities.”
But even that didn’t go well:
Here’s what happened to those two journalists, via Politico:
Less than two years ago, one of Pravda’s reporters, Pavel Sheremet, was murdered in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, when a car bomb ripped though the Subaru XV he was driving. Its founder, Georgiy Gongadze, was also famously kidnapped and murdered in 2000, an event that helped fuel the country’s Orange revolution.
Musk then tweeted (before later deleting) his support for an article written by an actual cult:
The “excellent” analysis Musk referred to was from The Knife, which Slate notes is affiliated with NXIVM, an alleged sex cult:
whose leader Keith Raniere was arrested in March and charged with a laundry list of crimes ranging from forcing his followers to have sex with him all the way to literally having them branded. (Smallville actress Allison Mack—also facing criminal charges for her alleged involvement with NXIVM—seems to have recruited for them on Twitter.)
So much for the media outlets all us journalists should aspire to be like!
But even if you’re a member of the media and you’re aren’t part of a sex cult, Musk wants you to know that you live in a bubble. Max Tani, the media reporter at the Daily Beast, noted how accurate Musk was:
Undeterred, Musk asked five journalists, including Joshua Topolsky of The Outline and Ashley Feinberg of the Huffington Post (and formerly of Gizmodo Media), who they think own the press:
The question came as a response to a question Topolsky, founder of The Outline, posed asking if “it’s in the interest of powerful people,” presumably including Musk, “to support a free press that exposes their lies” or to tear down those charged with exposing the lies of the powerful.
Elon replied with the question about media ownership as a response.
The likes are pretty interesting, though:
The replies were also interesting:
And for someone who has a lot of thoughts on The Media, Musk seemed either deeply ignorant of one of its most prejudiced tropes, or was actively dogwhistling. Who would’ve thought that the wealthy boy who grew up South Africa, the son of a mining magnate, who left as soon as Apartheid was over, could’ve been dabbling in such things? Woof.
But who was the real bigot here? Was it Elon, who left the tweet up for hours, and a large number of the people who liked and replied to his tweet? Or was it the people who were freaked out, especially Jewish people, because they know that no sane person asks “who owns the media?” without knowing there’s already an implicit answer.
No, it is the Jews who are the real bigots. But Musk, who claims to have spent much time in newsrooms and truly understands how powerful large media platforms can be, wasn’t done. After freelance reporter Erin Biba (who, full disclosure, has written for the Gizmodo Media Group in the past) took issue with Musk’s criticism of molecular biologist Upulie Divisekera, and said he was taking an anti-science position, Musk denied being anti-science and then accused her of “misleading journalism.”
Which then resulted in a torrent of very misogynist hate directed at Biba and at least six other women journalists. None of which Musk acknowledged responsibility for:
Musk went on to tweet that “everyone gets harrassed” on the internet, regardless of gender, though surely at some point he will acknowledge that harassment on the internet, including physical threats, is a little different when you’re a vastly powerful billionaire versus a freelance reporter often struggling to make ends meet.
All of it ended up being a very interesting weekend for Media Takes, from a man who seems to know extremely little about journalism, the media business, how reporting works, or even the barest amount of history and context for the criticism which he was delving into.
In a concession to Elon, we acknowledge that media ownership is slightly less diverse over the past few years, thanks in small part to his one-time associate, Peter Thiel.