Elon Musk continues to drive the news cycle, but a new development goes far beyond just the (sometimes hilarious) goings on at Twitter. Rather, it serves as a stunning indictment of the mainstream press.
The saga begins with a news site named “Semafor.” Admittedly, I’ve barely heard of it, but it’s headed by Ben Smith, who played major roles at Buzzfeed and The New York Times. His presence gave the site, however undeserved, an immediate air of credibility upon its launch. But as we’ll get to in a moment, that credibility is now being tested.
On Tuesday, Semafor published a “scoop” alleging that Musk had colluded with Sam Bankman-Fried to have the FTX founder become part of the private investment group buying the company (for more on the FTX scandal, click here). Here’s what the framing of that looked like.
But Musk was in a friendlier mood on May 5. Two weeks after clinching a deal to buy Twitter for $44 billion, he texted Bankman-Fried just after midnight and invited him to roll the $100 million stake he had owned for a few months into a privately held Twitter.
The previously unreported message, which was reviewed by Semafor, set in motion a chain of events that has bound the two men, whose companies are both in varying degrees of crisis. Bankman-Fried owns a sizable chunk of a now privately held and debt-laden Twitter, according to an FTX balance sheet prepared after the takeover closed on Oct. 28 and circulated to investors earlier this month, which listed Twitter shares as an “illiquid” asset.
The insinuation here is obvious. Semafor wanted to present Musk as a hypocrite who took Bankman-Fried’s money while going on to trash him publicly just months later after the FTX scandal broke. Is that the real story here, though? Liz Hoffman, who authored the “scoop,” certainly wants you to believe so. She continued with this rather unambiguous charge.
But FTX claimed he did roll over his stake, as Musk suggested.
Since FTX’s collapse, Musk has publicly trashed his now-partner in owning Twitter. “Everyone was talking about him like he’s walking on water and has a zillion dollars,” he said in a Twitter Spaces conversation on Nov. 12, the day after FTX filed for bankruptcy. “And that [was] not my impression… there’s something wrong.”
This is the point where things get really fascinating as multiple layers start getting pulled back.
Musk took to Twitter to deny Hoffman’s report, accusing her of lying about Bankman-Fried being a “now-partner.” Smith then posted his own tweet of the actual text message in question, attempting to back his writer’s play. Musk then responded by letting it be known that Bankman-Fried had, in fact, not rolled his Twitter shares when the company went private and that he owns no stake in the company.
Further, it turns out that every former Twitter shareholder was given that option and that Bankman-Fried was not given any special access as insinuated by Semafor.
All public holders of Twitter were allowed to roll their stock into Twitter as a private company, but he did not do so. Your reporting made it falsely sound like he did, when in fact he owns 0%.
For the last time, how much of you does SBF own? Stop dodging the question.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 23, 2022
It gets better, though. Notice the question that Musk poses at the end of his tweet. What’s that all about, you might be asking? Apparently, while Bankman-Fried owns no part of Twitter as Semafor falsely reported, he does own part of Semafor. That’s according to the site’s own words and financial disclosures.
This is fascinating stuff pic.twitter.com/JkULCBW88u
— Bonchie (@bonchieredstate) November 24, 2022
To recap, Semafor tried to accuse Musk of hypocrisy for colluding with Bankman-Fried on an investment into Twitter. That investment never actually existed, but Bankman-Fried had invested in another company, which just so happens to be…Semafor.
That is just incredible stuff, and now we can assume with near certainty where Semafor got the picture of the text message. Obviously, Musk didn’t give it to them. That can only leave Bankman-Fried himself feeding it to Semafor, which he’s part owner in, as a way to gin up sympathy and to make Musk the story. Astonishingly, Ben Smith and Liz Hoffman were willing to run with that angle despite their serious conflict of interest.
As of this writing, Semafor has updated and corrected its piece, though the original write-up still contains falsehoods. The “update” claims that Hoffman’s assertion about Bankman-Fried’s supposed Twitter ownership came from an asset statement circulated by FTX. So let me get this straight. Semafor decided to use an asset statement put out by a money-stealing Ponzi scheme as a source to smear Musk? That’s just mind-blowing journalism.
But understand this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to media malfeasance. The incestuous nature of the news industry reaches far and wide. That’s why you should never take anything they say at face value. There is always a partisan angle undergirding the vast majority of mainstream press reporting.