April 5, 2022

Just recently — March 25 to be exact —  the richest person in the world, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, tweeted, “Free speech is essential to a functioning democracy. Do you believe Twitter rigorously adheres to this principle?”

You could already see the wheels turning.

The next day, he tweeted, “Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy. What should be done?”

He followed up with, “Is a new platform needed?”

When asked if he would ever start a social media platform “where free speech and adhering to free speech is given top priority, one where propaganda is very minimal,” Musk tweeted, “Am giving serious thought to this.”

So what happened on Monday? Musk bought a nearly 10% stake in Twitter, making him what appears to be Twitter’s largest shareholder.

Bloomberg’s Giles Turner and Craig Trudell wrote, “Twitter shares surged as much as 27% after Musk’s purchase was revealed Monday in a regulatory filing. The gain marked the stock’s biggest intraday increase since its first day of trading following the company’s 2013 initial public offering. The stake is worth about $2.89 billion, based on Friday’s market close.”

So what does this mean?

The New York Times’ Lauren Hirsch and Adam Satariano wrote, “It is unclear what Mr. Musk’s plans are beyond the large shareholder position and whether he’ll ask — or be invited — to join Twitter’s board. Mr. Musk filed a securities document indicating that he planned for the investment to be passive, meaning he does not intend to pursue control of the company. But there was also speculation Monday that he could change the status of his investment, continue buying shares or even try to acquire the company outright, (Monday’s) DealBook newsletter reported.”

In an opinion piece for The Washington Post, Adam Lashinsky, the former executive editor of Fortune magazine, pointed out that Musk has 80 million Twitter users.

Lashinsky wrote, “It isn’t altogether clear why Musk would need to own the cow when he drinks so freely of the milk. He might simply feel he can do a better job at running Twitter. For all of the company’s success, it perennially is thought of in Silicon Valley as a product also-ran. Its valuation trails those of Alphabet (Google), Meta (Facebook) and even Snap (Snapchat).”

Lashinsky goes on to write, “Twitter also provides a potential launchpad for bitcoin, another of Musk’s obsessions. He takes bold stands in favor of the cryptocurrency from time to time, and Tesla both holds bitcoin on its balance sheet and at one point accepted bitcoin as a payment method. Given Twitter’s reach and the way it uses software to connect far-flung users, Musk could see it as the ultimate vehicle to realize a long-held dream of promoting a nongovernmental, global currency.”

Appearing on CNBC, Wedbush Securities’ Dan Ives said, “It’s no surprise that he wanted to do something on social media, and this is really him not just talking to the talk, but walking the walk.”

Ives added, “This is just a starter. Musk is not gonna do this just to take a passive stake. He’s gonna ultimately try to either really change Twitter in terms of a more active stake or eventually, it could lead to a buyout.”

Not long after the news broke on Monday, Musk tweeted, “Oh hi lol.”

Lester Holt’s grim opening

Here are anchor Lester Holt’s unsettling opening remarks on Monday’s “NBC Nightly News”:

“Good evening. As our regular viewers know, we often caution before a particularly disturbing or graphic piece of video runs. Tonight, let me warn you from the start — many of you will want to look away for our top story. It’s about the unspeakable trail of horror retreating Russian forces left behind in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. Bodies in the streets, evidence of summary executions, torture, mass graves filled with bodies, reports of rape. Late tonight, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying more than 300 people were killed and tortured in Bucha. Moscow claims it’s all staged, calling the images a provocation. Earlier today, President Zelenskyy toured the carnage in Bucha for himself, saying it will be recognized by the world as genocide. And so tonight, while we may want to look away, it is becoming harder and harder to close our eyes to what’s happening.”

The latest notable journalism from Ukraine-Russia

A dead civilian with his hands tied behind his back lies on the ground in Bucha close to Kyiv, Ukraine on Monday. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Biden rips Murdoch and Fox News

Fox Corp. boss Rupert Murdoch is the “most dangerous man in the world” and Fox News is “one of the most destructive forces in the United States.” That’s the opinion of President Joe Biden according to a book due out in May — “This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America’s Future” — from New York Times reporters Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin.

In an excerpt obtained by CNN, the book describes Fox News as having a “torrent of anti-Biden programming, stoking skepticism about vaccines and disseminating wild conspiracy theories about the January 6 attack.”

Biden reportedly made his comments about Murdoch to an unnamed associate in mid-2021. The White House has not commented.

Outta here

Two key tech executives helping to build Donald Trump’s Truth Social startup have quit, according to Reuters’ Helen Coster and Julia Love. Josh Adams, the chief of technology, and Billy Boozer, the head of product development, have stepped down.

Coster and Love wrote, “The departures followed the troubled launch of the company’s iPhone app on Feb. 20. Weeks later, many users remain on a waiting list, unable to access the platform. Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG) Chief Executive Devin Nunes, a former Republican congressman, said publicly that the company aimed to make the app fully operational within the United States by the end of March.”

There is an app for iPhones, but not for Android phones. One source, who was not named but is familiar with the company, said, “If Josh (Adams) has left … all bets are off.” The source added that Adams was the “brains” of Truth Social’s technology.

Joshua Tucker, director of NYU’s Center for Social Media and Politics, told the BBC’s James Clayton, “It’s been a disaster.”

An unnamed Republican ally of Trump told Clayton, “Nobody seems to know what’s going on.”

New York Times opinion writer and podcaster Kara Swisher, whose specialty is tech, tweeted, “Not a good sign and these two were not even close to top drawer techies.”

Trump started Truth Social after he was kicked off social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, in part because of his comments on and about Jan. 6.

A conflict of interest at the Salt Lake Tribune?

For this item, I turn it over to Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds.

Observers of ownership and governance at regional newspapers should check out Paul Farhi’s excellent weekend story in The Washington Post on The Salt Lake Tribune and Paul Huntsman.

Huntsman, who had been owner and, effectively, the publisher of the Tribune, did not recuse himself from shaping coverage of his brother Jon Huntsman Jr.’s run for governor. As I and others reported, then-editor Jennifer Napier-Pierce and columnist Robert Gehrke both detected Huntsman trying to put his finger on the scales.

Jon Huntsman went on to lose a close Republican primary to Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who was elected that November. Paul Huntsman seemed particularly disappointed that his paper had not more aggressively covered what he saw as shortcomings of Utah’s COVID-19 response, which Cox had directed.

Farhi reports that there is strong evidence that Paul Huntsman, who has completed a transition from owner to chairman of a board that runs the nonprofit Tribune, continues to wage a campaign against Cox. In particular, he is focused on Nomi, a private company hired to coordinate the state’s testing and vaccination programs. Huntsman took the unusual step of creating and funding Jittai, a company that hires lawyers to bring freedom of information actions in Utah and other states where Nomi operates to unearth details of those deals.

Huntsman wrote a Tribune column last fall disclosing what he hoped to accomplish with Jittai. He said that Jittai has offered its Utah findings to the Tribune but that Napier-Pierce’s successor as executive editor, Lauren Gustus, made the calls on which merited coverage. (Farhi includes the tasty nugget that Napier-Pierce has gone on to work as a spokesperson and adviser to Cox).

After talking with Gustus last fall, I tend to believe that she looks at the material and listens to Huntsman but then makes the decisions herself — and would not tolerate interference. From this distance, though, it is difficult to determine how much fire as well as smoke there is surrounding possible impropriety in Nomi’s contracts. Likewise, whether Huntsman continues to try to shape coverage indirectly or why else he has embraced Jittai’s narrowly focused line of investigation.

‘He is up there’

Pope Francis holds a photo of Pierre Zakrzewski, the Fox News cameraman killed covering the war in Ukraine. (Courtesy: Fox News)

Over the weekend while meeting with journalists on a charter flight, Pope Francis was handed a photo of Pierre Zakrzewski, the Fox News cameraman who was killed last month covering the war outside of Kyiv, Ukraine. The Pope also was handed a letter from Zakrzewski’s family.

Upon receiving it, Pope Francis said in Italian “Lui è la su,” which translated to English is, “He is up there.”

Zakrzewski and Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova, who was working as a fixer for the Fox News team, were killed while covering the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Fox News reporter Benjamin Hall was injured and is recovering at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas.

The rating game

Award shows continue to have a rough go of it on TV. Sunday night’s Grammy Awards drew 8.93 million TV viewers — just a 1.4% increase from last year’s record low of a virtual ceremony. Sunday night’s Grammys on CBS were delayed two months because of COVID-19.

A week ago, the Academy Awards show on ABC drew an average of 15.3 million viewers. That was a 56% increase from last year’s show, but last year’s show had just under 10 million viewers, making it the lowest-rated Oscars ever.

If you missed the Grammys, here are a few stories to catch you up. Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield with “Accept Reality: We Now Live in a World Where the Grammys Are Awesome.” CNN’s Sandra Gonzalez with “All the highlights.” And The Ringer’s Justin Sayles has “The Winners and Losers of the 2022 Grammy Awards.”

Calling the World Series

The next TV play-by-play voice of the World Series will be Joe Davis. New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand reports what had been rumored for a while now — that Davis would replace Joe Buck as Fox Sports’ play-by-play announcer on the Fall Classic. Buck, who has called the past 24 World Series, recently left to become the play-by-play voice on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”

Davis is used to stepping into big shoes. He took over for the legendary Vin Scully in 2017 as the TV voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Davis has been with Fox Sports since 2014, calling baseball as well as college football and basketball. Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz will continue on as Fox Sports’ lead baseball analyst.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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