November 1, 2022

The big fear when Elon Musk took over Twitter was that the social media platform would turn into the Wild West, with disinformation running roughshod over the truth and all that’s right. Could Musk control it? Would he want to control it?

Well, our fears are not easily being put to rest. Musk hadn’t even owned the company for 72 hours before he had to take something down that linked to misinformation. And it’s at this point that we should note that the retweet was his retweet.

Over the weekend, Hillary Clinton tweeted a Los Angeles Times story about the attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Clinton wrote, “The Republican Party and its mouthpieces now regularly spread hate and deranged conspiracy theories. It is shocking, but not surprising, that violence is the result. As citizens, we must hold them accountable for their words and the actions that follow.”

Musk responded to Clinton’s tweet by tweeting that “there is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story.” Musk then linked to an opinion story from a site with serious credibility issues that, without proof, made accusations about Paul Pelosi and what was behind the attack. That rumor — again unproven and since debunked by the FBI — has been circulating among some conservatives and Musk’s little stunt managed to lend credence to it.

Yael Eisenstat, a vice president of the Anti Defamation League and former Facebook executive, was among those who blasted Musk, tweeting, “When the world’s richest man/owner of this very site himself traffics in conspiracy theories days after claiming to advertisers that he’s going to be a responsible leader, all I can say is: I’m not overreacting by expressing my concerns. Actions always speak louder than words.”

After much backlash, Musk eventually deleted his tweet even though it might not have, technically, broken any of Twitter’s current content rules. And it isn’t even clear why Musk took down the tweet.

But the backlash continued. Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel tweeted to Musk, “it has been interesting, over the years, to watch you blossom from the electric car guy into a fully-formed piece of (expletive).”

That might have been a funny dig, but the ramifications here could be far more damaging than getting poked by a late-night comedian. The Washington Post’s Elizabeth Dwoskin and Faiz Siddiqui wrote, “… it highlights the conflict Musk faces as he takes over a social media platform whose moderation policies he’s consistently criticized as too strict while also pledging that he won’t allow it to become a free-for-all that advertisers might not want to associate with. Already, Musk has had to acknowledge that suspended accounts like former president Donald Trump’s won’t be reinstated until a so-far-undefined ‘moderation council’ has convened to determine policy.”

They added, “(Musk’s) willingness to spout misinformation — or to boost it by using the tactic of ‘just raising questions’ — could create major conflicts for him and for Twitter now that he owns the company.”

About that fake Pelosi story …

The Los Angeles Times’ Samantha Masunaga wrote about The Santa Monica Observer — the outlet behind the false story that Paul Pelosi knew the person who attacked him and was drunk and with a male prostitute at the time.

A year ago, The L.A. Times had an editorial that wrote that the Observer “claimed that Hillary Clinton had died and that a body double had been sent to debate Donald Trump. Months later it reported, incorrectly, that Trump had appointed Kanye West to a high-level position in the Interior Department. Last year, it reported falsely that sunlight could be a remedy for COVID-19 sufferers and that Bill Gates, a major funder of vaccine research, had been responsible for a polio epidemic.”

Masunaga writes, “With an official-sounding name and a professional-looking website, the Observer is one of a number of outlets masking themselves as legitimate news sources. The phenomenon has been growing and indicates how bad actors are increasingly trying to fool the public into seeing them as purveyors of accurate information.”

It doesn’t help when one of the most powerful men — with nearly 113 million Twitter followers — lends a hand to those bad actors.

More on Musk and Twitter and Pelosi

A police car is parked outside the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband Paul Pelosi in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

If you haven’t read Nilay Patel’s piece for The Verge — “Welcome to hell, Elon” — I strongly recommend you do so immediately. It might be the smartest opinion I’ve read about the whole Musk takeover of Twitter. It’s full of good lines and strong points, so I encourage you to read it for yourself.

But it includes this gem: “I say this with utter confidence because the problems with Twitter are not engineering problems. They are political problems. Twitter, the company, makes very little interesting technology; the tech stack is not the valuable asset. The asset is the user base: hopelessly addicted politicians, reporters, celebrities, and other people who should know better but keep posting anyway. You! You, Elon Musk, are addicted to Twitter. You’re the asset. You just bought yourself for $44 billion dollars.”

It then explains, in cutting detail, why Musk might have just made a $44 billion mistake.

Meanwhile, back to the Pelosi story. The Washington Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker has “Elon Musk, right-wing figures push misinformation about Pelosi attack.” Stanley-Becker writes, “The rush to sow doubt about the assault on Pelosi’s husband illustrates how aggressively influential figures on the right are seeking to dissuade the public from believing facts about the violence, seizing on the event to promote conspiracy theories and provoke distrust. The House speaker has long been a bugbear for the right, which has intensified its rhetorical blitz on her in recent years — even as extreme threats against members of Congress have increased.”

The personal attacks in ads and commentary against Pelosi have now led to an actual attack in her home. David DePape was charged with one count of “attempted kidnapping of a US official,” according to the US attorney’s office for the Northern District of California. DePape, according to an FBI affidavit, was planning to hold Nancy Pelsoi hostage. He appears to have a history of believing in conspiracy theories, including false claims about the 2020 election and Jan. 6 insurrection.

The New York Times’ Annie Karni, Catie Edmondson and Carl Hulse write that Pelosi has long been on the receiving end of criticism from the right, including personal verbal attacks and calling her things such as “Crazy Nancy” and “Crazyface Pelosi” and “Darth Nancy.”

In 2021, Republican and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy said he wanted to someday become the House speaker and have Pelosi hand him the speaker’s gavel. He then said it would be hard to not hit Pelosi over the head with it — which is even in more poor taste considering the events at her home over the weekend.

The Times wrote, “For the better part of two decades, Republicans have targeted Ms. Pelosi, the most powerful woman in American politics, as the most sinister Democratic villain of all, making her the evil star of their advertisements and fund-raising appeals in hopes of animating their core supporters. The language and images have helped to fuel the flames of anger at Ms. Pelosi on the right, fanned increasingly in recent years by a toxic stew of conspiracy theories and misinformation that has thrived on the internet and social media, with little pushback from elected Republicans. Ms. Pelosi is now one of the most threatened members of Congress in the country.”

And over the weekend, California Gov. Gavin Newsom partly blamed Fox News for the attack at the Pelosi home. Newsom told CBS News’ Major Garrett, “I’ve seen the dehumanization of Nancy Pelosi. I don’t think anyone’s been dehumanized like she has consistently. Now I watched this one guy, Jesse Watters or something on Fox News. What he’s been saying about Paul Pelosi the last five, six months, mocking him consistently. Don’t tell me that’s not aiding and abetting all this. Of course it is. They’re sowing the seeds, creating a culture and a climate like this. I mean, look online. Look at the sewage that is online that they amplify on these networks and in social media to dehumanize people like Nancy Pelosi and other political leaders.”

Some people still don’t get it …

Check out this video, thanks to Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher, of CBS “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan embarrassing Republican Congressman Tom Emmer over a tweet he posted about Nancy Pelosi. One of Brennan’s finer moments.

Check that

Speaking of Musk and Twitter, the Twitter topic du jour on Monday was that Twitter might start charging verified account users 20 bucks a month for a subscription service. If verified users don’t pay, they could lose their blue check mark.

CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan and Jennifer Korn wrote, “It’s possible the plan and pricing could change, as Twitter’s new billionaire owner Elon Musk works to put his stamp on one of the world’s most important social media platforms. It’s also unclear if some verified users may be exempt from paying the fee; many international organizations and charities, for example, are verified on Twitter.”

This isn’t just about users being able to say they have a cool blue check mark next to their names. As O’Sullivan and Korn wrote, “While the blue check mark has emerged as a status symbol for users, it’s also designed to ensure users can determine which accounts are authentic and which are not, particularly for celebrities, brands and other influential accounts. If Musk were to create a paid barrier for verification, it could make it harder to distinguish whether a notable name is a bot or not.”

Here’s a reasonable take from Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz.

A new morning

CNN’s Don Lemon. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

“CNN This Morning” — CNN’s new revamped morning show hosted by Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins — will debut this morning.

CNN boss Chris Licht tells Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo, “My first expectation is relevance. If the show is culturally relevant, and we have the platform on a global scale to be culturally relevant, that’s the first win. … I do care about the ratings, but the ratings are a reflection of the audience catching on, which they will. When I say we don’t care about the ratings, I mean that I don’t want (a producer) to decide what he’s leading with because he thinks it’s gonna pop a number, you know what I’m saying?”

Licht told Pompeo that the show will be “unique” and will fill a void “that’s not being met by other very good morning shows.” He added, “I like our chances.”

Licht has morning show experience, working at both MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and what was then called “CBS This Morning.”

The Los Angeles Times’ Stephen Battaglio has more with “Can a new morning show with Don Lemon help turn around CNN’s fortunes?”

Media tidbits

Hot type

For The Texas Tribune and ProPublica, it’s Jeremy Schwartz and Jessica Priest with “Churches are breaking the law and endorsing in elections, experts say. The IRS looks the other way.”

Steve Kornacki, who runs the big political map for NBC News and MSNBC, has a seven-part podcast called “The Revolution with Steve Kornacki.” It looks back at the 1994 midterm elections when the GOP took the House majority for the first time in four decades.

For The Atlantic, David Brooks writes about U2’s frontman, Bono, in “The Too-Muchness of Bono.”

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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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