April 18, 2022

Last week, the world’s richest man, Elon Musk, announced an offer to buy Twitter for $54.20 a share. That’s like a gazillion dollars and he has the money to do it. (OK, technically, it’s like $42 billion and he is good for that, too.) He already owns about 9% of Twitter’s shares, making him the company’s largest shareholder.

Is Musk truly interested in acquiring and, in his mind, improving the social media giant? Or is he simply bored and just trolling all of us?

As The Verge’s Andrew J. Hawkins wrote, “So strap in — it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

Hawkins has a good up-to-date piece of how we got here with Musk and Twitter and where it might go from here, as does The Wall Street Journal’s Meghan Bobrowsky. The latest is Twitter is fighting Musk’s takeover bid with a “poison pill” — which gives certain shareholders the right to purchase more stock if Musk or another buyer attempts to seize control.

While there’s no question that Twitter has its issues and needs improvement, is Musk the person we want in charge of such changes? The Washington Post’s editorial board wrote, “Let’s hope he doesn’t succeed.” Post columnist Max Boot was even stronger. The headline on his column: “Elon Musk is the last person who should take over Twitter.”

The Post isn’t alone in that thinking. The chief concern of most is Musk’s vision of returning Twitter to a town square that, first and foremost, protects free speech. In a TED Talk last week, Musk summed up his attitude by saying, “If it’s a gray area, let the tweet exist.”

While a phrase such as “free speech” is noble in theory, we’ve seen how that has been abused on social media platforms. The Post’s editorial board wrote, “This vision is more or less the same one now-departed CEO Jack Dorsey championed throughout his tenure, and especially in the platform’s early days. But like its industry peers, Twitter has moved over time toward stricter rules. That isn’t because executives have changed their views, but rather because they have learned some lessons after observing how their products can be abused to manipulate elections, or spread health misinformation, or harass people en masse.”

The board added, “Certainly, moderators sometimes make mistakes, and more transparency surrounding enforcement decisions is in order. But a broader backtracking would be an error. To protect speech at all costs and keep Twitter free of bots and spam, as Mr. Musk has said he would like to do, is almost impossible.”

Another piece in the Post from Joseph Menn, Cat Zakrzewski and Craig Timberg talked to experts who worry about the impact of Twitter being owned by one individual. Some argue that one person being in charge is incompatible with democracy.

Shoshana Zuboff, a retired Harvard Business School professor and author of “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” told the Post, “There are simply no checks and balances from any internal or external force.” Zuboff added that it would leave Musk, like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, with an amount of assembled data about people and the ability to use it to manipulate them “that cannot be compared to anything that has ever existed, and allows intervention into the integrity of individual behavior and also the integrity of collective behavior.”

The politics of Musk

Here’s a quote that has a few folks quite nervous. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson said, “Elon Musk seems to be our last hope.” In other words, if Carlson is on board with it, what does that say?

Carlson’s take appears to be based on Musk’s attitude to cut back on censoring and monitoring Twitter. Conservatives who have complained about being muted by social media must be thrilled at the prospect of Musk taking over Twitter. Heck, who’s to say Musk won’t lift Donald Trump’s lifetime Twitter ban?

But what exactly are Musk’s politics?

The New York Times’ Jeremy W. Peters tried to answer that question in his weekend piece: “The Elusive Politics of Elon Musk.”

The answer is there really is no answer. As Peters writes, “That’s because Mr. Musk, 50, who was born in South Africa and only became an American citizen in 2002, expresses views that don’t fit neatly into this country’s binary, left-right political framework.”

Peters goes on to write, “He is frequently described as libertarian, though that label fails to capture how paradoxical and random his politics can be. He has no shortage of opinions on the most pertinent and divisive issues of the day, from COVID-19 lockdowns (‘fascist,’ he called them) to immigration restrictions (‘Very much disagree,’ he has said.)”

Like many rich people, Musk’s beliefs often are aligned with what is in the best interests of his businesses. He very often preaches one thing, but practices another. For example, Peters writes, “He is an avowed enthusiast for the First Amendment. But he has tried to force a journalist to testify in a defamation lawsuit against him, and he has often had outsize reactions to criticism.” And in the past, Musk has donated to Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but also Republican leader Kevin McCarthy.

He has donated to Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, and California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. And it should be noted that Musk’s Tesla company has manufacturing operations in Texas and California.

Musk’s politics appear to be all over the place. But check out Peters’ story for greater detail.

The power of photos

David Hume Kennerly, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his images of the Vietnam War and was the chief White House photographer for President Gerald Ford, has a haunting guest essay in The New York Times: “Photographing Hell.” (Warning: some of the images are graphic and unsettling.)

While looking at disturbing photos from Bucha, Ukraine, Kennerly was reminded of what he saw when he was on assignment for Time magazine and one of the first ones on the scene at Jonestown in 1978. It was there in the jungle of Guyana where more than 900 were found dead in a mass murder-suicide orchestrated by cult leader Jim Jones.

Kennerly, writing about the visuals that have come out of Ukraine, wrote, “The images of these atrocities were taken by trusted photojournalists. They are the truth, and a record of the mendacity and brutality of the Russian military. As accusations of war crimes mount, these photos are the documentation the world needs to finally understand what is really happening in Ukraine.”

Kennerly wrote that Russian President Vladimir Putin understands the power of photography and that is likely why Associated Press photographer Evgeniy Maloletka and video journalist Mstyslav Chernov were hunted by Russian forces and had to be rescued out of Ukraine.

Kennerly wrote, “In the face of ceaseless conflicts, it can sometimes seem as if audiences have become inured to reports or images of suffering. But in my experience, some photographs will always have the power to make us confront horror. As the journalist Nicholas Kristof once told me, ‘Photos move people the way prose never does.’ Evocative images can affect policy, spur action, and every now and then alter the course of history.”

Notable journalism regarding Russia-Ukraine

A man walks into his burning building after a Russian bombardment in Kharkiv, Ukraine on Sunday. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Did Jen Psaki cross the line?

White House press secretary Jen Psaki. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

One of the bigger media kerfuffles last week came when White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked a question about Fox News reporter Peter Doocy on the podcast “Pod Save America.” The interview was being recorded in front of a live audience at a theater in Washington.

Now, some quick background: Psaki and Doocy have regular clashes during White House press conferences and President Joe Biden was once caught calling Doocy under his breath a “stupid son of a bitch.”

“Pod Save America” co-host Dan Pfeiffer asked Psaki about Doocy, saying, “Is he a stupid son of a bitch or does he play a stupid son of a bitch on TV?”

Psaki answered, “He works for a network that provides people with questions that, nothing personal to any individual, including Peter Doocy, but might make anyone sound like a stupid son of a bitch.”

Psaki did praise Doocy for not clapping back at Biden following Biden’s remarks. Biden apologized to Doocy, who took the high road when asked about it at the time by Fox News’ Sean Hannity. In the “Pod Save America” podcast, Psaki said, “You don’t have to like everything Peter Doocy says or does, but that is certainly a moment of grace by Peter Doocy.”

Fox News defended Doocy in a comment to The Washington Post, saying, “In his role as White House correspondent, Peter Doocy’s job is to elicit truth from power for the American public. His questions are his own, he is a terrific reporter and we are extremely proud of his work.”

On Friday, after it became a story, Psaki tweeted, “Full video shows I also told a story about Peter’s grace last night and made very clear I was not being critical of him or any reporter at Fox, and instead was critical of the slant of some Fox topics. He is doing his job. I am doing mine. We debate. We disagree. I respect that.”

My take: It’s certainly no secret that Fox News and the Biden administration have an adversarial relationship. Pfeiffer and Psaki are long-time friends and it appeared that Psaki was lulled into a light-hearted and jokey conversation. But it’s a bad look for the White House press secretary to call anyone a “son of a bitch,” especially after we spent the entire four years of the Trump presidency calling out the former president for his language and personal attacks.

Look, this isn’t a major scandal. Doocy has a thick skin and is fine. And, again, it should come as no shock that the White House isn’t wild about Fox News. Let’s not overblow this.

But Psaki should know better and it was an unsightly moment for her. Plus, it gives Fox News-types and other conservatives ammunition to make a much bigger deal out of it than it really was.

Psaki isn’t expected to stay White House press secretary much longer. Reports are she will depart soon to take a job with MSNBC — another reason some conservatives want her out of the White House sooner rather than later.

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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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