Does Elon Musk Know What He’s Even Doing?

Benjamin Fanjoy/AP

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There are plenty of data points you could plot on the “Does Elon Musk Have Any Idea What Is Going On?” chart. Here’s a quick and incomplete primer featuring his most ludicrous actions since he bought Twitter and took over as CEO at the end of October: 

  • Lifting a conspiracy theory about Paul Pelosi from fake local news site and tweeting it to his 130 million-plus followers;
  • Suspending journalists for posting publicly accessible information revealing the locations of climate-careless multimillionaires and their private jets;
  • Possibly lying about agreeing to step down as the CEO if Twitter users voted for him to do so during a Twitter poll he conducted;
  • Bringing in a sink into Twitter HQ as a Le Epic bit.
  • Making the Twitter logo the “Doge dog” for a few days, amid a $258 billion class-action federal lawsuit accusing him of manipulating the cryptocurrency, also as a Le Epic bit

Now, Musk’s labeling of National Public Radio as “State-Affiliated Media” on Twitter last Tuesday might be vying for a prime placement on our chart. Typically, this label is reserved for outlets that receive substantial funding and direction from governments like Russia’s RT or China’s The People’s Daily. NPR, the nonprofit media outlet based in Washington, D.C., gets less than one percent of its annual budget from federal funding. Does that make Twitter, a company in which Saudi royalty owns a 4 percent stake, Saudi Arabian-affiliated media? NPR also receives no direction or even indirect oversight from any government, another condition in Twitter’s definition of state-affiliated media.

Musk evidently didn’t know about NPR’s funding mix until it was flagged in an email from NPR’s own tech reporter, Bobby Allyn. “Well, then we should fix it,” Musk wrote back on Wednesday. From Allyn’s own reporting on the correspondence, it appears that Musk made a sweeping and consequential decision about labeling without doing any real research. “Musk appeared to be unclear about the difference between public media and state-controlled media,” Allyn wrote.

As of this afternoon, NPR’s Twitter page is now affixed with a label that reads “Government Funded”, a change that appeared to happen while writing this post.

Which can only lead us to a simple conclusion: He has no idea what he’s doing. The CEO of Twitter is turning in inept, intern-level homework for extremely high-profile decisions.

To be clear, I’m not trying to absolve Musk by making excuses for him. Musk isn’t completely clueless (he knows how to use Google), and if he is, it’s not because he’s dumb; it’s probably because he doesn’t want to understand. Why would he? He has $187 billion. In the U.S., with that much money, unless you do something really bad (felony bad), there are no consequences. And even then…

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We'll also be quite transparent and level-headed with you about this.

In "News Never Pays," our fearless CEO, Monika Bauerlein, connects the dots on several concerning media trends that, taken together, expose the fallacy behind the tragic state of journalism right now: That the marketplace will take care of providing the free and independent press citizens in a democracy need, and the Next New Thing to invest millions in will fix the problem. Bottom line: Journalism that serves the people needs the support of the people. That's the Next New Thing.

And it's what MoJo and our community of readers have been doing for 47 years now.

But staying afloat is harder than ever.

In "This Is Not a Crisis. It's The New Normal," we explain, as matter-of-factly as we can, what exactly our finances look like, why this moment is particularly urgent, and how we can best communicate that without screaming OMG PLEASE HELP over and over. We also touch on our history and how our nonprofit model makes Mother Jones different than most of the news out there: Letting us go deep, focus on underreported beats, and bring unique perspectives to the day's news.

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