A billionaire threatening a media organization with a “thermonuclear lawsuit” for accurate reporting is bad enough. A state attorney general trying to get attention by piggybacking on that threat is even worse. But in 2023, that’s the kind of news we get.
The billionaire, of course, is Elon Musk, who is incensed that Media Matters for America showed that his social media platform is running ads for major companies alongside pro-Nazi content. He thinks that this is legally actionable fraud somehow. And the state attorney general/Musk suck-up in question in Missouri’s Andrew Bailey, after white supremacist former White House staffer Stephen Miller lit up the bat signal for a right-wing attorney general ready to take this on.
Check out the layers of extremist echo chamber happening here: Following Musk’s “thermonuclear lawsuit” threat, white supremacist and conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec tweeted that the Media Matters report “isn’t journalism, this is a hoax.” Miller responded, “Fraud is both a civil and criminal violation. There are 2 dozen+ conservative state Attorneys General.” Musk’s ears perked up at that, replying, “Interesting. Both civil and criminal … “ And then along came Bailey with “My team is looking into this matter.”
Because, of course, the state attorney general of Missouri is the right guy to pursue an organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., for its investigation into a social media platform headquartered in California. Anything to suck up to the likes of Musk and Miller and elevate your far-right profile, I guess. Bailey is making the most of his moment in the spotlight:
Uh huh. Sure.
Musk’s argument is basically that the Media Matters report on advertising alongside pro-Nazi content is “fraudulent” because 1) Media Matters intentionally went looking to see if that was happening, and 2) he claims it wasn’t happening very often. The thing is, 1) yes, Media Matters did like media organizations and watchdogs do and investigated something, then publicized its findings; and 2) however often it was or was not happening, Media Matters got screenshots of IBM and Apple ads next to a tweet claiming that a photo of Nazis is an accurate representation of a “spiritual awakening.”
As it turns out, Apple and IBM do not want to be seen advertising alongside Nazi stuff. Which is their right. According to Musk, though, this is a free speech issue. Not Media Matters’ right to report on what they found, but his platform’s right to profit from ads placed near Nazi content, even if the companies in question did not want their ads used that way.
Media Matters’ report wasn’t the only reason companies started pulling advertising last week, though. Last Wednesday, Musk responded approvingly to a tweet blaming "Jewish communities" for pushing "dialectical hatred against whites,” tweeting, “You have said the actual truth.” That’s the kind of thing that companies sometimes don’t want to associate themselves with.
Over the weekend, Angelo Carusone, the president of Media Matters, responded to the threats:
Far from the free speech advocate he claims to be, Musk is a bully who threatens meritless lawsuits in an attempt to silence reporting that he even confirmed is accurate. Musk admitted the ads at issue ran alongside the pro-Nazi content we identified. If he does sue us, we will win.
Musk bought Twitter to turn it into a right-wing social media platform revolving around the bright shining sun of his ego. Even he realizes that despite the right-wing part succeeding, and his ego being constantly massaged by the Nazi-adjacent accounts he’s supporting on the site, things aren’t going particularly well. Right-wing pledges to replace lost advertising aren’t going to stem the financial hemorrhaging. But of course, none of the problems could possibly be Musk’s fault. If you’re a billionaire, anything that goes wrong must be someone else’s fault.
Fingers crossed that that “thermonuclear lawsuit” materializes and we get more high-quality courtroom entertainment out of it.