There are already troubling signs that major media outlets are buckling to pressure from Twitter’s new CEO Elon Musk, with some reportedly controlling staff’s coverage of Musk as they and others spend millions in combined Twitter advertising.
On Thursday night, Musk, the self-proclaimed free speech champion, suspended the accounts of numerous mainstream journalists who have covered him, including reporters from The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, The Intercept, Mashable, and Voice of America, as well as a set of independent journalists. Right-wing commentators have responded so far by ridiculing the journalists and applauding Musk.
In a very concerning development, Semafor reported Friday that earlier this month, NBC News had already temporarily suspended tech reporter Ben Collins from appearing on air to cover Musk, saying that his criticism — which included a mocking tweet he’d posted in early December — was not appropriate. Media Matters reviewed our internal database of weekday cable news guests, and conducted a search of MSNBC transcripts on the Nexis and SnapStream databases, and found Collins has not been on-air since December 2. (Collins tweeted a somewhat cryptic message on Friday, soon after these claims were first reported, containing simply a heart symbol.)
And while many advertisers have fled the site during Musk’s chaotic tenure — in which he has promoted bigotry and misinformation, reinstated accounts of white nationalists and conspiracy theorists, and worsened the platform’s anti-LGBTQ hatred — numerous media outlets are still paying to run their ads on Twitter. The following media companies, including some with now-suspended journalists, are actively advertising on Twitter, collectively spending over $6.5 million in advertising between October 28 (when Musk officially took over the company) and December 15, according to Pathmatics:
- The Wall Street Journal: Over $2.5 million.
- The Washington Post Co.: nearly $2.5 million.
- NBC Universal Television: nearly $190,000.
- CBS: over $1.2 million.
- CBS Interactive: over $50,000.
- Mashable: over $64,000.
- NBC Sports Group: over $17,000.
Other media outlets that are still actively spending on Twitter advertising and have each spent between $5,000 and $2.5 million since October 28 include the Athletic Media Company; Bloomberg L.P.; Condé Nast; The Economist Group; Colorado Springs Gazette LLC; Dow Jones & Company, Inc.; Refinery29; Complex Media Inc. (Verizon Hearst Media Partners); Time USA LLC; The E.W. Scripps Co.; Forbes Media LLC; Thomson Reuters; BBC Worldwide Ltd.; Insider Inc.; The Hollywood Reporter; Vice Media; CNBC; ABC Entertainment Group (abc.com); Interactive One LLC (Radio One); POLITICO LLC; and Upworthy (Cloud Tiger Media).
In response to Musk’s latest round of Twitter suspensions, MSNBC hosted a panel discussion covering a range of important points. They noted that Musk’s claimed justification that a suspended Twitter account had tracked the movements of his private plane didn’t add up, because the account was merely using publicly available information and that the reporters in question had not shared that information themselves, only covering the story of the account’s suspension.
Panelists also mentioned that the social network site is now “operating under the whims of a very capricious leader” and while Musk has the legal right to ban anyone from the site he now owns, his apparently “irrational or whimsical” behavior could drive users to migrate to other sites.
But it seems notable that Collins was not part of this panel, given his technology beat. (Collins has also been tweeting news about Musk’s targeted suspensions of journalists.)
In another troubling sign, Semafor reported that The New York Times has privately “asked staff not to fight with Musk on Twitter.” Separately, the Times reported Friday that Musk’s banning campaign against journalists “could raise the regulatory heat on Twitter, and possibly Mr. Musk’s other companies,” on issues ranging from United States government contracts to potential fines in the European Union.