Billionaire SpaceX founder Elon Musk claimed on Twitter that “political attacks” will be coming for him after he was contacted for comment regarding a story that SpaceX paid a settlement to a flight attendant when she reported that Musk exposed himself to her. Fox News quickly adopted Musk's framing, using it to deflect from the story published by Business Insider.
On May 18, Musk wrote on Twitter, “Political attacks on me will escalate dramatically in coming months.” He also claimed that “in the past I voted Democrat,” but will now support Republicans, and added: “Now, watch their dirty tricks campaign against me unfold.”
The following day, it became clear what Musk was preparing his fans for: Business Insider published an article which reported that SpaceX paid a flight attendant $250,000 to settle a sexual misconduct report she made against Musk in 2018. The details, which come from a declaration signed by a friend of the flight attendant and other records provided to Insider, are that the flight attendant told her friend that in 2016 Musk requested a massage aboard his private jet, and during that massage, Musk “exposed his genitals,” touched her without consent, and “offered to buy her a horse” if she would agree to a sex act. She declined.
Musk all but confirmed that he was referring to the Insider story when, after it was published, he wrote on Twitter: “The attacks against me should be viewed through a political lens – this is their standard (despicable) playbook.” Insider editor John Cook explained on Twitter that the publication had reached out to Musk for comment approximately three hours before Musk’s first tweet warning about “political attacks” on him. NBC reporter Ben Collins made this timing clear in a side-by-side comparison:
Fox News was quick to adopt Musk’s baseless defense that any negative news coming out about him is politicized, even prior to the publication of the Business Insider story on his company’s sexual misconduct settlement on his behalf -- and as the story spread, the network continued to deflect attention from these accusations:
- On the May 18 edition of Jesse Watters Primetime, Fox host Jesse Watters claimed Musk is “under attack” because “he wants to buy Twitter and give it a much-needed cleansing by fire.” He also endorsed Musk’s claim that political “dirty tricks” will be used against him, claiming that a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into disclosures about his Twitter stock purchase, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation into a fatal Tesla crash, and Tesla’s removal from a socially responsible S&P 500 stock index are all proof of this.
- On the May 19 edition of Your World, Fox Business host Charles Payne — who was temporarily suspended by the network in 2017 amid an investigation into sexual harassment reports stemming from an affair he had with a co-worker — said of Tesla’s removal from the stock index: “Here’s what’s happening: I’m telling you, it’s the establishment elite. They’re going after him.”
- While discussing Musk's tweets on the May 19 edition of The Five, Fox anchor Dana Perino said, “You would think that Democrats and liberals and greenies” would love Tesla, “but instead they cut him out” of the stock index.
- On the May 19 edition of Jesse Watters Primetime, Watters endorsed Musk’s defense, saying: “Here it comes. The left-wing smear campaign Elon Musk predicted. Business Insider just posted a story claiming Musk is a sexual predator who exposed himself to a flight attendant back in 2018.” Watters added: “Now, we don't know if any of this is true or not, but this is what we saw coming with all of these investigations. Racial smear campaign and now this.”
- On the May 20 edition of Fox & Friends, the show displayed Musk’s tweet in which he wrote that “the attacks against me should be viewed through a political lens.” Co-host Ainsley Earhardt said that “Musk predicted these political attacks against him,” and as the hosts mentioned the Insider article, the on-screen graphic stated: “Elon Musk denies sexual harassment claim” and “Musk: Harassment claim is political hit piece.”
- On the May 20 edition of Outnumbered, panelists agreed that the timing of the story was suspicious and suggested it was politically motivated like Musk claimed. Former NBC Sports commentator Michele Tafoya said, “From what we know, this woman alleges this happened in 2016. So the timing is kind of concerning here. It’s like, why now, all of a sudden.” Fox contributor Kayleigh McEnany agreed, saying, “The timing is really interesting,” citing one of Musk’s tweets, and adding: “And boom. Now we get this.” Co-host Emily Compagno said: “It’s so obvious, it sort of makes you wonder. It just — it makes you question the strategy because it is so obvious,” before reading Musk’s statement in the story. Fox News Radio’s Jimmy Failla also questioned the timing of the story.