Two shows that air on tax-funded PBS, the NewsHour and Amanpour & Co. (which also airs on CNN) invited journalist and Amanpour regular co-host Walter Isaacson to discuss his new biography of entrepreneur Elon Musk, who now owns X (formerly Twitter).
This was not the usual journalist-to-journalist validation, with the reliably liberal Isaacson getting testy over some of the questions and feeling the need to defend his treatment of Musk, a figure loathed among journalists and the left -- or is that redundant? Over the two interviews, Musk was accused of racism, sexism, and even supporting Vladimir Putin.
On NewsHour, host Amna Nawaz unloaded on Musk:
Elon Musk is one of the most famous people on the planet, for the tech companies he's founded and acquired, and he's one of the wealthiest. But Musk is also among the most controversial public figures because of his behavior, including the spread of misinformation, racist and sexist remarks, and his political ideas….
After a squabble over Isaacson’s reporting about the details of Musk refusing to let Ukraine use his Starlink satellites to guide their submarine drones to attack Russian forces, Nawaz hurled a pro-Putin accusation at Musk.
Nawaz: And I’m sure you have seen in Ronan Farrow's recent reporting he includes some things that suggest that Musk has shown support for Vladimir Putin, that he’s tweeted things, like a proposed peace plan that would mean redrawing boundaries in -- really in Russia's favor. I wonder if you ever heard anything or saw anything from Elon Musk that said he supports Vladimir Putin and Russia's war in Ukraine?
Isaacson pushed back strongly, noting that without Musk’s Starlink “you would have seen an extremely successful Russian invasion,” with all other communication satellites were “knocked out by the Russians,” leaving only Musk’s Starlink: “And so what he does is, he rushes to the aid of the Ukrainians. He sends hundreds and then thousands of Starlinks over to Ukraine. Otherwise, they would have been crushed in the first week of that bad, horrible Russian invasion.”
Both journalists found Musk’s support for Republicans concerning:
Nawaz: ….He says he's now supporting Republicans. Do you think that he wants to influence the next presidential election [via Twitter]?
Isaacson: Well, I think he's very mercurial. I mean just this week, he’s with Chuck Schumer and Chris Coons and other Democrats. And there are times he’d be talking during the day, and he’d be telling me: I really am for centrist candidates. I want to bring people together. I was supported by and I supported Obama. And then there are times he’s mercurial. He will get dark, and he will be upset about certain things, and he will send out tweets that are more pro-Republican. I think that's one of the problems, especially when he goes on social media, is that he is mercurial….
Isaacson discussed Musk being bullied as a child and how it may have shaped him. Nawaz was merciless.
Nawaz: Walter, a lot of folks have traumatic childhoods, right? And they don't always turn into people who are abusive towards their staff, or, as he has done, tweeted racist, or sexist, or offensive things. He has a very huge platform. He's a very powerful man and a very, very wealthy man. And I wonder if you think he's also a potentially dangerous man because of those combinations.
Isaacson actually pushed back a bit: Well, I won't agree with all of the characterizations you put on some of the tweets….
Isaacson also appeared with Christiane Amanpour on Thursday. Amanpour called Musk “a villain to some and a genius to others,” and brought up criticism from lefties who found Isaacson’s book had insufficient” pushback” and didn’t “make judgments” against Musk.
Isaacson pled journalistic objectivity (Click "Expand" to read):
Well, I'll plead guilty, which is I'm a storyteller. I’m there reporting it, I’m giving you facts, I'm giving you a narrative, I think I’m giving you a pretty rollicking tale too. But I think every anecdote in that book is revelatory. Everything tells you something about how Musk works, good and for bad.
And I will cop a plea that I tried to tell the stories and let the reader come to some of the deep judgments, because I think, when I grew up, they used to say there are two types of people, preachers and storytellers. I think the world’s got a few too many preachers these days and maybe just telling the story, honestly straight, sometimes you’ll be appalled by the stories, sometimes you’ll be amazed by it, but you get to watch that trajectory, with me telling you the story as I saw it as objectively as possible.