Musk responds to advertiser boycott of X platform after support of anti-Semitic remarks
[Editor’s Note: This post contains some offensive language. Reader discretion is advised.]
Proving he is nowhere near fit to run a business, X/Twitter Chairman Elon Musk unleashed the fury Wednesday at the New York Times DealBook summit, calling out advertisers who paused on his platform due to racist content and cutting a promo as if he were some kind of a professional wrestler.
The conversation aired on CNBC as the network’s Andrew Ross Sorkin interviewed the brash billionaire, who also owns brands Tesla and SpaceX. Musk slammed advertisers for stampeding toward the exits from X after his support of anti-Semitic beliefs and complaints from marketers as their ads showed up next to white supremacist and Neo-Nazi content. Among those who paused advertising include IBM and Chicago-based Mondelez and media companies Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery, The Washington Post, and Lionsgate/Debmar-Mercury, among others.
Musk said he didn’t intend on any antisemitism, but when Sorkin asked about the advertiser defection, Musk went off: (you can click here to see the video)
Sorkin: There was all of the criticism…there [were] advertisers leaving…we talked to Bob Iger –
Musk: I hope they stop. Don’t advertise.
Sorkin: You don’t want them to advertise?
Sorkin: What do you mean?
Musk: If someone is gonna try to blackmail me with advertising, blackmail me with money? Go fuck yourself.
Musk: Go fuck yourself. Is that clear? I hope it is. Hey Bob [Iger], if you’re in the audience.
(Sorkin interviewed Musk at the same conference earlier in the day.)
The conversation stunned the audience into silence, after Musk dropped his first F bomb. And this happened right as X CEO Linda Yaccarino – who came to the former Twitter in hopes of boosting its reputation among advertisers – was sitting off-stage.
The F bombs did go out live on the air, but since CNBC is a cable network, it is not regulated by the FCC for “fleeting expletives”, a term commonly used twenty years ago after “Nipplegate” as anti-indecency campaigns were waged by the agency during the eras of Commissioners Michael Powell and Kevin Martin (and we knew all along it was NEVER about Janet Jackson’s nipple but the opportunity to destroy a Black woman’s career since the same people who complained about “fleeting expletives” and indecency back then are now embracing it.)
“What this advertising boycott is going to do is, it is going to kill the company,” Musk additionally said. “And the whole world will know that those advertisers killed the company.”
Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion in April 2022 to see the platform’s value plummet to $19 billion after he took over and made questionable decisions such as renaming it X; rolling out a Premium tier; imposing rate limits; returning banned accounts including those belonging to Neo-Nazis and racists; a proposal on eliminating the block feature; throttling journalists and shadow banning users who dare criticize him, including myself as I explained here. As a result, many users left the platform – including advertisers who are now unlikely to ever return.
This is not the first time a CEO has used questionable language at a public function – some fifteen years ago, then-Tribune CEO Sam Zell dropped an F bomb toward a reporter at a meeting. Zell, who died this year, bought Tribune Co. in 2007 only to see it file for bankruptcy a year later. This site has often compared Zell’s disastrous purchase of the Tribune to Musk’s buying Twitter.
Given he’s from South Africa (television broadcasts did not begin in the country until 1976), I’m not sure if Musk has an understanding of how advertising and sponsorships work, but it’s been common since radio’s beginning in the 1920s and television since the 1940s and historically, marketers have been skittish on sponsoring and associating with questionable content.
For example, in the 1960s, several advertisers dropped out of a controversially violent episode of ABC’s Bus Stop, which attracted attention from Capitol Hill. In the 1970s, advertisers dropped out of episodes of Maude (abortion) and Marcus Welby M.D. (homosexuality) due to controversial subject matter. In 1988 and 1989, the rise of tabloid and “trash TV” led numerous shows to get hit-listed by advertisers, including Geraldo, A Current Affair, and The Morton Downey Jr. Show, whose lack of sponsors due to his nutso antics (especially his “attack” by “skinheads” at a San Francisco airport) led to its demise.
Also in 1989, NBC lost $1 million worth of advertising due to pressure from right-wing groups from the TV Movie Roe vs. Wade as the title is pretty much self-explanatory. The 1990s saw advertiser resistance toward NYPD Blue and Jerry Springer, the latter due to numerous fist fights and raunchy content.
Marketers have a right to spend money and place messages in environments they feel comfortable in. I’m not sure where the hell Musk is getting this “advertisers blackmailing him” nonsense from, but that’s not how the business works (there’s never been a case about a lack of advertising “killing” a company – just a handful of really, really awful TV shows like Downey, who Musk is obviously channeling.) If he is this clueless, then you wonder how in the hell he ever amassed his wealth.
[Editor’s Note: An earlier draft incorrectly stated how much Elon Musk paid for Twitter.]