War of the BS Artists: Elon Musk vs. Ben Smith
Who are you more inclined to trust: Elon Musk, who has repeatedly made statements of questionable honesty and accuracy, or Semafor, a publication co-founded by an editor responsible for two major journalism disgraces and partially funded by Sam Bankman-Fried, former CEO of the bankrupt crypto exchange FTX?
Regretfully, this isn’t a hypothetical question.
In what would be a major exclusive if true, Semafor reported before Thanksgiving that Bankman-Fried owned a material interest in Twitter, based on an FTX balance sheet circulated to investors after Musk completed his takeover of the social media site on October 28. Musk confirmed that Twitter shareholders were given an opportunity to roll their holdings into a private company, but insisted Bankman-Fried, who had significant Twitter holdings, never did.
“All public holders of Twitter were allowed to roll their stock into Twitter as a private company, but (SBF) did not do so,” Musk tweeted. “(Semafor’s) reporting made it falsely sound like he did, when in fact he owns 0%.”
Semafor based its stories on texts purportedly showing Musk welcoming SBF rolling his Twitter shares into the private company. The Financial Times reported that an FTX balance sheet dated November 10 listed Twitter shares as an “illiquid” asset.
However, Insider reported that a regulatory filing from May of this year listed 18 investors that had committed to invest in Musk’s private company, including FTX rival Binance, Sequoia, one of the VC funds that bankrolled FTX, and Fidelity. FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried weren’t on the list. As well, John J. Ray, who succeeded Bankman-Fried as CEO, has warned that he has no confidence in FTX’s financial statements.
Here’s some background on Ben Smith, a co-founder of Semafor, along with former Bloomberg Media CEO Justin Smith.
In an earlier life Smith was editor of BuzzFeed, where he proudly published the contents of what became known as the “Steele dossier,” a collection of unverified intelligence the Justice Department’s inspector general subsequently determined was false. The dossier was widely circulated among other media outlets, but there were suspicions of the veracity of the contents from the get-go; only Smith chose to publish them. Even after it became known the dossier information he published was false, Smith defended his decision.
Under Smith’s leadership, BuzzFeed also published a story, citing unidentified law enforcement officials, claiming that President Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. The story was so egregiously false that special counsel Robert Mueller felt compelled to break his media silence and issue a statement through his spokesman denying the report. Even when most other journalists interpreted the spokesman as issuing an unequivocal denial of BuzzFeed’s reporting, Smith argued the denial was imprecise.
Having published two major discredited stories that were damning to President Trump, Smith was lured away from BuzzFeed by the New York Times to write a column about the media industry. Smith left the Times to launch Semafor; the publication has acknowledged SBF’s investment.
I’d welcome knowing how Bankman-Fried came to Smith, two individuals who deserve each other. As for Musk, it’s a reflection of these troubled times that the denial of a CEO of two major U.S. corporations isn’t readily believable or credible.
Former FBI Honcho Frank Figliuzzi Sullies MSNBC
As an attack on a Texas synagogue was unfolding earlier this year, MSNBC included Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel as part of the Biden network’s unfolding coverage. Based on nothing but her own bias, Nessel speculated that gunman holding four hostages was a White supremacist.
“Now, we don’t know that for certain, but we have seen an incredible rise in rhetoric that is antisemitic being trafficked all around the country, and in the case of Michigan, that is why I established the first hate crimes and domestic terrorism unit anywhere in the state … because we were seeing an exponential rise in hate crimes and an exponential rise in the formation and the membership of these extremist organizations, many of which are White supremacy organizations,” Nessel said, using the crisis as a PR opportunity to promote her supposed efforts to combat hate crimes.
It turned out the gunman was a British national seeking the release of a convicted terrorist dubbed “Lady Al-Qaeda.” As for Nessel’s efforts to combat antisemitism, one of America’s most virulent Jew haters is Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, whose enthusiasm for Nessel is such that the Congresswoman wanted her to run for president. Obviously, Tlaib doesn’t perceive Nessel as being a formidable opponent of her blatant antisemitism.
It seems reasonable to imagine that after allowing Nessel’s unfounded accusations, someone in authority at MSNBC would have said, ‘To maintain credibility with our viewers, perhaps we shouldn’t allow reckless and unfounded speculation during a crisis going forward.’
MSNBC obviously doesn’t have such leadership. In an MSNBC appearance on Monday, “national security analyst” and former FBI honcho Frank Figliuzzi speculated that the shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs was a hate crime and opined that Tucker Carlson and Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert might be held liable.
“We need to see accountability and consequences,” Figliuzzi said. “So first, a real quick hate crime charge here on top of the homicide charges. I applaud that. That tells me prosecutors and police, they found quickly what they needed. That means they know this was a bias crime. This is likely since we’ve heard reports that the subject isn’t cooperative with police, that means they likely found clearly and convincing evidence on his devices. If he’s a consumer of the people we just rattled off, from Lauren Boebert to Tucker Carlson. Let’s get it out. Let’s get it out at trial. Let’s expose it for what it is, name it, and shame it. He is a consumer of these people, and those people should face civil consequences from the victims.”
It’s been reported that that Colorado shooter identifies as a nonbinary person who uses they/them pronouns. Perhaps the claim is a ruse to escape hate crime charges, but Figliuzzi gave no indications he can speak with authority that’s the case. I’d expect a senior FBI veteran to withhold judgement about who is legally liable until he had a lot more facts and information.
Figliuzzi was a former assistant FBI director for counterintelligence. He also is author of a book called entitled, The FBI Way: Inside the Bureau’s Code of Excellence, where promotional materials claim he was “charged with overseeing sensitive internal inquiries and performance audits, he ensured each employee met the Bureau’s exacting standards.”
Figliuzzi has previously been accused of peddling false information. My friend Allan Lengel, who covers law enforcement for a website called ticklethewire, previously reported that Frank Figliuzzi was under fire for allegedly fabricating a passage in the former FBI official’s book. Lengel quoted more than six FBI agents on-the-record saying Figliuzzi’s representation that an agent mishandled seized drug money was entirely made up, possibly to justify Figliuzzi’s controversial decision to strip search the agent. The incident is known within the agency as “Stripgate.”
Figliuzzi apparently isn’t a big fan of journalists quoting people on the record stating facts as they know them.
“I stand by my account,” Figliuzzi told Lengel in an email. “Call me a liar in print at your legal peril.”
Figliuzzi appears on all NBC broadcast properties, but a spokesperson couldn’t be bothered to provide Lengel with a response. It’s public knowledge that NBC and its sister news properties are comfortable, possibly even welcome, tellers of tall tales.
CBS Keeps Ed Murrow Rolling in his Grave
On November 18, CBS News declared that “in light of the uncertainty around Twitter and out of an abundance of caution” the bottom ranked news network was pausing its participation on the platform “as it continues to monitor” the site. Less than 48 hours later, CBS News returned to Twitter, despite no developments that would give the network more reason to feel confident.
My guess is that CBS expected other media outlets to follow its example, but none did.
Adding to its embarrassment, CBS confirmed this week that the New York Post story more than two years ago about damning contents on Hunter Biden’s laptop was true. Even the New York Times and Washington Post acknowledged months ago the story was true.
Once known as the Tiffany Network because of its unrivaled standards of excellence and fairness pioneered by veteran broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, CBS News continues to disgrace itself, as I’ve previously written.