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It’s a big week for Fox as it careens toward trial with Dominion, Semafor hosted its inaugural media summit, the U.S. officially designated Evan Gershkovich as “wrongfully detained,” Sky News Australia abandoned TikTok, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” earned major coin at the box office, “Succession” shocker generated big ratings, and more. But first, the A1.
The erratic thin-skinned billionaire, who already destabilized Twitter last year by laying off thousands of employees and implementing a slew of radical policy and product changes that threw the platform into chaos, has in recent days and weeks moved to whip up even more disarray.
The media-hating businessman removed The New York Times‘ verification badge and applied “government funded” warning labels to the accounts of NPR and the BBC, prompting backlash from the outlets. Meanwhile, Musk nonchalantly announced over the weekend that Twitter will no longer limit the reach of actual state-controlled outlets such as Russia’s RT and China’s Xinhua News.
“All news is to some degree propaganda,” Musk asserted in a tweet, seeking to justify his position. “Let people decide for themselves.”
In another tweet, Musk explained that Twitter “will neither promote nor limit” the accounts of state-controlled propaganda outlets. Musk called it a “weak move to engage in censorship,” even though he himself has committed brazen acts of censorship while serving as Twitter boss (see here and here).
While announcing Twitter will no longer limit the reach of propaganda outfits, Musk simultaneously implemented a policy that severely limited the reach of Substack articles, a decision he has now reversed. For a moment, Musk seemed to treat Russian propaganda better on Twitter than Substack.
The bizarre moves have served to only compound the disorder on the rapidly deteriorating platform by, one step at a time, blurring the lines between authoritative sources of news and outright propaganda.
And it comes as the value in the once-meaningful blue checkmark continues to dwindle as Musk hands the badges out to anyone who will pay him $8 a month while vowing to remove the ticks appended to notable public figures who were verified under the legacy program.
Many news organizations are, for now, continuing to idly stand by, as if they are trying to convince themselves this is a storm that will soon pass and that normalcy — not more madness — is around the corner. The BBC on Monday said that it had contacted Twitter and hoped to resolve its labeling situation “as soon as possible” — as if Musk cares about the outlet’s protests. Other news organizations like The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, both of which Musk has effectively spat in the face of, continue to send the billionaire ad dollars.
Musk himself should care about the destruction of Twitter, if not because of the crucial role the platform has played in worldwide communications, but because it does carry serious financial implications. Musk paid $44 billion for the company just last year and has already conceded that more than half the value has been eviscerated under his reign. But it’s apparent he does not.
Instead of focusing on reestablishing trust with the public, Musk is wreaking havoc. Over the weekend, as his company remains engulfed in turmoil, Musk carried out another one of his childish acts, painting over the “w” on the logo adorning the company’s San Francisco headquarters so that it reads “Titter.”
Perhaps that’s fitting, given that under Musk’s stewardship the company has morphed into something else, twisted by the billionaire’s ego and whims into a warped version of its former self. It’s a physical manifestation of the incoherent way in which he has run the company: By implementing haphazard policies, often driven by childish inhibitions, that have deformed the platform.
A Monday lawsuit from former Twitter execs said they “had personally spent more than $1 million on legal expenses related to shareholder lawsuits and several government investigations, including an inquiry by the Justice Department,” Kate Conger and Ryan Mac report. (NYT)
Nitish Pahwa and Mark Joseph Stern report that Twitter “isn’t a company anymore” and that a court filing revealed it has “been merged into a new entity called X Corp.” (Slate)
Musk, now feuding with one-time ally Matt Taibbi over the Substack fiasco, posted private texts he exchanged with him. (Forbes)
Musk’s “reactions to competitive products or opinions he dislikes are having an outsized impact on the media industry,” Sara Fischer writes. (Axios)
Jessica Piper reports that when it comes to political advertising, Musk’s Twitter “has been anything but forthcoming.” (POLITICO)
RIP: NiemanLab has shut down Fuego, a project that compiled popular articles on Twitter, after Musk’s API changes to Twitter meant the tool would have cost more than $40,000 a month to keep alive. (NiemanLab)
Fox at the Fore: It’s going to be a big week for Fox News. Lawyers for the right-wing talk network will be in court on Tuesday for a hearing where the judge presiding over the case could rule on motions the cable channel and Dominion Voting Systems have filed ahead of trial. And then things will rapidly move forward from there. Jury selection is slated for this Thursday and the high-wattage trial will officially begin next Monday. That is, of course, unless Rupert Murdoch manages to settle the case before then. We’ll see.
First in Reliable | Brian Stelter is joining Vanity Fair as a special correspondent to cover the Fox News trial. A spokesperson for the outlet tells me that each week, starting this Thursday, Stelter will write a column about the defamation case. He will also host a special version of the “Inside the Hive” podcast, called “Fox on Trial,” with new episodes Thursdays.
As Fox News hurtles toward trial, a weeks long affair that will further expose the channel as a right-wing talk outfit devoid of basic journalistic ethics, the network is running an ad campaign claiming its “mission” is to be “on the ground reporting.” (Twitter)
David Folkenflik reports via sources that Bret Baier “repeatedly sought to devote an hour-long Sunday evening special following the 2020 elections to set out and debunk the leading myths bolstering Trump’s baseless claims of fraud.” Per Folkenflik, Baier never heard back on his pitch. (NPR)
Tucker Carlson describing Gavin Newsom on Monday night sounded awfully like how someone might describe him: “You’ll say literally anything. Words have no connection to reality. There’s no expectation you’re describing something real. You’re merely using words as a tool to gain power. It’s dishonest to its core.” (Twitter)
Over the weekend, Fox News settled with a Venezuelan businessman in another 2020 election defamation case. (CNN)
The Semafor Summit: Semafor on Monday evening held its inaugural media summit, with Editor-In-Chief Ben Smith interviewing a number of prominent industry figures onstage at New York City’s Genesis House. Some highlights from the event:
► Asked how he envisions covering Donald Trump differently than his predecessor Jeff Zucker, CNN CEO Chris Licht said his aim is to cover Trump “as part of the news” and “not as a way of having an outcome of ratings.” Licht also said anchor Don Lemon is a “lightning rod” after his years of hosting a prime time program “during an era where that was celebrated and encouraged,” but has “moved on” to host the network’s morning show, focusing more on reporting.
► Jen Psaki said that she considers herself to be a journalist: “I do,” she said, defining the profession as clearly “providing information to the public.”
► Bonin Bough, who is in reportedly in talks to purchase companies such as BET and Vice, declined to say how close he is to any acquisition. But he spoke about his acquisition strategy.
► Barry Diller warned about the danger A.I. could present publishers: “If you take those systems and you do not connect them to a process where you cannot do this until — the path towards some way of getting compensated for it, all will be lost.”
► Stephen A. Smith said he doesn’t identify as conservative: “I think I have conservative views,” Smith said, but noted he’s mostly voted for Democrats.
The U.S. has designated Evan Gershkovich as “wrongfully detained,” empowering the government to explore every avenue to try to secure his release. (CNN)
The WSJ has created a page where readers can write messages of support to Gershkovich and his family. (WSJ)
Ash Carter looks at the “long and unconventional career” of Edward Jay Epstein, whom he dubs “the accidental journalist.” (Air Mail)
Shari Redstone will be honored with the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Humanitarian Award. The award will be presented May 10 at the Beverly Hilton. (THR)
Democratic communications operative Matthew Miller is “the top contender to be the spokesperson for the State Department,” Daniel Lippman reports. (POLITICO)
Axios continued expanding Axios Local, growing to Indianapolis. (Axios)
Food website Saveur has been sold by owner Recurrent to an investment group, Sara Fischer reports. (Axios)
The Messenger poached Rebecca Morin from USA Todayto cover the White House and elections. (Twitter)
Hearst tapped Ryan Serpico as its first A.I. and automation engineer. (SF Chronicle)
WaPo named Tony Romm Washington accountability reporter. (WaPo)
WaPo hired Herb Scribner as a breaking news reporter. (Twitter)
Influencers Incoming: Social media influencers could soon “have their own briefing room at the White House,” Axios’ Sophia Cai reported Monday. Cai noted the move could help President Joe Biden’s re-election efforts, given that he will “lean on” influencers to get his message out. “A measure of the importance Team Biden is placing on its digital strategy: Rob Flaherty, who leads the effort, has been named assistant to the president — the same rank as the White House communications director and press secretary,” Cai reported. Read Cai’s full story here.
While influencers at the White House is an interesting media story, Fox News‘ highest-rated show on Monday chose to lead with it instead of the mass shooting in Louisville, Justin Baragona observes. (Twitter)
Beatrice Mount points out that Gov. Ron DeSantis keeps appearing on the right-wing channel OAN. (MMFA)
Mark Levin is bizarrely accusing automakers of removing AM radios to “attack” right-wing talk radio, which is broadcast largely on the dated frequencies. (Mediaite)
Ticked Off: Will Sky News Australia be the first domino to fall? The Rupert Murdoch-owned broadcaster said Monday that it will “cease publishing” on the platform over security risks, which editor Jack Houghton described as “too great for any serious news publisher.” Houghton declared TikTok a “spy network masquerading as a social media platform” and noted that it “has been proven to illegally pilfer the data of journalists.” Houghton urged other news organizations to “stop trading security and integrity for a few worthless views.” CNN’s Hilary Whiteman has more here.
🔎 Zooming in: Will other news organizations also leave the platform? What about other News Corp. owned outlets? We’ll see.
Despite TikTok losses, the company’s parent, ByteDance, posted record $85-billion profits. (FT)
An interesting question from Sigal Samuel: “What happens when ChatGPT starts to feed on its own writing?” (Vox)
YouTube is rewarding its paid Premium subscribers with higher-quality video. (The Verge)
Meta Verified is under fired in the sex work community. (TechCrunch)
CNN Photo Illustration/Illumination
It’s a ‘Mario’ Party: Talk about amassing some serious coin. Powered up by a holiday weekend (see what I did there?), “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” cleaned up at the box office, earning a staggering $204.6 million domestically over the five-day spread ($146.4 million for the three-day weekend). And there is no telling how much it will continue banking, with the real possibility it could cross into $1 billion territory. The success, driven by several factors, has almost certainly produced a new hit Hollywood franchise. Variety’s Rebecca Rubin has more here.
We won’t spoil the shocking twist that is abruptly thrown on viewers in episode three of “Succession,” but CNN’s Brian Lowry noted “the show is coming back to where it all started.” (CNN)
The stunning “Succession” episode reached 2.5 million viewers across HBO and HBO Max, setting a new series high. (Deadline)
Brian Cox to Austin Considine on creator Jesse Armstrong’s decision: “It was courageous because everybody loves the show. Always leave the party when it’s at its height, not when it’s going down.” (NYT)
In an interview with Jackie Strause, Armstrong commented, “It felt like that had to happen.” (THR)
Switching gears: Studios are facing “turmoil and strife amid WGA negotiations,” Stephen Battaglio, Anousha Sakoui, and Wendy Lee report. (LAT)
Morgan Waller continues dominating the charts, spending a fifth straight week at the top. (NYT)
Netflix is creating a “Stranger Things” animated series. (IGN)
NBC has renewed “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago PD,” and “Chicago Med.” It has also renewed “Law & Order: SVU” and “Organized Crime.” (Variety/TV Line)
Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Films and Mindy Kaling’s Kaling International will develop a series adaption of “Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers” with Warner Bros. (Deadline)
Disney has dropped the trailer for “Star Wars: Visions Volume Two.” (The Verge)
Thank you for reading! This newsletter was edited by Jon Passantino and produced with the assistance of Liam Reilly. Have feedback? Send us an email here. We will see you back in your inbox tomorrow.