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This New York Times Story About Elon Musk Is Why People Hate the Mainstream Media

A New York Times profile of Elon Musk suggests the tech billionaire was shaped by a privileged upbringing in apartheid-era South Africa, but buries its own reporting that reveals his egalitarian, anti-racist outlook.

SO WHAT

The mainstream media’s commitment to narrative over facts is getting harder and harder to miss.

THE STORY

Musk is poised to acquire Twitter and has vowed to turn it into a haven for free speech, sparking fierce backlash from liberal critics who say doing so will make the platform vulnerable to disinformation and hate speech.

  • According to the Times reporters, John Eligon and Lynsey Chutel, there is a central question in Musk’s past he has not addressed: “How growing up as a white person under the racist apartheid system in South Africa may have shaped him.”
  • At one point in the story, they note: “Mr. Musk has heralded his purchase of Twitter as a victory for free speech, having criticized the platform for removing posts and banning users. It is unclear what role his childhood — coming up in a time and place in which there was hardly a free exchange of ideas and where government misinformation was used to demonize Black South Africans — may have played in that decision.”
  • One classmate of Musk’s is quoted in the piece as saying: “It’s telling — white kids were insulated from the harsh reality of [apartheid].”

Chutel and Eligon also claim Musk’s family was removed from South Africa’s “violent reality” in part because “they got along well with Black people.”

THE BURIED LEDE

But the picture of Musk as naive or indifferent to racial inequality and the injustices of apartheid is punctured in the latter half of the story by anecdotes from acquaintances and friends of the tech entrepreneur.

  • “One time at lunch, a white student used an anti-Black slur, and Mr. Musk chided the student, but then got bullied for doing so,” according to Nyadzani Ranwashe, a brother of one Musk’s black childhood friends.
  • The friend, Asher Mashudu, was killed in a car accident in 1987, and Nyadzani Ranwashe said Musk was one of the few white people who attended the funeral, saying, “It was unheard of at the time.”
  • Eligon and Chutel also report that according to a biography of Musk written by Ashlee Vance, he refused to participate in South Africa’s mandatory military service because of his opposition to apartheid.

THE TWEET THAT SUMS IT ALL UP

Wesley Yang was one of many conservative and dissident journalists on Twitter who criticized the Times’ framing of Musk’s life story as proof of media bias run amok.

Also Thursday, a Twitter debate over the value of fact-checkers led media critics to resurface numerous examples misconduct by the self-appointed truth police.

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