Dog whistle virtuoso Elon Musk is at it again, setting loose the bigots, blowhards, and antisemites of his X social media platform (formerly known as Twitter) with a misleading post reaching millions of his frothing followers.
Prior to this week’s widely publicized meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a conversation which included—surprise!—a call for Musk to “roll back” the antisemitism on X, Musk weighed in on a strange Las Vegas homicide case. He characteristically got his facts wrong, but didn’t bother to clarify or call off his dogs even as they smeared and threatened a good young reporter and her employer, the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
It's nothing new for Musk, just the latest instance which finds him exercising his Freedom of Speech on his personal platform, and offering opening lines for those who can’t wait to wave their “anti-woke” and antisemitic flags.
This time, the sleight-of-hand played a heinous homicide for political sport.
On the morning of Aug. 14, 64-year-old Andreas Probst suffered fatal injuries after being struck by a car while riding his bicycle. The newspaper reported that police suspected a hit-and-run driver speeding in a stolen vehicle. As the investigation continued, reporter Sabrina Schnur published a follow-up article on Aug. 18 that included an interview with Probst’s widow and daughter who described the victim as a loving family man and retired police chief from Bell, California.
On Aug. 31, the Review-Journal reported that police investigators had found an incriminating video taken by one of the suspects indicating the hit-and-run had been an intentional homicide. The 17-year-old suspect, his name withheld because of his age, is being held on a murder charge as police continue their search for the passenger in the vehicle who shot the graphic video accurately described as a snuff film. The video has since gone viral.
On its website, the Review-Journal updated the headline on the Aug. 18 article to reflect the changed status of the case.
But that didn’t stop Musk, who, on Sept. 17 reposted to 157.2 million followers a misleading graphic from @Libbyemmons (editor of the far-right website, The Post Millennial) that raised the specter of a media manipulation.
“An innocent man was murdered in cold blood while riding his bicycle,” Musk wrote. “The killers joked about it on social media. Yet, where’s the media outrage? Now you begin to understand the lie.”
Thanks in part to Musk’s irresponsible mischief and catcalls from loony conspiracy stoker Laura Loomer, the accurate Review-Journal news coverage morphed into an attempt to downplay a homicide of a retired white cop. Toxic posts accused the newspaper of purposefully tanking elements of the story after it did the journalistically responsible thing and changed an online headline to reflect a new status in the evolving case.
Most of the refrains from Musk followers were familiar to veteran reporters who waded hip-deep through the media-bashing Trump era: It turns out the press is “the cause of 100 percent of societal problems. Had this been a minority hate crime murder, businesses and cities would have been torched by now,” as one post put it.
When a self-identified Tesla shareholder (whose X feed is filled with Musk retweets and other pro-Musk posts) determined, “The media seems to under report wrong to white males. They seem more likely to express outrage if a ‘marginalized’ group is targeted. I don’t think it’s my imagination,” Musk responded, “1000%.”
There’s palpable irony in posts that imagined the Review-Journal—owned by the family of the late billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson (a devoted supporter of Israel who regularly funded pro-Israel political candidates and initiatives)—is a “woke” newspaper given its longstanding conservative editorial views and early endorsement in 2016 of presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Musk loves his speech rights, but those who push back find their free speech doesn’t always sit well with the X man.
When the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) pointed out Musk’s high tolerance for purveyors of hate speech, bigotry, and antisemitism on Musk’s own site, he accused the ADL of damaging his advertising base with false accusations and threatened to sue the organization that has been calling out haters since 1913. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt accused Musk of “engaging with a highly toxic, antisemitic campaign on his platform—a campaign started by an unrepentant bigot that then was heavily promoted by individuals such as white supremacist Nick Fuentes, Christian nationalist Andrew Torba, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, and others.”
Outgunned on Musk’s home field, the Las Vegas newspaper fought back with a front-page story and a terse editorial.
“The social media outrage machine never had it so wrong,” executive editor Glenn Cook said. “Sabrina Schnur and the Review-Journal are the target of vicious cyber harassment because a prodded digital audience never noticed the story that infuriated them was published almost a month ago, before new facts ever came to light.” He added that the newspaper’s social media and email accounts had been inundated with “obscenities, racial hatred and wishes of personal suffering, and death.”
Not everyone fell for Musk’s misdirection, and one X observer, @scottsantens, was particularly cogent: “The headline was written weeks before it was known that this guy was murdered. So why would you share it as if the media somehow knew the truth? Because you want people angrily clicking… You want pissed off people to spend more time here.”
Schnur’s colleagues stuck up for her, but their best efforts fall far short of being heard by the legions Musk reaches with every keystroke. Fortunately, most of the time the trolls have short attention spans.
With help from the man with the biggest dog whistle on the internet, I’m sure they’ll soon find someone new to pick on.