NYT Makes Stealth Edits to Elon Musk Piece Tainting Him with Apartheid Smears; Writer Lashes Out at Critics
The mainstream media is freaking out over Elon Musk buying Twitter, particularly since none of the smears directed at the Tesla and SpaceX founder have yet deterred him from the potential takeover.
The latest strange attack on Musk’s ability to effectively run a social media platform came from The New York Times, whose writers explored in a piece published Thursday how Musk’s “growing up as a white person under the racist apartheid system in South Africa may have shaped him.” This, they implied, might impede his ability to sniff out disinformation.
“[Musk’s] suburban communities were largely shrouded in misinformation,” the Times’ John Eligon and Lynsey Chutel wrote. “Newspapers sometimes arrived on doorsteps with whole sections blacked out, and nightly news bulletins ended with the national anthem and an image of the national flag flapping as the names of white young men who were killed fighting for the government scrolled on the screen.”
The Times then made stealth edits to the piece that made Musk look significantly more progressive on race than the original piece did. When a conservative writer pointed this out, one of the writers of the piece said that, “For someone who is always critiquing journalism you sure don’t know what a correction is.” The paper, however, hadn’t issued a correction.
(The article represents the left’s latest flip-out over Musk’s potential purchase of Twitter. That’s because they’re losing control over one of their organs of power, one of the most censorious social media platforms there is. Here at The Western Journal, we’ve documented the bias against conservatives on major platforms like Facebook and Twitter, even as the mainstream media denies it. If you support our mission, you can help by subscribing.)
Eligon and Chutel, according to the piece, interviewed 13 family members or acquaintances of Musk during a period of five days. From that, they drew a portrait that presented Musk as a man soaked in white privilege from a childhood in South Africa under apartheid, where he was completely insulated from the realities of black South Africans. The tenuous link this obvious smear piece has to his purchase of Twitter is suggesting that, as a child living in a country he left before he became an adult, he was subject to misinformation.
The most problematic edit came as Eligon and Chutel discussed his upbringing and schooling.
Elon Musk grew up in a South Africa that saw the dangers of unchecked speech: Apartheid govt propaganda fueled violence against Black people. Musk didn’t experience that. He grew up in a bubble of white privilege. @lynseychutel & I explored his early life https://t.co/jixQoCriv5
— John Eligon (@jeligon) May 5, 2022
“Mr. Musk has heralded his purchase of Twitter as a victory for free speech, having criticized the platform for removing posts and banning users. But as a white South African, he came up in a time and place in which there was hardly a free exchange of ideas, and he did not have to suffer the violent consequences of misinformation,” they wrote.
“Mr. Musk left South Africa shortly after graduation at 17 to go to college in Canada, barely ever looking back. He did not respond to emails requesting comment about his childhood.
“Classmates at two high schools he attended described him as a loner with no close friends. None offered recollections of things he said or did that revealed his views on the politics of the time or how they affected him,” they continued.
As former Wall Street Journal and BuzzFeed News writer Tom Gara — now with Facebook parent company Meta — noted, there was a bit of stealth editing going on after the piece went live:
Some editing going on this afternoon https://t.co/3kQSgPW0Y5 pic.twitter.com/SGFQLNJIO9
— Tom Gara (@tomgara) May 5, 2022
The final paragraph had changed: “Classmates at two high schools he attended described him as a loner with no close friends. None offered recollections of things he said or did that revealed his views on the politics of the time. But Black schoolmates recall that he spent time with Black friends.” (Emphasis mine.)
Yes, well, someone who was willing to be friends with black schoolmates during the apartheid period in South Africa would necessarily be a bit more progressive — and perhaps a bit less susceptible to white state disinformation, no? It also undercuts the claim Musk had absolutely no window on the realities of life for black South Africans, even if he obviously couldn’t grasp the totality of the apartheid system as a white teen.
Eligon, the Johannesburg bureau chief for the Times, got into a back-and-forth on Twitter with conservative Substack writer Jesse Singal, who criticized Eligon for tweeting that Musk spent his formative years “in a South Africa that saw the dangers of unchecked speech.”
2/ There’s certainly some valuable reporting in this article but it just comes across as such a clear example of the reporters deciding beforehand ELON MUSK BAD and then building their article around that conclusion.https://t.co/Y7Tg7Sae0P
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) May 5, 2022
“So you think the article paints Elon as bad? Or is this a clear example of you deciding beforehand that it would paint him as bad but then reading it and realizing that maybe that’s not what it does, but for your Twitter rep you can’t come out and say that?” Eligon responded.
“No, I read the whole article before commenting on your tweet and I found the framing very strange,” Singal responded. “The entire top of the piece is designed to call his politics/upbringing into question but there’s fundamentally no there there.”
Then, Singal pointed out the stealth-edit.
This was almost an hour ago. Stealth editing in the paper of record is REALLY bad for journalism. Clearly you or your coauthor or editor(s) thought something was wrong with the initial phrasing — you should really add an explanation.https://t.co/k3R86Yqpju
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) May 5, 2022
“For someone who is always critiquing journalism you sure don’t know what a correction is,” Eligon responded.
For someone who is always critiquing journalism you sure don’t know what a correction is.
— John Eligon (@jeligon) May 5, 2022
However, one user pointed out the only correction the Times made on the piece involved the misspelling of a name:
The correction only includes “Due to an editing error, a photo caption with an earlier version of this story misspelled the name of the son of Stanley Netshituka, the first Black student at Pretoria Boys High School. The son’s name is Masase, not Masas.”
— Will Tjernlund (@WTjern) May 5, 2022
This saw some humorous ripostes:
— Vineet (@vineetee) May 5, 2022
Now, just as Singal points out that there isn’t any “there there” when it comes to painting Musk as someone influenced by apartheid South Africa’s disinformation campaign, so too could there be no there here when looking at the Times’ decision to include, after the piece was published, the information Musk was friends with black schoolmates during his time there.
However, it significantly shifts the context of the claim that there were no recollections of “his views on the politics of the time or how they affected him.” Being friends with black students in apartheid South Africa is, in and of itself, something of a political statement.
Moreover, no official notation of the stealth edit was made — and, in spite of this, Eligon felt the need to tell one of his critics that “you sure don’t know what a correction is.”
Neither do Eligon’s editors, apparently, since none had been officially made as of Friday morning.
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