When Sam Bankman-Fried sat down with George Stephanopoulos for a Good Morning America interview this week in his signature t-shirt, it wasn’t the first national news appearance the disgraced former crypto wunderkind had given.
Since losing tens of billions of dollars in his over-leveraged and shadily funded businesses, FTX and Alameda, Bankman-Fried has been on a media tour, showing up in reporters’ DMs, on Vox, Axios, at The New York Times’ DealBook Summit, and he is still scheduled for a Twitter Space and a YouTube interview to round out his week.
Somewhere, an expensive lawyer is pulling his well-coiffed hair out—a contrast with Bankman-Fried, who seems relatively calm, his unkempt hair and Bahamas abode unchanged in the wake of this stunning fall from financial grace.
You know who else seems calm? The media figures covering Bankman-Fried.
A GMA promo for Stephanopoulos’ interview calls Bankman-Fried a “crypto supervillain,” but he’s not being treated like one, unless you count the very Lex Luthor vibes of the lavish penthouse where he’s living on the lam. Instead, Stephanopoulos and Andrew Ross Sorkin, for DealBook, approached Bankman-Fried with a sort of gauzy astonishment and more-in-sadness-than-in-anger tone.
The t-shirt uniform has proven to work to his advantage on both sides of this crisis. Where before it was a signifier of his Gen-Z nonconformity, now it bolsters his kicked-puppy protestations of ignorance and innocence. And his interlocutors seem to be buying it to some extent.
Stephanopoulos posits, “I can’t imagine what it’s like to go from $20 billion to $100,000 dollars,” and “Have you gotten calls from any of the celebrities who endorsed you?” and “What is the talent that you have that convinced people they should invest billions of dollars?”
Sorkin’s interview was peppered with “fair to say?” and “what do you make of the argument?” and started with “Let’s talk about some of the things you would want to have done differently.”
I have seen media figures grill subjects and react to them with barely concealed revulsion. This is a far cry from that.
But you don’t have to look very far to find a very different reaction to another billionaire. Elon Musk used $44 billion of his own money in 2022 to purchase Twitter—famously the playground and addiction of the chattering class.
In the time since that purchase, media reaction has been at times apoplectic and hysterical. A Washington Post headline dubbed Musk’s amnesty for banned accounts as “opening the gates of hell.” From The View co-host Whoopi Goldberg to CBS News itself, blue-check, verified users of the media world have left the social media app, citing safety and “security concerns,” some even before Musk had made any changes to Twitter policies. Goldberg remains gone, but CBS came back within days.
The grave crisis precipitated by a dude using his money to buy a tech company led one reporter to ask President Joe Biden himself in one of his few press conferences, “Do you think Elon Musk is a threat to national security and should the US… investigate his joint acquisition of Twitter?”
His answer: “I think Elon Musk’s technical relationships with other countries is worthy of being looked at.”
Just days ago, a Reuters reporter asked White House press secretary Karine Jean Pierre: “A researcher at Stanford says this is a critical moment in terms of ensuring that Twitter does not become a vector of misinformation… Who is it at the White House that is going to be keeping track of this?”
Jean Pierre assured her they are “keeping an eye on” it.
Actress and activist Alyssa Milano, in an appearance on The View, scoffed as many had before her that Musk’s $40 billion, if donated to UNICEF or elsewhere “would change the world, there would be no hunger” to vigorous head nods from the show’s hosts and applause from the audience.
Where are the protestations on Bankman-Fried’s evaporated and/or swindled $20-32 billion, which certainly could have been used for world hunger? One reason we don’t hear much about how Bankman-Fried should have invested is because so much of his wealth was already invested in causes the media and the Biden administration find as worthy as world hunger—media and Democrats!
Bankman-Fried carefully cultivated, with lavish donations and the right talking points, a membership in the same club as those who might now vilify him in the public eye or government.
He was an up-and-comer in “effective altruism,” first drawn to it out of a desire to protest factory farming, an Environmental and Social Governance adherent, a Democratic super donor, a supporter of government regulation (he helped to craft, naturally), and a backer of various media ventures. The result was hagiographic coverage before the downfall and kid-glove coverage after.
It’s why instead of vague threats from the White House, Sam Bankman-Fried gets a gushy tweet from Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, current chairwoman of the House Committee on Financial Services, which will be investigating his misdeeds:
Well, “His political donations over the past several years have trended from majority-blue, to mixed, to almost entirely Republicans. He’s promised that if his bid to purchase Twitter is successful, he’ll bring former President Donald Trump back to the platform.”
He is not in the club anymore. Neither his donations nor his talking points earn him protection from those who now vilify him in the public eye and government.
The truth is the guy stealing billions in other people’s money is more of a supervillain than the guy spending his own, and the coverage and government response should reflect that.
The post Why the Media Makes Musk a Villain but Lets SBF Off Easy appeared first on The Daily Beast.