Elon Musk, in the midst of a crusade against traditional media, offered up an example of an “excellent” analysis that could serve as an example of what good journalism should look like. Just one problem: as Slate pointed out, the publication seems to have ties to a cult.
In a since-deleted tweet, Musk linked to a piece by Knife Media and commended it for using the “principles of” critical thinking (complete with a link to the Wikipedia entry for the term). Knife Media is a rebranded version of the Knife of Aristotle and, according to an in-depth piece from Paste Magazine published last year, the Knife of Aristotle is a cult.
The article Musk praised looks at the media response to his call to start a media credibility site and determined that articles about Musk’s announcement were mostly slanted against him—therefore proving his point that members of the media need to be held more accountable. It also presents those findings as the result of some sort of proprietary process that Knife Media claims is “based on scientific standards” to detect “spin, bias and other distortions in the news.”
It’s pretty obvious why that analysis would appeal to Musk: it says exactly what he wants to hear. It also presents the analysis as a sort of data-driven, “objective” review of the media coverage that in reality promotes the “view from nowhere” approach to journalism. It docks the use of the phrase “tweetstorm” because it has a negative connotation and recommends “a series of tweets,” for example.
All of that is kind of superfluous to the real issue though, which is Knife Media has ties to a cult. It is connected to NXIVM, a suspected sex cult that you might remember in the headlines because of Smallville actress Allison Mack’s alleged involvement.
As Paste points out, NXIVM prefers to be called a “multi-level marketing company” rather than a cult, which makes sense because “cult” is a pretty harsh word. It’d probably register as a very slanted term if run through the Knife’s analysis. Then again, the organization’s leader, Keith Raniere, was arrested in March on charges of sex trafficking, in addition to accusations of sexual blackmail and domination including the branding of women. All of that sounds a lot more like a cult than, say, Herbalife (which also sucks but for other reasons).
To be fair to Musk, there’s next to no way that he would have known just by looking at the Knife’s website that it had any ties to an alleged sex cult. But that’s also kinda the point. Musk is not an expert in journalism or media criticism. He’s just a guy who, after receiving fawning press for years, finally has started to face some criticism—much of which has been earned by overpromising and underdelivering—and doesn’t really care for it. And had he completed a simple Google search of the publication, he would have found tons of information from legitimate outlets laying out the origins of the Knife in clear terms.
Oh, and for a guy who hopes to hold the media accountable, Musk sure didn’t take much accountability for linking to the Knife. He deleted the initial tweet, but continued to defend the analysis in a subsequent tweet, stating “Sadly, it had better critical analysis than most non-cult media.”
Just hold off until you’re on Mars, Musk. You can write all the rules for media up there.