Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan recently sat down with CBS This Morning’s Gayle King for a conversation about the future of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a limited liability company that wants “to accelerate progress.” More interesting than the very wealthy couple’s unusual attempt at philanthropy, however, was Zuckerberg’s response to a question about his secret White House dinner with Donald Trump and Peter Thiel. It involved a lot of awkward groaning.
Suffice it to say that none of the sounds coming out of Zuckerberg’s mouth in the interview with Gayle King resemble an actual answer to her question about what happened at that secret dinner. When King asked if Trump tried “to lobby him in any way,” Zuckerberg just sort of stumbled over words and retreated to a hilarious defense that involved his right to privacy.
“No… I mean… I… I don’t think that that’s… I think some of the stuff that people talk about or think gets discussed in these discussions are not really how that works,” Zuckerberg replied. “I also want to respect that it was a private dinner [mumble] private discussion.”
You can see for yourself how Zuckerberg struggles with the Trump questions in this thread of clips from CBS This Morning producer Gisela Perez. Here’s the one about whether Trump lobbied him at the secret dinner:
Critics would be quick to point out that Zuckerberg could have responded with a resounding, “Absolutely not!” Instead, he asked us to respect his and fellow guests’ privacy. For all we know, Trump could have asked the Facebook chief to delete Joe Biden’s profile at that secret dinner. We don’t know anything, though, because Zuckerberg does not want anyone butting into his private life, which happens to involve a dinner with the president of the United States and Peter Thiel, the Facebook investor and diehard Trump supporter. (Thiel also financed a lawsuit with Hulk Hogan that led to the bankruptcy of Gawker Media, Gizmodo’s former parent company, after claiming that Gawker’s reporting violated his privacy.)
Zuckerberg is not unique in his willingness to entertain President Trump’s whims. Just last month, Apple CEO Tim Cook invited the president to tour a Mac Pro assembly facility in Texas and even stayed silent when Trump claimed that he had personally “opened a major Apple Manufacturing plant in Texas that will bring high paying jobs back to America.” The Apple facility opened during the Obama administration. Of course, Cook didn’t correct Trump. Apple is currently trying to secure tariff waivers so that it doesn’t lose money as a result of the president’s trade war with China. Meanwhile, top executives of seemingly every tech company in America have been eager to play ball with Trump for their own reasons.
It goes without saying that Mark Zuckerberg also failed to answer Gayle King’s question about a group of Facebook employees protesting the company’s policy on political ads. That policy allows politicians to lie in ads on Facebook, and Zuckerberg has repeatedly said that the company will not fact-check political ads. In a now-infamous speech at Georgetown University, the 35-year-old billionaire insisted that everyone has a right to free expression. The aforementioned group of Facebook employees said in a letter to Zuckerberg that “free speech and paid speech are not the same thing.” When asked about the distinction, the Facebook chief offered the rhetorical equivalent of: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
“Well, this is clearly a very complex issue,” Zuckerberg replied, “and a lot of people have different opinions.”
Some of those people surely include the cadre of prominent conservatives with whom Zuckerberg secretly met with over the summer to discuss free speech issues. According to a Politico report, Zuckerberg dined with Senator Lindsay Graham, Tucker Carlson, Ben Shapiro, Hugh Hewitt, and other right-wing pundits at one of Zuckerberg’s homes in California. A source told the publication that the conversations revolved around “free expression, unfair treatment of conservatives, the appeals process for real or perceived unfair treatment, fact checking, partnerships, and privacy.” All of these topics could have been on the table at Zuckerberg’s recent White House dinner, but we may never know for sure.
By the way, now is a good time to highlight the fact that the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is not a nonprofit. It’s an LLC, which is part corporation and part business partnership. This structure gives the Chan-Zuckerberg family more control, and it also means that the company can make political donations and spend money on lobbying. Zuckerberg has long claimed that he hopes to cure all disease by the end of the century. He and his wife repeated that claim in this week’s CBS interview. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative website attributes this quote to the couple: “The only way that we all reach our full human potential, is if we’re able to unlock the gifts of every single person around the world.”
So maybe that’s what Zuckerberg is doing in these secret meetings with Trump and other conservatives. Maybe he’s just trying to unlock their gifts.