Elon Musk, the owner of X (previously Twitter), lashed out at companies who have stopped advertising on the platform in a fiery and wide-ranging interview at the New York Times (NYT) DealBook conference Wednesday.
After Musk endorsed an antisemitic post on X earlier this month, an array of marquee names in corporate America halted their ad campaigns on the social networking site. While the chief executive of SpaceX and Tesla said the post was the “worst and dumbest" he's ever done, he made it clear that he wasn't trying to win back the executives who have turned away from X, telling advertisers to “f*** themselves."
Aside from the incendiary remarks, he was also asked about his opposition to labor unions, throttling media outlets he doesn't favor, and the perceptions around his trip to Israel after sparking a firestorm of criticism for amplifying bigoted remarks.
Here are the top four takeaways from Musk's interview:
Musk lashes out at advertisers fleeing X
Earlier this month, Musk agreed with a post on X that endorsed an antisemitic conspiracy theory. His comment drew widespread condemnation, including from the White House, prompting major advertisers to suspend their advertisements on X.
But instead of trying to persuade the companies to return, Musk lashed out.
"If somebody is going to try to blackmail me with advertising, blackmail me with money, go f*** yourself," he said. Musk specifically went after Disney CEO Bob Iger, who spoke earlier at the conference, and whose company has stopped advertising on X.
Musk also acknowledged the fleeing of advertisers would eventually destroy X. But he placed blame on the companies themselves — not with his actions. “What it’s going to do is it’s going to kill the company, and the whole world will know the advertisers killed the company,” Musk said.
"Yesterday, from an X perspective, has to be considered an unmitigated disaster," Beacon CEO @jvanderson says on Elon Musk's remarks at NYT's DealBook Summit. "He basically told the people who pay the bills, we don't want you, we want you to go away." pic.twitter.com/QExp1ZyfCG
— Yahoo Finance (@YahooFinance) November 30, 2023
The Israel trip was not an 'apology tour'
Last week Musk traveled to Israel, where he was seen wearing a protective vest and escorted by security personnel as he toured a rural village that Hamas militants targeted on Oct. 7. Musk held talks with government leaders, including Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The trip came soon after the advertiser exodus, prompting further criticism that Musk was using the visit as an "apology tour" for his discriminatory post.
But Musk claimed during the interview that the Israel trip wasn't connected to his conflict with advertisers.
"The trip to Israel was planned before any of that happened," he said. He reiterated that he is not antisemitic, and showed the audience a necklace he said was given to him by an Israeli family whose loved one was taken hostage by Hamas—and he'll will wear until the hostages are returned home.
Musk's 'free speech' will cost you
This summer an analysis by the Washington Post revealed that X was throttling access to websites Musk dislikes. Users on X who clicked on links to Facebook, Substack, and the New York Times encountered a five-second delay before their content appeared on the screen. The targeted websites included X's competitors and news outlets that Musk had previously singled out for ridicule.
Andrew Ross Sorkin, who hosted the conference and is a financial columnist for the Times, asked Musk if punished the news outlet. Musk didn't deny it. "Any organization that refuses to buy a subscription is not going to be recommended," he said.
When asked what that dynamic says about free speech, Musk replied, "It says free speech is not exactly free — it costs a little bit."
Musk opposes unions coming for Tesla
After a major strike by the United Auto Workers led to new contracts with Detroit's Big Three automakers, labor leaders have announced plans to organize workers at auto plants that are non-union, including at factories run by Musk's Tesla.
During the interview Musk said he is opposed to unions, but not in the way people may think, but rather because unions create a “lord and peasant” dynamic in the company, he said.
The recently ratified contracts with the Detroit automakers represented one of the labor movement's most significant victories in decades, winning workers raises of at least 25% over the next four to five years. And beyond the auto industry, the recent wave of workplace activism has also helped workers secure higher pay amid a tight labor marker and historic levels of inflation, inspiring strikes across multiple sectors.
Musk, however, said, "If Tesla gets unionized it will be because we deserve it and we failed in some way. But we certainly try hard to ensure the prosperity of everyone."
Hamza Shaban is a reporter for Yahoo Finance covering markets and the economy. Follow Hamza on Twitter @hshaban.