Elon Musk often battles the media outlets that criticize him, but his latest Twitter rant against journalists took a bizarre turn when he praised an article linked to the controversial group NXIVM. Considered a pyramid scheme by federal prosecutors, NXIVM has been linked to sexual abuse and its leader Keith Raniere was arrested in March on sex-trafficking charges.
The SpaceX and Tesla CEO launched a fury of tweets on Saturday after several news outlets criticized his plan to launch a website ranking journalists’ credibility. Mainstream news sites pointed to the pitfalls of crowdsourcing opinion as fact, compelling Musk to respond by sharing what he described as an “excellent” analysis of journalism’s shortcomings. The only problem is that the piece was published by The Knife, a rebranded version of a website staffed by NXIVM cult members.
The linked article accused outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post for being “slanted,” especially when sensationalizing Musk’s recent crusade against the industry. Musk deleted his praise of the story when fans pointed out its dubious origins, but continued to endorse the story’s ideas and insist on its merits. “Sadly, it had better critical analysis than most non-cult media,” Musk said.
Keith Raniere, leader of NXIVM, was arrested in March on sex-trafficking charges. Raniere was also accused of charging documents that outline the group’s system of sexual domination, blackmail, and physical branding of female members. While the article Musk shared does not specifically endorse any of NXIVM’s sexual mores, The Knife’s criticism of mainstream journalism is tethered to its own mission as a recruitment platform.
Last year, Paste published an investigative report on The Knife (formerly The Knife of Aristotle) suggesting that the company hired journalists as an effort to gain media support and elicit new members. An FBI investigation is still underway and federal attorneys filed paperwork on Thursday seeking permission to search two NXIVM-owned properties.
Musk’s accidental praise for a cult’s media analysis suggests that he might not be the person best suited to build a site with a mission to rank and restore journalistic integrity. Despite The Knife being a discredited website, he argued “it had better critical analysis” because it criticized the media that holds public figures like Musk accountable. By continuing to endorse the website’s message, Musk offers an example of how those obsessed with “fake news” are still susceptible to its offerings.