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Musk asks basic facts about NPR after labeling it 'state-affiliated media' on Twitter


Under Elon Musk, Twitter has at times been a hostile place for journalists. Musk suspended journalists who report on him. He removed the New York Times' verified blue check, and now he is targeting NPR. Musk has falsely labeled NPR's Twitter account as, quote, "U.S. state-affiliated media." NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn has been communicating with Musk about why he decided to do this.

Hey, Bobby.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: I am looking, and nearly 9 million people follow NPR's main Twitter account. What exactly has Musk done here by attaching this false label?

ALLYN: Yeah. So as you mentioned, Musk slapped this state-affiliated media label on NPR's main Twitter account. And, I mean, first of all, we should say it was a real shock to both NPR - all of us - and, you know, outside media watchers. It's a label that Twitter has historically only applied to government-controlled media outlets in places like China and Russia - you know, publications where government influences what is published. And with the label, Mary Louise, every single tweet sent out from the account has a disclaimer notifying people that, basically, what you're seeing might be propaganda. The label effectively, you know, serves to delegitimize and undercut the credibility of a news organization.

KELLY: Yeah, our news organization. So being a journalist, you had questions. You emailed Musk. He wrote back. What did he say?

ALLYN: Yeah. So with Elon Musk, it's always a little unpredictable. I've emailed him many times before and have heard nothing. This time, I was pretty persistent and kept asking, asking, asking. Then, I sent a series of question marks, and, to my surprise, he started replying. And we had quite the exchange over the last couple days. He, you know, usually fires off these short, sort of, like curt, one-sentence replies. They come in at all hours. I got the last one at 10:53 p.m. last night. And looking over all of them, my big takeaway is, you know, his thinking on this label has just been all over the place.

KELLY: All over the place. Why do you say that?

ALLYN: Well, he didn't seem to understand the difference between public media and state-controlled media. He asked me at one point, quote, "what's the breakdown of NPR's annual funding?" And he asked, "who appoints leadership at NPR?" These are questions you can get by Googling, but for some reason he wanted to ask me. And also, let's take a moment and pause on these questions, Mary Louise, because he made a major policy decision, right? And after doing so, he is just now asking for the basic facts. This is not exactly how most CEOs in America operate. Anyway, I answered his questions. About 1% of NPR's budget is from federal grants, and an independent board appoints NPR's CEO, who picks leadership.

KELLY: Indeed. For those people who are not glued to Twitter all day, like nonjournalists, why does all this matter, Bobby?

ALLYN: Yeah. You know, if you're on Twitter, you know, there are sort of two worlds on there. One is full of jokes and memes and people kind of goofing off, and the other one is serious. It's where people learn about natural disasters. It's where people follow the outcomes of elections. It's where news breaks that can move markets and trigger investigations. In a sense, this side of Twitter is kind of woven into how we communicate as a country, and having Musk suspending journalists or labeling news organizations as propaganda outlets, like he did with NPR, just makes the whole platform chaotic. It makes it a less reliable place to get information. And Mary Louise, I know many journalists, both in NPR and at other organizations, who are looking at this platform and saying, do we really want to be here anymore? Maybe we should divorce ourselves from this because it's not reliable. It's unpredictable. And more and more, it's just a place where toxic and misleading material is just flying around like crazy.

KELLY: Meanwhile, that state-affiliated media label is still attached to NPR's account, so I hope you keep emailing. Bobby Allyn, thanks very much.

ALLYN: Thanks, Mary Louise.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.