Earlier this year, explains a voiceover narrating a 60 Minutes interview with Tesla’s brilliant-yet-erratic CEO that aired on Sunday, Elon Musk “began acting … well, weird.”
It was a reference to the billionaire entrepreneur’s rocky 2018, which has included tons of self-inflicted wounds, like his questionable tweets, his spats with regulators, and even an apparent devil-may-care episode of public pot-smoking. One of the most attention-grabbing headlines that seems to have come out of his interview with Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes over the weekend, though, is related to Elon and Twitter. Specifically, to the agreement Elon reached in recent months with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission related to his August tweet announcing “funding secured” for a privatization of the publicly traded electric carmaker.
One of the terms of Elon’s settlement with the SEC included a mandate that his Tesla tweets get pre-approval before he sends them. Presumably, this was to curtail any spur-of-the-moment tweets like the one that started all this in the first place, and which could inadvertently harm investors.
Yet in this particular back-and-forth with the interviewer, which you can see in the clip above, Elon can barely contain his incredulity over the thought that someone would actually approve what he can and can’t tweet out. None of his tweets have been censored since the settlement, he says, and he also says no one is reading them before they go out. (In fact, in the clip above, you can see him kind of furrow his brows a bit when he’s asked that question — as if to say, ‘Are you serious?’) To top it off, he then acknowledges that he can’t stand the SEC — but that he’s abiding by the settlement.
Here’s a transcript of the exchange:
LESLEY STAHL: So your tweets are not supervised?
ELON MUSK: The only Tweets that would have to be say reviewed would be if a tweet had a probability of causing a movement in the stock.
LESLEY STAHL: And that’s it?
ELON MUSK: Yeah, I mean otherwise it’s “Hello, First Amendment.” Like Freedom of Speech is fundamental.
LESLEY STAHL: But how do they know if it’s going to move the market if they’re not reading all of them before you send them?
ELON MUSK: Well, I guess we might make some mistakes. Who knows?
LESLEY STAHL: Are you serious?
ELON MUSK: Nobody’s perfect.
LESLEY STAHL: Look at you.
ELON MUSK: I want to be clear. I do not respect the SEC. I do not respect them.
LESLEY STAHL: But you’re abiding by the settlement, aren’t you?
ELON MUSK: Because I respect the justice system.
As a reminder, the SEC charged Elon with securities fraud after his August tweet declaring his intent to take Tesla private. As part of the settlement with the SEC, he agreed to let Tesla’s board oversee communications relating to the company, which includes tweets.
Also during the 60 Minutes interview, the two discussed the scrutiny he’s brought upon himself as a result of his tweeting, and Elon explains that he simply uses the platform to express himself. “Some people use their hair,” he laughs. “I use Twitter.” Lesley gently ribs him for using tweets to snipe at critics, to which Elon replies: “Twitter’s a war zone. If somebody’s going to jump in the war zone, it’s, like, ‘Okay, you’re in the arena. Let’s go!'”
One thing this interview suggests about Elon: Say what you want about him, but he does not appear to be possessed with a need to do much self-analysis. Let’s put it that way.
For example, one reason he gives during the 60 Minutes piece as to why so many production deadlines related to the Model 3 were missed? Well, because Elon admits that “punctuality is not my strong suit.”
“People should not ascribe to malice that which can easily be explained by stupidity,” he says. “So it’s like, just because I’m dumb at predicting dates does not mean I am untruthful. I don’t know. I’ve never made a mass-produced car. How am I supposed to know with precision when it’s going to get done?”
If we’ve learned anything about Elon this year, it’s that he will probably never stop clashing spectacularly with outsiders and critics, that his tweets will always be a goldmine of soundbites and fodder for news headlines, and that he’ll never stop proclaiming himself on a mission to preserve humanity — via helping promote a move away from fossil fuels, for example — even while so many people scratch their heads at him and ask themselves what in the world is this man is thinking.