Like many journalists I’m on Twitter, and have been since 2009. It’s been a useful professional tool, not just to connect with sources and audiences, but to witness news as it happens, dip into conversations, follow reactions and interact with colleagues. Honestly, I used to love it – and I’m having a hard time watching it fall apart. Which brings me to Flipping the Bird: Elon Vs Twitter, a new offering from the podcasting behemoth Wonderly that tells the bizarro story of Elon Musk’s offer to/refusal to/having to purchase Twitter, and the immediate, despotic aftermath.
Narrator David Brown – a veteran public radio journalist who also hosts Wonderly’s Business Wars podcast – doesn’t hold back on the drama. He’s got that kind of “In a galaxy far far away” voice, which, with the occasional dash of irony and a smattering of on-the-nose commentary, propels the narrative in a “you couldn’t make it up” manner that works particularly well for this subject.
This, as you are all probably aware, is the story of Musk’s astronomical ego, and if you’re at all annoyed by the Musk thing already, this is really going to fill your bucket. What a catastrophic, unmitigated mess he made, and how delightfully detailed this podcast is in its reckoning.
Flipping the Bird may hold few surprises, but it does bring the whole Twitter debacle together in one, smoothly packaged place. It documents the lead up, with Musk stealthily buying up Twitter shares until he has amassed a cool 9.2 per cent of the company; his subsequent inflated offer to buy the whole company because, he tells one public audience, of his concern for “the future of civilisation” and because he “loves humanity”; the back and forth between Musk and the Twitter board while firing off texts to his influential friends, including kabillionaire Larry Ellison, who immediately pledged a casual billion; his unhinged address at an “all-hands” meeting with Twitter staff where he veered into talk about alien life on other planets; his foiled attempt to back out of the Twitter deal, followed by his arrival at Twitter headquarters carrying a sink.
It’s all brazenly bonkers stuff, the tone of the telling gossipy and gleeful, as you might imagine. Flipping the Bird talks to journalists who pored over Musk’s Security and Exchange Commission filings and combed through legal documents and all the juicy text messages revealed in disclosure, as well as former Twitter employees who recall being asked to print out code they had written, then having to shred their printouts, as they awaited news of whether their jobs were safe while Musk and Co discussed layoffs on an accidentally public Slack channel.
There are still details about the extent of Musk’s self-delusion that further elucidate and cement what you probably already knew about him
The production team makes overuse of the audio pings and whistles that signify a message received or sent, or a tweet tweeted – which bing-bong cacophony serves to spike the listener’s cortisol on a repetitive basis.
On the plus side, the theme music is a sample of Courtney Barnett’s Pedestrian at Best: “I must confess I’ve made a mess” fading out with the line “tell me I’m exceptional and I promise to exploit you”, which is a treat to hear and reveals perhaps all you need to know about this podcast’s perspective on the man famous for sending poop emojis as professional responses.
Much of this is public record at this point, though there are still details about the extent of Musk’s self-delusion that further elucidate and cement what you probably already knew about him. The only shame is that the podcast was recorded and released before the debacle that was Ron DeSantis’s campaign announcement on Twitter’s live audio platform, Spaces, earlier this month. Poop emojis and sinks and blue checkmark disasters and thousands of people losing their jobs and Musk offering Trump his mic back. If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry. To quote Courtney Barnett again: “I think you’re a joke, but I don’t find you very funny.”