Musk's Twitter Bid Harkens Back to HearstHistorians in the News
tags: Gilded Age, media, Elon Musk, William Randolph Hearst, Robber Barons
Few business leaders have ever wielded as much power as Elon Musk.
Musk, who was already recognized by Bloomberg as the world’s richest man, will soon add one of the world’s most influential media platforms to his purview when he buys Twitter, adding to a business empire that already includes the leading private space company (SpaceX) and one of the leading electric car companies (Tesla).
It’s a combination that makes him one of the most significant figures in the history of technology, business and media.
“I think this is genuinely new,” Brad DeLong, an economic historian at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in an email.
“There were press lords in the past,” he said, citing William Randolph Hearst, whose fictionalized legend was immortalized in the film “Citizen Kane.”
“But never before to my recollection has a major entrepreneur in the high-tech of the day wanted this kind of influence — or, rather, Jobs and Gates wanted it, but they wooed news platforms, rather than buying them,” DeLong said, referring to Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
In historical terms, Musk has few comparisons. Richard White, a Stanford University historian and author of a 2017 book on the 19th century Gilded Age, “The Republic for Which It Stands,” said Musk is most similar to Hearst, who wielded power in public debates in the early 20th century through his control of a chain of popular newspapers. But Musk’s business interests are more sprawling than Hearst’s were.
And Musk has shown little interest in acquiring mansions and open land — a favorite pastime of tycoons from Cornelius Vanderbilt to Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg — and instead leverages his stock to finance endeavors like Neuralink, a startup working on brain implants, or the acquisition of Twitter.
“To me, Elon Musk is really simple. He really likes attention. He really likes to be at the center of the discourse,” White said.
White said that’s a contrast with railroad barons who bought newspapers in the 19th century to serve narrow financial interests, often in secret. Musk’s move into social media doesn’t seem to serve a business purpose, and he’s not hiding his influence.