Elon Musk is again in the news for conduct he allegedly engaged in with one of his employees in 2016. The alleged incident, published by Insider involved Musk running his hands along her legs without her permission, exposing himself, and offering to buy her a horse if she’d perform sexual acts with him. And while Musk has denied the claims, the allegations reveal yet another stain on the already checkered reputation of Tesla’s CEO. But more than that, it is another example of men in power abusing what power they have.
The allegations first reported by Insider have provoked various responses, with some drawing special attention to the report that Musk paid the woman into silence, offering her $250,000 to keep things quiet. Keith Olberman drew some attention to the issue, mocking the Tesla CEO for offering to buy a horse in exchange for sexual favors, with Olbermann tweeting a horse emoji to add an insult to injury.
Others, however, have risen to Musk’s defense, arguing that the timing of the allegations suggests a political agenda plays a role in recent reporting. Musk was previously planning to buy Twitter and take it private, much to the chagrin of some at Twitter and in politics. One user argued that the accusations were an attempt by the establishment to attack the CEO, presumably because of his opposition to Twitter’s current policies.
Elon himself repeated the argument, pointing to his planned Twitter acquisition as the reason for the allegations.
Despite the debate over the story’s origins, it is important to note that Elon does not have any evidence proving that the story is an attack on his political movement. Nor has he provided any. Instead, he has challenged the alleged victim to describe any “scars or tattoos” on his body to prove he exposed himself to her.
Such a challenge is unlikely to change the opinion of those already convinced of Elon’s guilt. Nor do they make Elon appear as composed and reasonable as necessary at such a volatile time.
What’s important to remember is that Elon has everything to lose and nothing to gain by ignoring these allegations, anonymous or otherwise. Before the allegations, Musk was fighting Twitter’s board as he tried to negotiate his acquisition before putting the issue on hold. Supporters of Musk pointed to his stated support of so-called free speech as a reason to support him in his struggle.
But with the allegations against him, Musk now faces the risk of his carefully crafted narrative and framing falling apart. Instead of being seen as a free-speech warrior fighting against tech oligarchs, Musk risks being seen as a rich predator with an overactive Twitter account. Such a shift in framing would inevitably undermine his credibility and reputation, effectively preventing his projects from going forward and could sink his planned acquisition of Twitter, or so one would think.
While it may seem as though Musk would be destroyed by such an allegation, American society has shown that it is not only capable of turning a blind eye to such misconduct but does so regularly. Comedian Louis CK was caught masturbating in front of women without their consent, and despite attempting to hide from the allegations, CK later confessed that he was guilty of exposing himself.
Despite that, CK has not only revamped his career but has won more awards. If anything, Musk’s reputation would take a hit, but he would not face any serious consequences. Of course, Musk’s likelihood of facing any legal consequences is almost nonexistent, as his influence on the public is extensive.
It is much more likely that supporters of Musk will disregard the allegation irrespective of the evidence provided and that this controversy will be forgotten by most of the American people. And judging by the news cycle thus far, I suspect it already has been.