CNN + Musk = changing of the guard

The failure of CNN+ and the establishment panic over Elon Musk’s attempt to acquire Twitter are related events.

Less than a month after its much-hyped launch, news-focused SVoD service CNN+ has thrown in the towel. The apparent rationale was that, with people increasingly disinclined to watch CNN for free, the smart move was to start charging for it. The frequency and extent of corporate folly never ceases to amaze, with this futile and stupid gesture marking the perfect finale to AT&T’s baffling and ill-fated mega-M&A with Time Warner.

As is so often the way, a snapshot of public response to the inevitable conclusion of this Charge of the Light Brigade is most easily provided by Twitter.

And speaking of Twitter, the saga of Elon Musk’s proposed acquisition of the social media giant continues to develop. After the zillionaire bid to acquire all of its stock last week the Twitter leadership, rather than allow shareholders to mull the offer price, instead decided to initiate a ‘poison pill’ defence, having unilaterally decided to oppose Musk’s bid.

The thing about public companies is that they’re owned by their shareholders – there’s a clue in the term – not the CEO or the board. But the actions of the Twitter leadership seem to contravene that very concept and will surely result in litigation from Twitter shareholders who fancied cashing out at Musk’s offer price.

That may not be necessary, however, as it looks like Musk has managed to secure the necessary cash to make a tender offer, which is essentially a direct approach to individual shareholders to buy their stock. It would seem the poison pill still represents some kind of defence to this, so Musk could even end up trying to secure allies for a proxy fight with the Twitter board. Fun!

Since Musk would probably get rid of the lot of them, it’s easy to see why the Twitter leadership aren’t too keen on him succeeding in his M&A aims. Broader establishment horror at the digital public square being controlled by someone with a stated commitment to freedom of speech speaks of a more pernicious phenomenon, however.

The agreed talking point suddenly seems to be that control of a channel of public information should not lie in the hands of one person. In various ways this argument has recently been made by billionaire-owned Time, billionaire-owned Washington Post and billionaire-owned Bloomberg. So it seems the real fear is simply that Twitter be controlled by someone who seeks to wrestle control of the digital public square away from establishment vested interests.

The reason these two events are connected is that, in their own way, they epitomize the struggle currently underway for the hearts and minds of regular people. When the flow of information was largely controlled by large institutions such as the mainstream media it was relatively easy for the establishment to censor it and thus indirectly control the population. The arrival of the internet, and especially social media, has severed that connection and thus diminished the propaganda power of the elite.

Every time an influential independent voice, such as Joe Rogan, upsets the apple cart by opposing the Gated Institutional Narrative, the establishment has a panic attack. But the spectacular demise of CNN+ is just the latest piece of evidence that the genie is out on the bottle when it comes to elite control of the flow of information. It remains to be seen what a Musk-owned Twitter would be like but it couldn’t be much worse than the censorious nest of vipers it is today.

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