How big a deal is it that we now know Elon Musk did not cut off Starlink internet access to the Ukrainian military but, rather, refused to activate it so that Ukraine could stage an attack on ships in the Black Sea off Russian-held Crimea? I don’t know that it amounts to all that much; by Saturday, when I wrote about it, we already knew that either was a possibility. Regardless, Musk was freelancing his own foreign policy in contradiction of U.S. interests.
On the other hand, it’s a very big deal for Walter Isaacson, who wrote in his new biography of Musk that Musk did indeed order that existing access be cut off. Isaacson has been backpedaling every since. Isaacson was very clear in the book, writing that Musk “secretly told his engineers to turn off coverage within 100 kilometers of the Crimean coast.” Isaacson now says that he misunderstood what Musk told him.
CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy published a tough piece on Isaacson in his daily newsletter, noting that Simon & Schuster, Isaacson’s publisher, will correct future editions of the book. The Washington Post, which ran the relevant excerpt, has updated and corrected it as well. Darcy writes:
The correction has cast a pall over the biography from Isaacson, a highly respected author who has written acclaimed biographies on historic visionaries, including Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, and Albert Einstein. Isaacson, a professor of history at Tulane University and former head of CNN, has for years enjoyed such a sterling reputation in the media industry that newsrooms have often taken his reporting to be fact.
In fairness to Isaacson, Musk is a slippery character who often changes his story. Isaacson reported, for instance, that Musk told him he made his decision after speaking to the Russian ambassador, but added that Musk has apparently hinted to others that he spoke with Vladimir Putin himself. Still, this is pretty damaging. Musk and his allies will use it to discredit all of Isaacson’s book, which will end up having far less impact than it otherwise would have.