Why did Elon Musk cancel Don Lemon’s show on X?

Former CNN host says Tesla chief is 'mad' at him over interview that touched on spread of hate speech on the platform and his drug use

Elon Musk's X announced a partnership with Lemon's show in January, saying episodes would be posted on the platform three times a week. Bloomberg
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Elon Musk has cancelled The Don Lemon Show on his social media network X after the former CNN anchor recorded an interview with the billionaire for its as-yet unaired first episode.

In a post on X, the San Francisco-based company said that after careful consideration, it had “decided not to enter into a commercial partnership with the show”, but added that Lemon's show is welcome to publish content on the platform.

X announced a "new content partnership" with Lemon's show in January, saying 30-minute episodes would be posted on the platform three times a week.

In a video posted to X, Lemon declared that “Elon Musk is mad at me″ and said he would be airing his interview with the Tesla chief on YouTube and via podcast on Monday.

Lemon did not go into specifics about the source of Mr Musk’s alleged unhappiness, but wrote: “Throughout our conversation, I kept reiterating to him that although it was tense at times, I thought it was good for people to see and hear our exchange and that they would learn from our conversation.

“But apparently free speech absolutism doesn’t apply when it comes to questions about him from people like me.”

Mr Musk has often touted himself as a “free speech absolutist”.

What was said in the Don Lemon interview?

In a later CNN discussion with Lemon on Monday, anchor Erin Burnett played clips of his Musk interview in which the Tesla and SpaceX chief executive grew irritable when asked about content moderation and the spread of hate speech on the X platform.

AI is one of humanity's 'biggest threats,' says Elon Musk – video

AI is one of humanity's 'biggest threats,' says Elon Musk

AI is one of humanity's 'biggest threats,' says Elon Musk

Lemon asked Mr Musk in the clip if he believed that he and his social platform held any responsibility for moderating hate speech on X, particularly the spread of the “great replacement theory”, a racist belief that, in its most extreme form, falsely contends that Jews are behind a plot to diminish the influence of white people in the US.

“The only reason I’m in this interview is because you’re on the X platform and you asked for it,” Mr Musk told Lemon sharply. “Otherwise I would not be doing this interview.”

Another part of the interview shows Lemon asking Mr Musk about his use of drugs and his experiences with depression. Mr Musk responds by speaking about how prescription drugs can be used to treat the condition but Lemon told CNN that he had been probing the Tesla chief's use of recreational drugs.

“Elon Musk is responsible for satellites, for Starlink, he's responsible for Tesla … I think that it is important for people to understand his mindset, whether he's using drugs legally or not,” Lemon said.

Elon Musk over the years – in pictures

Why did Elon Musk cancel Don Lemon's show?

Lemon said he had been informed of the decision to cancel the show hours after he conducted the interview.

“Elon publicly encouraged me to join X with a new show, saying I would have his ‘full support,’ and that his ‘digital town square is for all’,” Lemon, who was fired from CNN last year after 17 years, said in a post on X.

“He and his team pursued the deal in numerous conversations and made significant commitments about the support X would provide for the show.”

In his own post, Mr Musk said that the show’s approach was “basically just CNN, but on social media”. That approach does not work, he said, “as evidenced by the fact that CNN is dying”.

Lemon said he took Mr Musk and his team at their word that they were interested in working directly with new and diverse voices.

However, two people familiar with the terms of the deal told Semafor that Lemon had not technically signed a contract with X, arguing that the social media company does not need to pay the former cable news host.

The interview with Mr Musk covered “everything from SpaceX to the presidential election”, Lemon said.

“We had a good conversation,” he added. “Clearly he felt differently.”

Updated: March 15, 2024, 5:55 AM