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Rupert Murdoch must have been all smiles on Wednesday evening.
After some suggestions that the mogul had been dethroned by the erratic billionaire Elon Musk as the king of right-wing media, the Twitter owner humiliated himself on the public stage in grand fashion, unable to host Ron DeSantis and a small audience for a glitch-free audio-only event after the Florida governor declared himself to be a 2024 presidential contender.
DeSantis had granted Musk his first official 2024 interview, snubbing Murdoch’s Fox News in the process for the prized media appearance. The move to prioritize Twitter over Fox News, following Tucker Carlson’ announcement that he would host a show on Musk’s platform after being fired by the Murdoch-controlled network, gave way to the notion that perhaps Murdoch had slipped as the GOP’s kingmaker.
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But Wednesday’s events proved that to be far from the case, with Musk’s Twitter Spaces event being marred by embarrassing technical glitches. For about 25 minutes, Musk and venture capitalist David Sacks struggled before an assembled audience of only a few hundred thousand people to get the audio up and running. The sound repeatedly cut in and out, ultimately leading to Musk ending the Spaces event and starting a fresh one under Sacks’ account. That ultimately solved the issue, perhaps because an even smaller audience of a couple hundred thousand users showed up to listen to DeSantis.
Regardless, by then it didn’t matter. The event had been savaged by commentators from across the ideological spectrum. DeSantis’ announcement had become the worst thing a presidential announcement can become: a joke.
The trio claimed that they had effectively “broken the internet” because of mass interest in the event, but in reality that was not the case. The audience that assembled was not even close to epic proportions. At its peak, some six-hundred thousand listeners were awaiting DeSantis’ remarks during the initial Twitter Spaces event, which is a run-of-the-mill cable news audience that figures such as DeSantis and Musk would normally mock as being tiny.
And it’s also worth noting that functioning social media platforms such as YouTube regularly host large volumes of users — millions, in fact — to simultaneously watch video livestreams without such glitches. The fact that Twitter struggled to host an audio-only event raises serious questions about the platform’s capability. Carlson averaged 3 million concurrent viewers on his Fox News show. How will Twitter support an audience like that — especially with video?
Once the second Twitter Spaces finally got going, DeSantis, Musk, and Sacks predictably trained their attention on bashing the establishment press. It was something of great irony to listen to: A Twitter Spaces event centered on attacking legacy media while simultaneously failing horribly at replicating what legacy media outlets do on a daily basis.
“The old system is collapsing,” Carlson told Axios earlier in the day, a comment that looked quite remarkable in the wake of the world having just seen Twitter’s event collapse in real-time.
Glitches aside, the Twitter Space was billed as a unique event that would allow a diverse set of users to pose questions to DeSantis. But that didn’t happen when the event finally got underway. Most of the questions came from people on the right, with conversations devolving into praising Musk as a free speech hero (Musk, of course, has banned journalists and censored voices on the platform on behalf of autocratic governments.)
At the end of the day, DeSantis had to turn to legacy media (Fox News) to reach a meaningful audience to get his message out without it being interrupted by repeated technical complications. “Fox News will not crash during this interview,” host Trey Gowdy poked DeSantis at the outset of the right-wing cable network’s interview with the governor, making it clear that Murdoch’s venue, by comparison, is a well-oiled machine.
“All Presidential candidates are most welcome on this platform,” Musk tweeted following the messy event.
There’s no question, however, that if any other Republican hopeful was thinking of bypassing Murdoch for Musk, this event will give them second thoughts. And it should.
DeSantis’ decision to place his faith in Twitter — which has been rocked by a series of outages and technical breakdowns since Musk’s takeover — for such a high-stakes event could now very well hobble his already rough start to become the next president.