This is the 100th episode of Plain English! I don’t know how that’s possible. Thanks to all of you who have listened. This has been a ton of work and a ton of fun. I’m still figuring out what this show is; how to balance news and tech gossip and big society questions and war coverage. There are days I think I know exactly what I’m doing and days I think I know even less than when I started out. And I just want to say to all the folks who have, on any medium, offered negative feedback or positive feedback: I’m reading it.
Today, we’re joined again by our first-ever guest, Kevin Roose from The New York Times, to talk about Elon vs. Twitter and the deep implications of the year’s astonishing breakthroughs in AI.
If you have questions, observations, or ideas for future episodes, email us at PlainEnglish@Spotify.com. You can find us on TikTok at www.tiktok.com/@plainenglish_
In the excerpt below, Kevin Roose catches Derek up on the latest in the Elon Musk–Twitter saga, and how Musk went from wanting to purchase Twitter to trying to back out of the deal and back again.
Derek Thompson: Kevin Roose, welcome back to the podcast.
Kevin Roose: Wow, what a journey it has been. I am so happy to be here and close the circle on 100 episodes. Congratulations.
Thompson: 100 episodes. You are my first guest, you are my 100th guest. It is an honor to have you bookend the first 100 episodes. If you recall, our first episode was called “The Future Is Going to Be Weird As Hell,” and we talked about implications for crypto and the metaverse. At the time, Bitcoin’s price was $69,000. Now it’s $19,000. Crypto has crashed. The metaverse is somewhere, not here. The market’s melted down. Inflation took over. Interest rates soared. Growth stocks plunged. Netflix, Peloton, Zoom, all the pandemic darlings, fell down to Earth.
And also, Musk Twitter happened. And so that’s where I want to start. The Musk Twitter acquisition to me is like a television show that I enjoyed for a few weeks, then I was like, “Wait, the showrunners haven’t really thought this one through.” You know when you watch a season of TV and it’s a 10-to-15-episode arc, but you’re like, “This has to have been pitched as a three-hour movie. There’s not more than three hours of actual plot here.” That’s where I got to with Elon [Musk] and Twitter. But we had the stirring season finale last week. Elon announced that he will likely go ahead with the deal and buy Twitter for $44 billion. Kevin, as someone who tuned out of the show for the last six, eight weeks or so, what did I miss? Where do we stand now?
Roose: Yeah, so we are in this very strange end game now of Phase 1 of this story. So you can think of it as a multiseason prestige TV show. We are now, I believe, coming to the end of Season 1—the latest that’s happened is that Elon Musk sent a letter to Twitter very unexpectedly saying that he intended to close this deal; that he was willing to pay the original price, $44 billion, $54.20 a share, for Twitter, and that he was going to attempt to close this deal. And that happened days before a trial was supposed to begin in the Delaware Chancery Court, where Twitter was going to force him to live up to his original intent and buy the company for $44 billion.
So now, in the last couple of days, what we’ve seen is that there’s obviously a lot of distrust between Twitter and Elon Musk because of Elon spending months trying to get his way out of this deal. And so Twitter has said, essentially, “We’re not calling off the trial until we get our money and until you buy the company.” And just yesterday, the trial was stayed. The Delaware Chancery Court stayed the trial and gave the two parties, Elon Musk and Twitter, until October 28 to officially close this deal. So either that will happen—Elon Musk will pay $44 billion and get control of Twitter before October 28—or they’ll go to trial and that process will happen sometime in November.
Thompson: So three parts. Part 1: Elon says, “I’m going to buy you, Twitter.” Part 2: He says, “Never mind, I don’t want to buy you.” Part 3: He says, “Never mind, never mind. I’m actually going to buy you.” It’s very obvious to me why we went from Part 1 to Part 2. The market crashed. The expected value of Twitter, if you lined it up with similar companies that were social media companies, advertising-based companies, like Snapchat, should have been much lower than the $44 billion that he had pledged to pay. He was trying to either wriggle out of the deal or negotiate some kind of lower price. It became very clear at some point that the Delaware Chancery Court was not going to allow that. Do you have a good sense of why we went from Part 2 to Part 3 in the story? Why did he say never mind to the never mind?
Roose: Well, yeah, that’s the big obvious question here: What caused this capitulation? He’s not known for giving up and rolling over, especially when it comes to this deal. And my best guess at this point, and we’ll need more reporting to confirm this, is basically that he just got told, “Look, you’re going to lose. You’re going to lose this case. It’s going to drag you into the public eye. More of your texts and emails and phone calls, et cetera, are going to be dragged out in court. It’s going to be embarrassing to you and your friends. And at the end of the day, the court’s going to make you pay $44 billion anyway. So you might as well do it now, frame it as a victory, try to make lemonade out of lemons, and get this over with.”
This excerpt was edited for clarity. Listen to the entire episode here and follow the Plain English feed on Spotify.
Host: Derek Thompson
Guest: Kevin Roose
Producer: Devon Manze