Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the Trustworthy Sources newsletter. Sign up here for a daily summary of the changing media landscape.
Rupert Murdoch must have been smiling all over Wednesday night.
After several suggestions that the magnate had been dethroned by wayward billionaire Elon Musk as king of the right-wing media, the Twitter owner humiliated himself on the public stage in style, unable to host Ron DeSantis and a small audience due to a glitch-free audio-only event after the governor of Florida declared himself a presidential candidate in 2024.
DeSantis gave Musk his first official interview in 2024, snubbing Fox News Murdoch in a lawsuit for a valuable media appearance. The move to prioritize Twitter over Fox News, following Tucker Carlson’s announcement that he would host the show on Musk’s platform after he was fired by the Murdoch-controlled network, gave way to the view that perhaps Murdoch had fallen as king of the GOP.
But Wednesday’s events proved that to be far from the case, as Musk’s Spaces Twitter event was marred by embarrassing technical glitches. For about 25 minutes, Musk and venture capitalist David Sacks battled in front of an assembled audience of only a few hundred thousand people to get the sound going. The audio cut in and out multiple times, eventually leading Musk to end the Spaces event and start a new one under Sacks. This ultimately solved the problem, perhaps because an even smaller audience of several hundred thousand users turned up to listen to DeSantis.
Regardless, it didn’t matter then. The event was marred by commentators across the ideological spectrum. DeSantis’s announcement became the worst thing a president’s announcement could be: a prank.
The trio claimed to have effectively “broken the internet” due to the mass interest in the event, but in reality this was not the case. The audience that gathered was not even close to epic proportions. At its peak, around six hundred thousand listeners waited for DeSantis’ remarks during Spaces’ first Twitter event, which is a typical cable news audience that characters like DeSantis and Musk would normally mock as tiny.
It is also worth noting that established social media platforms such as YouTube regularly cater to large numbers of users – millions in fact – to simultaneously watch live video streams without such disruption. The fact that Twitter had difficulty hosting an audio-only event raises serious questions about the platform’s capabilities. Carlson averaged 3 million concurrent viewers on his Fox News show. How will Twitter support such an audience – especially for video?
As the second Twitter Spaces finally went live, DeSantis, Musk, and Sacks predictably focused their attention on attacking the establishment press. It was something of great irony to hear this: the Twitter Spaces event focused on attacking legacy media, while horribly failing to recreate what traditional media does on a daily basis.
“The old system is collapsing,” Carlson he told Aksios earlier in the day, a comment that looked quite unusual after the world had just seen the real-time Twitter event collapse.
Glitches aside, the Twitter space was billed as a unique event that would allow a diverse group of users to ask DeSantis questions. But that wasn’t the case when the party finally started. Most of the questions came from people on the far right, and the conversation turned to praising Musk as a free speech hero (Musk of course banned journalists and censored voices on the platform on behalf of autocratic governments.)
At the end of the day, DeSantis had to turn to traditional media (Fox News) to reach significant audiences and get his message across without being interrupted by repeated technical complications. “Fox News is not going to crash during this interview,” host Trey Gowdy poked DeSantis at the beginning of the right-wing cable network’s interview with the governor, explaining that Murdoch’s place, by comparison, is a well-oiled machine.
“All presidential candidates are very welcome on this platform,” Musk tweeted after an unfortunate event.
However, there is no doubt that if any other Republican candidate was thinking of passing Murdoch for Musk, this event will give them food for thought. And it should.
DeSantis’ decision to trust Twitter – which has been rocked by a series of downtimes and technical failures since Musk’s takeover – for an event with such high stakes may now very well hinder his already difficult start to become the next president.