Missouri AG criticized for “looking into” Musk media dispute

Bailey invokes ‘Missouri Merchandising Practices Act’ to justify probe
Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey and team investigating X
Published: Nov. 20, 2023 at 5:10 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 20, 2023 at 10:03 PM CST
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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KFVS) - Missouri’s Republican Attorney General announced on X, the social media platform formerly called Twitter, that his office was “looking into” a dispute between the platform’s owner, Elon Musk, and the non-profit media watchdog outlet Media Matters for America.

The dispute began as Media Matters was reporting on widespread anti-Semitism on the platform, including a report showing instances where advertisements for major brands were appearing on users’ feeds in succession with pro-Nazi content.

Musk had also stoked backlash on Wednesday when he affirmed the opinion of an X user who posted openly anti-Semitic content.

The billionaire posted Saturday accusing Media Matters of fraudulently misrepresenting the user experience and threatened a “thermonuclear” lawsuit to be filed Monday morning.

“The split second court opens on Monday, X Corp will be filing a thermonuclear lawsuit against Media Matters and ALL those who colluded in this fraudulent attack on our company,” Musk posted.

The president of Media Matters for America brushed off the threat, saying Musk has already conceded the issue with ad placement.

“Far from the free speech advocate he claims to be, Musk is a bully who threatens meritless lawsuits in an attempt to silence reporting that he even confirmed is accurate, Media Matters president Angelo Carusone said. “Musk admitted the ads at issue ran alongside the pro-Nazi content we identified. If he does sue us, we will win.”

In an appearance on the right-wing media outlet Newsmax, AG Bailey invoked the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act as justification for involving the Missouri Attorney General’s office.

“If we’ve got an instance where there was a deceptive or fraudulent business practice where Media Matters was using some kind of coercive or fraudulent algorithms or advertising, that’s going to be problematic under the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act,” Bailey said.

Elad Gross is a Democratic candidate running for Attorney General in 2024, and Bailey’s interpretation of the MMPA is a ludicrous stretch.

“He found something popular on Twitter that people are paying attention to,” Gross said. “So, he is attempting to insert himself and using the authority of his office to say, ‘Oh, look at me, I can actually do something about this.’ It’s a ridiculous situation.”

Gross said because neither X, Elon Musk nor Media Matters are located in Missouri, there’s no role for Missouri’s top law enforcement official to get involved.

“He is asserting some kind of unilateral ability to investigate a journalism outfit because Elon Musk doesn’t agree with their conclusions,” Gross said. “Calling that a consumer protection violation, it makes no sense. It would be great if he enforced our consumer protection laws in Missouri to help Missourians, but that’s not what this case is about whatsoever.”

The bureau reached out to Will Scharf, who is challenging Bailey in the 2024 Republican primary, but did not receive a reply by publication time.