Just a few hours after Loup Ventures’ Gene “Channel Checks” Munster published an open letter to Elon Musk telling him to “to apologize to Vern Unsworth, “ignore short-sellers”, and put the Twitter down“, the Tesla CEO took at least one of the three to heart, and issued an apology to the British diver Vern Unsworth whom Musk labeled a pedophile over the weekend in a now-deleted Twitter post, following the rescue of a dozen Thai schoolboys and their football coach from a cave in northern Thailand.
“My words were spoken in anger after Mr. Unsworth said several untruths & suggested I engage in a sexual act with the mini-sub,” Musk, 47, said on Twitter in response to another user.
As this well-written article suggests, my words were spoken in anger after Mr. Unsworth said several untruths & suggested I engage in a sexual act with the mini-sub, which had been built as an act of kindness & according to specifications from the dive team leader.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 18, 2018
“Nonetheless, his actions against me do not justify my actions against him, and for that I apologize to Mr. Unsworth and to the companies I represent as leader. “The fault is mine and mine alone.”
Nonetheless, his actions against me do not justify my actions against him, and for that I apologize to Mr. Unsworth and to the companies I represent as leader. The fault is mine and mine alone.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 18, 2018
There may have been another, more ulterior motive to Musk’s apology: Unsworth, who played a leading role in the rescue, said on Tuesday that he had been approached by British and American lawyers and would seek legal advice after Musk directed abuse at him on Twitter.
Speaking to Reuters after Musk’s latest tweets which were sent early on Wednesday morning, Unsworth said “I am aware of his apology, and no further comment.”
Asked if there would be a financial settlement over the matter or if he was still considering legal action, and also asked how he had heard of the apology, he repeated he had no further comment.
Musk had previously offered a mini-submarine created by his rocket company SpaceX to help extract the youth soccer team and the coach from the labyrinth of partly flooded passages. However, the rescue team of elite divers and others rejected his proposal, and a war of words erupted when CNN quoted Unsworth as saying the submarine “had absolutely no chance of working” and was “just a PR stunt”.
Musk responded on Twitter, saying:
“We will make one (video) of the mini-sub/pod going all the way to Cave 5 no problem. Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it.”
The Tweet was later deleted.
Musk has a history of controversial outbursts, sparring with critics and investors betting against his company. Musk jokingly tweeted on April Fools’ Day “joke” that the company had gone bankrupt after Tesla shares fell 22 percent in March. The following week, he hung up on the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board who called to tell him the agency was booting Tesla representatives from the investigation of a fatal crash involving a Model X driver. The company had published a series of blog posts that cast blame on the deceased driver.
Ironically, earlier this month, Musk said in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek that he would engage with his detractors on Twitter less often.
Then last week, James Anderson, a partner and portfolio manager at Baillie Gifford, called for “peace and execution” and urged Musk to focus on the company’s core tasks, while Munster said Musk’s “behavior is fueling an unhelpful perception” of his leadership.
Reuters even went so far as writing that “Elon Musk outburst puts Tesla board on the spot” hinting that it may be time to find a less volatile CEO.”
It remains to be seen if the board will see Musk’s apology as a sincere act of contrition or just the latest PR stunt.
Just like President Trump, the answer will likely be found in Musk’s next tweet.