Billionaire Investor Bill Ackman – Who Thought Sam Bankman-Fried Was Telling the Truth – Now Believes Elon Musk Is a Free Speech Absolutist

This is not investment advice. The author has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. has a disclosure and ethics policy.

Bill Ackman, the founder and CEO of the hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management, has quite a sordid history when it comes to walking the talk. Who can forget the billionaire’s seemingly desperate exhortations in March 2020, declaring “hell is coming?” What’s even more interesting, even as Bill Ackman’s words tanked the stock market at the time, he was apparently buying stocks hands over fist. Consider the fact that the billionaire hedge fund manager suggested at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that Hilton Hotels was essentially heading to zero. The catch: just a few days later, the hotel ended up as one of Ackman’s biggest long bets. Against this backdrop, the hedge fund manager’s recent endorsement of Elon Musk and his X social media platform can only be a liability.

Do note that Bill Ackman continues to maintain that at the time of the fateful CNBC interview, which had prompted a stock market crash in March 2020, Pershing Square did not maintain any short position related to equity indexes or the stocks specifically mentioned during the interview.

Coming to the topic at hand, Elon Musk recently attracted vitriolic accusations of being anti-Semitic when he responded in the affirmative to an X post that accused Jewish groups of pushing “dialectical hatred” against white people. To make matters worse, Media Matters spurred a cascading boycott of X when it showed certain anti-Semitic posts displayed adjacent to IBM’s adverts on the social media platform, prompting the likes of Disney, Apple, IBM, and Comcast to halt all advertisements on the embattled platform.

Facing this raging conflagration, Elon Musk was forced to don his firefighting hat. He banned certain Pro-Palestinian slogans for supposedly implying the genocide of the Jewish people, a charge virulently contested by the supporters of Palestine. He also undertook an apology tour of sorts to Israel. As for Media Matters’ allegations, the world’s richest person has now lodged a lawsuit against the nonprofit, contending that the atypical scenario it sought to exploit only materialized after refreshing the X timeline multiple times, implying that the entire saga was a hitjob designed to smear the image of the social media platform.

The most surreal instance in this saga, however, came on Wednesday. While speaking at the NYT DealBook Summit 2023, Elon Musk termed the advertisers’ coordinated boycott of X an attack on his right to free speech and an attempt to “silence” his voice. What’s more, the world’s richest person used an expletive for X’s boycotting advertisers even as Disney’s Bob Iger, one of the most prominent advocates for sanctioning X, sat in the crowd.

This brings us to the crux of the matter. Bill Ackman has now penned an exhaustive post on X, terming Elon Musk a “free speech absolutist,” one that he greatly respects. While Ackman correctly notes that most of the media articles around X try to draw clicks from controversies, essentially painting this entire saga as one that has been blown out of proportion, he is hardly the authority to distribute absolution.

After all, this is the same person who once thought that FTX’s now-convicted former CEO, Sam Bankman-Fried, was telling the truth about his professed innocence.

Meanwhile, as per the reporting by the New York Times, at least half a dozen marketing agencies and brands are standing firm on their boycott of X. The publication goes on to note that at least some of the temporary ad spend freezes instituted by big-ticket advertisers in recent days are likely to turn into permanent freezes.

In an ironic twist, Disney customers who are sympathetic to Elon Musk’s woes are now reportedly canceling their Disney Plus subscriptions en masse. Is the hunter becoming the hunted?

Do you think absolute free speech is possible for a commercial entity like X when it is so overwhelmingly reliant on ad spending? Should Elon Musk take the moral high road here or fight tooth and nail? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Update: Response from Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square

We have received the following response from Bill Ackman’s hedge fund:

“On-background, the framing of what happened in March of 2020 with regards to Mr. Ackman and Pershing Square is inaccurate. This twitter post from Pershing Square explains the timeline of events referred to in the article. During the CNBC interview you reference, Bill named several of the stocks that Pershing Square was buying that day, including Hilton. Additionally, two hours after his CNBC appearance, Bill clarified, that he was bullish on the economy long term and buying stocks – “These are bargains of a lifetime if we manage this crisis correctly.”

Note: The article has been updated to include pertinent clarification from Pershing Square.

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