Progressive FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried is facing an onslaught of legal repercussions over his involvement in the collapse of FTX and newfound questions have bubbled to the surface regarding if he paid for favorable coverage from the mainstream media.
Bankman-Fried, 30, became a billionaire after creating FTX, and became a subect of media fascination. Additionally, his commitment to philanthropy in the forms of donations to causes addressing issues like pandemics and climate change, as well as his massive donations to Democrats and liberal PACs, made him a major player in Washington. The one-time cryptocurrency wunderkind was adored by the press along the way, but it has been revealed that he ponied up large sums of cash to various news organizations before his trading platform suddenly crumpled.
Fox News contributor Joe Concha believes liberal media organizations that have been on the receiving end of investments, donations and grants from the embattled FTX founder need to be transparent.
“We hear all the time from journalists about the need for total transparency, but when the shoe is on the other foot, some clearly don’t practice what they preach,” Concha told Fox News Digital.
Bankman-Fried gave cash to media outlets including The Intercept, Vox, ProPublica and former New York Times media columnist Ben Smith’s new outlet, Semafor.
Smith and Twitter owner Elon Musk have been engulfed in a public feud on social media after Semafor published a report indicating the embattled FTX founder was invited by the Tesla mogul to roll a $100 million Twitter investment into privately held version.
Musk responded by noting the outlet is “owned by SBF” and calling it a “massive conflict of interest in your reporting” before using a trash can emoji to describe journalistic integrity. Smith shot back, “Like you and many others, we took an investment from him. We have covered him aggressively, and disclose it every time we write about him.”
Musk has since asked Smith how much Bankman-Fried invested in Semafor, but the former New York Times columnist declined to answer publicly.
A Semafor spokesperson did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment.
“It’s a simple question: how much did Sam Bankman Fried invest in publications like Semafor? The publication won’t say even after printing a completely false story on Elon musk excepting money from SBF — which he did not,” Concha said.
Fourth Watch editor Steve Krakauer noticed some media organizations writing in-depth stories in the downfall of Bankman-Fried “weren’t really very interested” in digging into his past back when he was giving them money.
“It’s not exactly bribery. It’s not exactly like, you know, buying them off, but it’s certainty, when he was an investor to them, and he looked good and the money seemed like it was coming from legit sources, his reputation actually helped them, then it was hands-off,” Krakauer said Sunday on “MediaBuzz.”
“They weren’t interested in finding out more information,” Krakauer continued. “But as soon as that money became toxic, as soon as his reputation became bad, then let’s go and explore this investor.”
Reason’s Robby Soave tackled the issue last week with a piece bluntly headlined, “Did Sam Bankman-Fried’s Millions Buy the Media’s Loyalty?”
Soave pointed out that journalist Teddy Schleifer, who covers Silicon Valley for Puck News, uncovered that Bankman-Fried also made substantial grants to other media outlets including The Law and Justice Journalism Project.
“SBF was heavily involved in Democratic Party politics: In the 2022 election cycle, he was the second most prolific funder of Democratic candidates after George Soros. But he wasn’t just a funder of electoral efforts. He funded both progressive and mainstream media organizations,” Soave wrote.
Brad Myers, an operational leader at Workrise, a skilled labor startup based in Austin, Texas, has been closely following the Bankman-Fried ordeal and feels some were “projecting an image” the FTX founder desired.
“I think that SBF was trying to own as much of the narrative and the perception of his reputation as possible. It’s shocking how deep the donations and favors appear to go,” Myers told Fox News Digital.
“What is interesting is the timing of it all. It appears that when SBF bailed out BlockFi, the exchange had already been close to insolvent. At the same time, [CNBC host] Jim Cramer compared him to ‘JP Morgan of this generation,’” Myers continued. “So, either people simply were not doing the work on SBF/FTX or those that were compromised were projecting an image that SBF wanted – ‘The Crypto Savior.’”
Soave pointed out that Bankman-Fried once admitted that ethics is mostly a front, raising eyebrows whether he was sincere about funding progressive media outlets.
“If SBF considered his generous donations to be a ‘front’ for something else, one wonders what about the else. Is it perhaps the case that SBF thought he was actually buying goodwill and favorable coverage? He was, as it happens, the beneficiary of countless gushing magazine profiles and was frequently hailed as the ‘white knight’ of crypto,” Soave wrote.
The money Bankman-Fried handed out to media organizations was substantial. He made a $4 million grant to The Intercept, but the publication had only received $500,000 at the time his empire began to crumble.
ProPublica was set to receive a staggering $5 million grant to support “ongoing investigative work on pandemic preparedness and biothreats,” but only received the first of three payments before it was put on hold earlier this month, according to an email ProPublica president Robin Sparkman sent to staffers that has been obtained by Fox News Digital.
“Our 2023 and 2024 grants are on hold at this time, according to our program officer. Building a Stronger Future is assessing its finances and, concurrently, talking to other funders about taking on some of its grant portfolio. We expect to have more clarity from our program officer in the next few weeks,” Sparkman told his staff.
While The New York Times and Washington Post aren’t known beneficiaries, the high-profile newspapers covered Bankman-Fried’s with hushed tones.
“The New York Times’ report on this disaster uses soft, passive language to disguise blame at every turn. This is the outlet that treats nearly every development in the tech sector as an existential threat to democracy, yet its summation lets SBF write his own verdict. Expanded too fast? Failed to see warning signs? He defrauded people out of millions of dollars! The empire didn’t collapse of its own accord; it collapsed because its foundations were fraudulent,” Soave wrote.
Bankman-Fried is scheduled to speak at the Nov. 30 New York Times DealBook Summit alongside New York City Mayor Eric Adams, former Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, along with several high-powered chief executives.
Fox News Digital has learned that Bankman-Fried is expected to speak virtually from The Bahamas.
“We look forward to conducting this important and newsworthy interview,” a New York Times spokesperson said.
Billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post was recently ridiculed on Twitter over a piece lamenting the fall of Bankman-Fried and the collapse of his plans to stop a second pandemic. Instead of focusing on his fraudulent activities, reporter Dan Diamond put a spotlight on Bankman-Fried’s philanthropic efforts, including his “staggering” contributions to research projects, campaigns, and other initiatives aimed at preventing the next global pandemic.
The piece also touted “Protect Our Future” a political action committee backed by Bankman-Fried. The group spent nearly $30 million in the midterms on Democratic candidates who they believe will be “champions for pandemic prevention.”
Twitter users mocked The Post reporter who shared the article, accusing him of “gaslighting” FTX customers who lost their funds, and promoting a man compared to Bernie Madoff, the man responsible for the largest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history.
“Do you guys have a bet with the Times over who can give him the best tongue bath while random Twitter accounts do actual reporting to expose continually deeper chicanery?” lawyer and writer Allan Richarz tweeted.
Some industry insiders believe outlets that didn’t accept money from Bankman-Fried provided favorable coverage simply because he gave large amounts of cash to Democratic politicians and liberal initiatives, such as climate change.
Bankman-Fried didn’t only help bankroll media organizations, the FTX honcho also tried to create one, according to liberal Vox co-founder Matthew Yglesias.
Yglesias, who left Vox in 2020 to blog on Substack, said Bankman-Fried approached him about starting “a new publication featuring writers he liked.” Yglesias says he declined Bankman-Fried’s offer but praised him for funding “good causes” before his public downfall.
“It’s plausible that without SBF’s money, Trump would still be in the White House,” Yglesias wrote.
Amid FTX’s demise, Bankman-Fried’s estimated net worth plummeted from more than $15 billion to no material wealth in just days. The former billionaire issued a public apology admitting he had “f—ed up” and the new FTX CEO stated during court proceedings that he had never before seen “such a complete failure.” As Bankman-Fried’s power and cash evaporated, media outlets began explaining themselves.
Vox noted in its coverage of the FTX debacle that Bankman-Fried’s “philanthropic family foundation, Building a Stronger Future, awarded Vox’s Future Perfect a grant for a 2023 reporting project.” The project is now on pause, according to Vox.
“In September 2022, The Intercept received $500,000 from Sam Bankman-Fried’s foundation, Building a Stronger Future, as part of a $4 million grant to fund our pandemic prevention and biosafety coverage. We have been advised that the grant is now on hold. In keeping with our general practice, The Intercept disclosed the funding in subsequent reporting on Bankman-Fried’s political activities,” a spokesperson for The Intercept told Fox News Digital.
“When we signed the grant agreement in February, we made it clear to Building a Stronger Future that we would continue to cover the cryptocurrency world, and even, possibly, FTX or Sam Bankman-Fried. Our funders have no say in our journalism and only find out about our stories when the public sees them,” a ProPublica spokesperson told Fox News Digital.
The Law and Justice Journalism Project did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
It is unclear if Bankman-Fried has funded other news operations.
Fox News’ Nikolas Lanum, David Rutz and Fox Business’ Thomas Catenacci contributed to this report.