Telsa chief executive Elon Musk has owned up to insulting a British spelunker in a rash tweet, but would not concede on the witness stand that he called the man a pedophile.
Musk was yesterday due to return to the witness stand after spending several hours at his defamation trial trying to dance around the meaning of the “pedo guy” tweet he aimed at Vernon Unsworth, a cave diver who helped rescue a dozen boys and their soccer coach from a flooded Thailand cave last year.
Musk said the insult meant only “creepy old man” and did not literally mean he was calling Unsworth a pedophile.
The spat began when Unsworth ridiculed Musk’s effort in the rescue by having engineers at his companies, including Space X and The Boring Co, develop a mini-submarine that could transport the boys to safety.
Despite working around the clock to build the sub in short order, Musk arrived in Thailand late in the rescue effort and the craft was never used.
Unsworth called it nothing more than a public relations stunt and said that Musk could stick the sub “where it hurts.”
Musk watched the CNN clip of Unsworth several times before lashing out in a series of tweets July 15 last year.
“It was wrong and insulting, so I insulted him back,” the billionaire told a Los Angeles federal court jury. “It was an unprovoked attack on what was a good-natured attempt to help the kids.”
“Just as I didn’t literally mean he was a pedophile, I’m sure he didn’t literally mean shoving a sub up my ass,” Musk testified, provoking snickers.
Unsworth is seeking unspecified damages for pain, suffering and emotional distress from the tech entrepreneur whose net worth exceeds US$20 billion.
Musk’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, said during opening statements that Unsworth deserves nothing for what he called “joking, taunting tweets in a fight between men.”
The shame and mortification Unsworth said he experienced is undercut by the attention he received after the rescue, Spiro said, including honors from the Thai king and British prime minister and offers from agents and film crews.
Musk, who was dressed in a charcoal gray suit and white shirt, remained composed on the witness stand during questioning from Unsworth’s lawyer, who called him as his first witness.
His answers were at times humorous and sometimes seemed like those of an executive under court order to be careful about what he says.
Musk projected an air of humility as he was asked about his influence in the world.
He said he did not think his efforts to address climate change were taken seriously, that few people were aware of his goal to colonize Mars and he did not really pay attention to how his fortune stacks up against other billionaires.
He clashed at one point with attorney L. Lin Wood, telling him he interpreted the lawyer’s letter threatening to sue as a shakedown and extortion attempt.
“I get these shakedown letters a lot,” Musk said. “I think you’re looking for a significant payday.”
Musk said he was asked to help with the cave rescue and decided to get involved when he heard a Thai Navy diver died in the cave system and that a monsoon was forecast that could drown the soccer team.
Musk received no compensation for his efforts, although he acknowledged his work could have been interpreted as a “narcissistic” publicity effort.
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