- Elon Musk gave Walter Isaacson full access for a new biography.
- Recent history indicates this is a big mistake for Musk.
- That’s great news for us readers, though!
I’m a journalist. I think CEOs and politicians and other leaders should always say yes to whatever access request people in my line of work have.
But an unavoidable truth is that giving so much access over so much time has often lead to disaster for the subjects.
We were reminded of that this week by a new and quite brutal profile of CNN boss Chris Licht by Tim Alberta in The Atlantic.
According to the story, Licht gave Alberta hours and hours of on the record interviews over the fall of 2022, through the winter, and into the spring.
Licht took Alberta on a train ride. He took him to a CNN town hall. He took him to his gym. And so on. The result is a story that has some media execs wondering if Licht can hang onto his job.
The combination of giving total access for a long period of time can be brutal for subjects because the story often changes on them.
My favorite example is Michael Eisner allowing James Stewart in for “DisneyWar,” a truly great nonfiction business book that when Stewart began reporting it was about Eisner’s excellent leadership, but ended as narrative about a proxy war that led to his ouster.
Rupert Murdoch, John DeLorean, Richard Branson, Dick Fuld, Rudy Giuliani, Nikki Haley, and many others have also regretted giving total access.
Another really famous example is Steve Jobs allowing Walter Isaacson into his life in a way he’d never done before. Jobs died before the book came out, but lots of Jobs’s colleagues say he would have regretted the end result.
All of which leads me to something really exciting on the horizon for us readers: Walter Isaacson’s forthcoming biography of Elon Musk.
The Amazon description of the book says, “For two years, Isaacson shadowed Musk, attended his meetings, walked his factories with him, and spent hours interviewing him, his family, friends, coworkers, and adversaries. The result is the revealing inside story, filled with amazing tales of triumphs and turmoil, that addresses the question: are the demons that drive Musk also what it takes to drive innovation and progress?”
Watch out, Musk.
Admiral Ackbar would like a word because…”It’s a trap!”