Say what you want about Elon Musk — and a quick glance at the news will easily verify that people do, all the time — but there’s no denying that the man’s getting an awful lot of stuff done. Per Biography, even a rapid-fire version of the super-rich businessman’s résumé includes PayPal, Tesla Motors, and SpaceX … and even before he got around to involving himself with those businesses, he’d already sold his first notable company for millions of dollars.
Musk, in other words, is the kind of guy who has his spoon in a great many soups. Unfortunately for him, there are plenty of people who have disagreed with his methods, which has sent him on a collision course with a surprisingly large number of well-known people and institutions. On multiple occasions, various parties have felt that Musk’s actions leave a lot to be desired and have been quite vocal about it, too. Today, we’ll take a look at some of the biggest critics of Elon Musk.
Bernie Sanders felt Elon Musk could put his money to better use
Senator Bernie Sanders has a track record of public statements of the "standing up for the little guy" variety (per Encyclopedia Britannica). Sanders has supported tax increases for the rich, and in 2021, he turned his critical gaze on Elon Musk. "We are in a moment in American history where two guys — Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos — own more wealth than the bottom 40% of people in this country," Sanders tweeted on March 18. "That level of greed and inequality is not only immoral. It is unsustainable."
Musk countered on Twitter that he isn’t in the business of making himself richer. Instead, he’s doing what he does in an effort to benefit mankind. "I am accumulating resources to help make life multiplanetary & extend the light of consciousness to the stars," he wrote. That’s a pretty hefty comeback, provided that you’re left speechless by the concept of interplanetary travel … which Sanders wasn’t. "Space travel is an exciting idea, but right now we need to focus on Earth and create a progressive tax system so that children don’t go hungry, people are not homeless and all Americans have healthcare," he wrote as he retweeted Musk’s message. "The level of inequality in America is obscene and a threat to our democracy."
The exchange hasn’t really progressed since, but it’s probably fair to assume that Sanders’ views on Musk’s fortune have remained unchanged.
George Clooney didn’t appreciate his first-generation Tesla
Actor George Clooney might seem like a pretty chill guy, but as The Hollywood Reporter tells us, he can be a bit of a conscious consumer when the situation calls for it. And in 2013, Elon Musk’s products became a public target of his critical user experience. It all started when Clooney dissed Musk’s Tesla cars in an interview with Esquire. "I was one of the first cats with a Tesla," he said. "I think I was, like, number five on the list. But I’m telling you, I’ve been on the side of the road a while in that thing. And I said to them, ‘Look, guys, why am I always stuck on the side of the f***ing road? Make it work, one way or another.’"
Clooney didn’t actively set out to bury Musk’s automotive efforts but merely explained to the interviewer why he didn’t favor a Tesla like many stars at the time. Even so, it appears that Musk didn’t particularly care for the actor’s scathing and all-too-public product review, seeing as he soon retaliated on Twitter by comparing early adapter Clooney’s Tesla woes with the teething problems of another iconic product. "In other news," Musk sarcastically noted, "George Clooney reports that his iPhone 1 had a bug back in ’07."
BIll Gates doesn’t much care for Mars
Elon Musk’s fellow billionaire, Bill Gates, is known to take a keen interest in the human condition through his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2021, the Microsoft founder visited the Sway podcast (via CNBC), and as he discussed climate change, he also ended up dealing Musk a few stealthy, possibly unintended potshots. In reference to Musk’s SpaceX aspirations, Gates noted that he doesn’t "think rockets are the solution," and that he, personally, isn’t a Mars person. In fact, Gates noted that he eschews space entirely because he feels his money is better spent on Earth. "I’m not going to pay a lot of money, because my foundation can buy measles vaccines and save a life for $1,000," he said. "So anything I do, I always think, OK, I could spend that $1,000 buying measles vaccine."
This isn’t the only time Gates has appeared to gently reprimand Musk. As Forbes tells us, Musk has made numerous questionable comments about the COVID-19 virus, and in 2020, CNBC noted that Gates briefly commented on the subject. "I hope that he doesn’t confuse areas he’s not involved in too much," he said.
Though Gates has made it quite clear that he doesn’t share Musk’s space-themed ambitions and isn’t exactly cool with the subject of online misinformation, he’s also given plenty of praise for the younger billionaire, noting that Musk’s Teslas are "one of the greatest contributions to climate change anyone’s ever made."
Some cast members didn’t seem too happy about Elon Musk hosting Saturday Night Live
When Elon Musk dropped by to host the May 8, 2021, episode of "Saturday Night Live," multiple media outlets deemed the experiment a failure (per The Wrap and The Guardian). However, you might not have noticed that, as Cosmopolitan reports, certain people working for the show seemed to jump aboard the anti-Musk train before the episode was even out.
Per The Wrap, cast members Aidy Bryant and Bowen Yang both took to social media to post their perceived grievances about Musk. Soon after the billionaire was announced as a guest host, Bryant posted a since-deleted retweet of Senator Bernie Sanders’ critique of America’s wealthiest people. Meanwhile, Yang posted an Instagram photo about a Musk tweet that promised to "find out just how live ‘Saturday Night Live’ really is" while asking, "what the f**k does this even mean?" This post, too, has since disappeared.
While it certainly seems that Bryant and Young may have been throwing low-key shade at Musk, it’s worth noting that they didn’t explicitly criticize him — though one might be forgiven for looking at their posts and thinking that they weren’t exactly thrilled to share the stage with the Tesla main man.
Mark Zuckerberg has a history with Elon Musk
Once a person reaches a certain, multibillionaire level of extreme wealth and power, it makes sense that the feuds are going to get a little one-sided … that is, unless they go at it with other folks with a similarly sizeable fortune. According to Business Insider, Elon Musk and Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg have taken full advantage of this possibility for years. The pair’s bad blood may have started around 2016, when a SpaceX rocket explosion inadvertently destroyed AMOS-6, an important satellite that Facebook was planning to use to improve internet in Africa (per The Guardian). Zuckerberg didn’t mince his words about the incident. "As I’m here in Africa, I’m deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX’s launch failure destroyed our satellite that would have provided connectivity to so many entrepreneurs and everyone else across the continent," he commented.
While this wasn’t exactly a personal attack on Musk, the SpaceX founder turned out to hold a bit of a grudge when he replied to CNN reporter Kerry Flynn’s tweet about the subject … in 2018. "Yeah, my fault for being an idiot," Musk wrote. "We did give them a free launch to make up for it and I think they had some insurance." The two billionaires have since clashed about the subject of artificial intelligence, and Musk has embarked on multiple campaigns — or, rather, one long-running one — against Facebook, to the point of removing his companies’ pages from the platform.
Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are caught in a space race
According to Business Insider, Elon Musk and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos have been at odds since 2004 or so. This is because both men have a keen interest in space travel — Musk has his SpaceX while Bezos has Blue Origin, and the two companies have been in direct competition about contracts and patents more than once.
Back when the two were still rising stars of their industries, they reportedly had a dinner meeting over their shared ambitions regarding the matter, but their ideas didn’t exactly click, seeing as Musk has stated that Bezos mostly brushed off his advice. Over the years, the outspoken Musk has criticized Bezos and Blue Origin a number of times. Bezos has kept his own opinions about Musk and his company rather more well-hidden, though he has been known to return the occasional barb. Bezos’ personal aim is to colonize the Moon (per ABC7 News), and he’s criticized Musk’s beloved concept of doing the same to Mars more than once. In 2015, Bezos also tweeted a backhanded compliment about a successful landing of the sort that Blue Origin had already achieved: "Congrats @SpaceX on landing Falcon’s suborbital booster stage. Welcome to the club!"
The two have also complimented each others’ space-themed ventures on occasion, though, so even if their methods are at odds, they seem to recognize and respect each other’s hard work.
The government of Thailand rejected Elon Musk’s rescue plans
When a group of young Thai soccer players were trapped in a cave in 2018, the difficult and high-profile rescue operation attracted Elon Musk’s attention (per the BBC). While his heart was no doubt in the right place when he extended an offer for help, this dramatic time didn’t go down in history as one of the tech mogul’s finest hours. While the boys were eventually rescued, Musk’s plan to use a custom mini-submarine in the operation faced backlash from a caver involved in the operation, which caused the billionaire to unleash a barrage of unsavory tweets that led to a defamation lawsuit.
While this incident may have hogged the majority of Musk-related attention around the case, the billionaire also faced criticism from a far larger institution: the Thai government itself. Per Business Insider India, the billionaire sent engineers and other assistance to the site, but while a representative of Thailand’s prime minister, Prayut Chan-O-Cha, said that the PM respected Musk’s efforts, they weren’t really needed because his plan simply was "not practical." Narongsak Osatanakorn, leader of the rescue operations, echoed this sentiment. "Although [Musk’s] technology is good and sophisticated, it’s not practical for this mission," he said.
Azealia Banks has made some strange comments about Elon Musk
Elon Musk is no stranger to criticism, and his arguably strangest critic in 2018 was … rapper Azealia Banks (via The Cut). Before we proceed, it’s probably good to take this one with a pinch of salt and add a big, red "allegedly" over many parts of the story, given Banks’ somewhat peculiar description of the events.
The entire situation unfolded over various social media posts, in which Banks insinuated that Musk’s famous announcement that he’d turn Tesla into a private company left the billionaire a complete mess, because he didn’t have sufficient funds to back up his promise. She also criticized Musk about a number of things, claimed that he was under the influence of LSD when he made the aforementioned announcement, and made a number of disparaging comments about Musk’s talents, appearance, and personal life. Oh, and Banks said she knew all this because she was at Musk’s house to collaborate with his partner, Grimes — but since Grimes had her hands full with a panicking Musk, Banks was pretty much left to her own devices for days and overheard all sorts of things.
As for Musk, he responded to the entire situation by saying that he’d never even met Banks (via Gizmodo). Curiously enough, though, he did end up in hot water with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission … because he hadn’t secured the funding, just like Banks had claimed.
Jeremy Clarkson had some words about Tesla
When popular British car-themed show "Top Gear" got a chance to test drive the first version of Tesla Roadster in 2008, it may have seemed like a match made in heaven — but as Grand Tour Nation tells us, the reality was far more convoluted. Host Jeremy Clarkson was initially a huge fan of the vehicle, but unfortunately, the test version’s battery was shown to die after 55 miles, which eventually led to some pretty scathing comments from Clarkson. "But as a device for moving you and your things around, it is about as much use as a bag of muddy spinach," he concluded in an article he wrote for The Times (via Grand Tour Nation).
Elon Musk’s company didn’t much care for such criticism. Tesla actually sued the show, claiming that "Top Gear" had staged the incident to make Tesla look bad — only to lose the case. Clarkson eventually moved on to host "The Grand Tour" on Amazon Prime, and according to Inverse, he has revisited newer, better Tesla models and has an appreciation for the brand. However, his comments to The Daily Beast in 2017 made clear that he doesn’t have an equally high opinion of the company’s founder. "I’ve got no ax to grind," Clarkson said about his relationship with Musk. "He’s the only one who ever behaved in such a petulant way — most industry bosses are a lot more grown up."
Elon Musk vs. government agencies
When you’re a super-rich person at the helm of multiple big businesses, the government is bound to pay fairly close attention to you — and if something’s amiss, they can be quick to let you know. Per the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Elon Musk found this out in 2018 when the agency charged him with securities fraud after the Tesla founder tweeted about his intentions to take the company public at $420 per share, claiming that the funding was taken care of. The SEC considered this a market-manipulating misdirection and reacted accordingly. The consequences were expensive: Musk and Tesla settled the case to the tune of a combined $40 million in penalties, and Musk had to step down as the Tesla chairman.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the last time a government agency went after Musk’s Twitter habits. As ABC News tells us, in March 2021, the National Labor Relations Board declared that another Musk tweet — also from 2018 — was a veiled threat to prevent Tesla workers from unionizing. "Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union," Musk wrote. "Could do so [tomorrow] if they wanted. But why pay union dues and give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2X better than when plant was UAW & everybody already gets healthcare." The part about insinuating that unionizing workers will lose their stock options was the issue here, and Tesla was ordered to promptly address it.
Sarah Palin claimed Musk’s cars are for ‘losers’
Sarah Palin, former Republican vice presidential candidate and little-known tenth cousin of Princess Diana, might not be the first person you’d expect to criticize Elon Musk, but sometimes life comes at you in surprising ways. In 2013, Palin wrote a lengthy Facebook post that lamented the Obama administration’s perceived efforts to influence the market. The object of Palin’s ire was — you guessed it — Tesla, which she claimed received unfair support from the government, despite the fact that your average Tesla, she claimed, "turns into a ‘brick’ when the battery completely discharges and then costs $40,000 to repair." Palin also claimed that Tesla’s success was a perfect example that "We the People are always stuck subsidizing the left’s ‘losers.’"
The attack didn’t go unnoticed by Musk, who referenced Palin’s accusations on his Twitter account — though, clearly, he wasn’t too terribly wounded by the comments. "Sarah Palin calls Tesla a loser. Am deeply wounded," he wrote and linked to an article about Palin’s comments. "Btw, Model S warranty does cover ‘bricking.’"