Elon Musk has denied an allegation that he sexually harassed a flight attendant in 2016, characterizing it as part of a smear campaign against him.
The claim surfaced yesterday (May 19) in a story by Business Insider, which based its report on the account of a friend of the alleged victim. According to a declaration signed by the friend, during a 2016 SpaceX corporate-jet flight, Elon Musk asked the attendant to come into his cabin and give him a full-body massage.
"When she arrived, the attendant found that Musk 'was completely naked except for a sheet covering the lower half of his body,'" Business Insider wrote. "During the massage, the declaration says, Musk 'exposed his genitals' and then 'touched her and offered to buy her a horse if she would "do more," referring to the performance of sex acts.'"
According to the Business Insider report, the flight attendant filed a complaint, which was resolved in November 2018 when SpaceX paid her a $250,000 severance package "in exchange for a promise not to sue over the claims."
Musk has denied the allegations in a series of tweets over the past two days, calling them "wild accusations" that are "utterly untrue" and challenging the flight attendant's friend to describe any feature of his anatomy, such as scars or tattoos, "that isn't known by the public."
The SpaceX and Tesla chief also described the Business Insider story as a "hit piece" designed "to interfere with the Twitter acquisition" and claimed that it "was written before they even talked to me." (Musk submitted a $44 billion bid to buy Twitter, which the company's board recently approved. But it's unclear at this point if the sale will actually go through.)
"The attacks against me should be viewed through a political lens — this is their standard (despicable) playbook — but nothing will deter me from fighting for a good future and your right to free speech," Musk added in another tweet on Thursday night.
The "they" in this tweet is an apparent reference to Democrats or the left in a more general sense. On Wednesday (May 18), for example, Musk tweeted the following: "In the past I voted Democrat, because they were (mostly) the kindness party. But they have become the party of division & hate, so I can no longer support them and will vote Republican. Now, watch their dirty tricks campaign against me unfold…"
Business Insider says that it reached out to Musk before publishing the report. When asked to comment on the allegation, according to Business Insider, Musk requested more time and said that there's "a lot more to this story."
"If I were inclined to engage in sexual harassment, this is unlikely to be the first time in my entire 30-year career that it comes to light," Musk wrote via email, according to Business Insider. The billionaire entrepreneur also called the story a "politically motivated hit piece."
According to John Cook, investigations editor at Insider, the publication reached out to Musk at around 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT) on Wednesday — about three hours before Musk posted his "dirty tricks" tweet.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.