Was Linda Yaccarino ‘sandbagged?’ What happened behind the scenes at the X CEO’s disastrous coming out party. – DAVID RAUDALES


Businessman, musician / former Full Stack Developer


Was Linda Yaccarino ‘sandbagged?’ What happened behind the scenes at the X CEO’s disastrous coming out party.

CNBC’s Julia Boorstin and X CEO Linda Yaccarino

Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Vox Media

X CEO Linda Yaccarino appeared rattled during her most high-profile appearance to date.
Yoel Roth, former head of Twitter’s trust and safety department, was added to the schedule at the last minute.
Some criticized tech journalist Kara Swisher and Code for “sandbagging” Yaccarino. 

Late Wednesday afternoon, I was standing near the swimming pool at this year’s Code Conference and saw Julia Boorstin, CNBC’s Senior Media & Tech Correspondent, walking by looking visibly upset as she was about to conduct one of the biggest and most challenging interviews of the year. 

Months earlier, Boorstin had secured a coveted interview with Linda Yaccarino to make her first major public appearance after being named CEO of X, formerly Twitter. Yaccarino, who previously headed global advertising for NBCUniversal, had been a longtime mentor to Boorstin when they both worked at the company and Yaccarino agreed to the interview only a few weeks into her highly visible tenure.

Yaccarino’s camp had insisted on the coveted closing speaker slot at Code, according to multiple sources familiar with the booking. It was intended to be a splashy coming out party for the newly minted executive who has been maligned as a puppet of Elon Musk.

She and her staff and large contingent of security guards driving Teslas had arrived early at posh oceanside Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel Monday night to prepare for the interview. Yaccarino was the buzzy speaker everyone wanted to see in an otherwise humdrum line-up that paled in comparison to the star-studded roster in previous years. 

But then Wednesday morning, a new panel was abruptly added to the schedule, which made things awkward for Yaccarino. Prominent tech journalist Kara Swisher interviewed Yoel Roth, former head of Twitter’s trust and safety department, who has been an eloquent and outspoken critic of Musk’s regime leading the social network.

When Yaccarino took the stage a short time after Roth she was visibly rattled. One audience member I spoke to described it as a “dumpster fire.” Another likened it to watching a car crash. 

Conference organizers can book whomever they want and Yaccarino is the highly-paid CEO of a tremendously influential company who should be able to roll with the last-minute change, which she failed to do. Still, some criticized Swisher and Code for “sandbagging” Yaccarino, needlessly putting her in a position to make her look bad in her appearance at a tech conference.

This account is based on what I saw at Code as well as conversations with other five people who were in rooms I was not allowed into at the conference. None would be identified by name because they are not authorized to speak publicly. X declined to comment. Boorstin did not respond to my text message.

Dispute over a surprise last-minute addition 

A person familiar with the matter says Yaccarino’s team started receiving emails from Code’s production team late Tuesday that they may want to shift Yaccarino’s speaking slot because they were adding an unspecified new speaker to replace Mary Barra, CEO of GM, who had dropped out. 

Then, they got an email from Code’s head of production Wednesday morning that Roth was being added.

The choice of Roth was an odd one, especially to replace a Detroit auto executive.

Swisher had already conducted a lengthy interview with him last year and since then he has had no shortage of public appearances. And Swisher herself had stepped down as the host of Code last year and this year’s conference was intended to a start a new era for Code, with Swisher supposed to cede the spotlight to three new cohosts, including Boorstin.

Swisher said her interview with Roth was not confirmed until Monday night.

“I told the Code team immediately via text since I was on a plane to LA and then made sure everyone involved knew on Tuesday morning,” Swisher told me in a text message. “On Wednesday, I sent a 7:22 am PT group text to everyone, including to the cell Linda had given me previously, explaining that Yoel would be there and by 9:23 am PT, Yoel and I were told via text that the interview was changed per a X team request to put some space between them, which we agreed to immediately. It was also my understanding that Linda was offered the opportunity to go first. All this aside, Yoel was extraordinarily respectful to Linda, who should have been able to answer basic questions about X put to her fairly and also respectfully by Julia.”

When Yaccarino watched a live video feed of Roth’s interview less than two hours before she was scheduled to take the stage she was horrified, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Roth recounted in detail how he was forced to flee his home after threats of violence. Musk baselessly implied that the former Twitter executive had a permissive view of pedophilia and warned Yaccarino that she was unsafe.

“If not for yourself, for your family, for your friends for those that you love, be worried,” Roth said when he was asked by Swisher to give Yaccarino advice on working with Musk. “You should be worried.”

Microphones taken away and losing the audience

Less than two hours later, it was Yaccarino’s turn. 

As the audience shuffled in, Swisher looked on from the back of the room. 

Gone were the audience microphones that were in aisles for the rest of the conference. At the last minute, Yaccarino’s camp said Boorstin could ask whatever questions she wanted, but there would be no questions from the crowd, according to multiple sources.

“I think many people in this room were not fully prepared for me to come out on this stage,” Yaccarino said as she sat down with Boorstin in black leather chairs.

Boorstin made a point of saying Roth’s appearance was a surprise to both her and Yaccarino. It was a graceful way to offer Yaccarino the opportunity to quickly address Roth’s comments and then move on to the interview and her vision for the future of X.

But a clearly shaken Yaccarino could not move on from Roth, and did not seem prepared to face tough Boorstin’s tough questions about death threats, free speech or even basic company policy and it showed.

When Boorstin asked if was Musk was serious about charging all users a fee to use X, Yaccarino paused for a couple of seconds before asking Boorstin to repeat her question.

“Did he say we were moving towards it specifically or that he was thinking about it?” Yaccarino asked after a nervous pause.

“He said that’s the plan,” said Boorstin, referring to a livestream on September 18. “Did he consult you before he announced that?”

“We talk about everything,” Yaccarino said, still not answering the question. 

When asked about the death threats about against Roth she said he received threats on every social platform, not just X, which was hardly a compassionate response. And she quickly tried to distance herself. 

“Yoel and I don’t know each other,” she said. “He doesn’t know me. I don’t know him. I work at X. He worked at Twitter.”

She quickly lost the stunned crowd – some of whom could be bursting out with nervous laughter – made up from a disproportionate number of founders, public relations professionals and journalists accustomed to seeing executives at tech conferences relentlessly calm and on-message. 

“She went the wrong way at every turn, so much so that it almost felt intentional,” a tech founder watching in the audience told me.

Asked by Boorstin if she is CEO in name only, Boorstin called the question “not nice.”

Boorstin then pressed her why Musk rather than her oversees Twitter’s product team.

“He runs technology. He leads a team of exceptionally talented engineers. I don’t care what the structure is at Meta, but who wouldn’t want Elon Musk sitting by their side running product?”

She intended it to be rhetorical, but quite a few members of the Code audience chuckled and raised their hands.

Later, Boorstin pressed Yaccarino on the Anti Defamation League’s feud with Musk and accusations that X is encouraging antisemitism. 

“Everybody deserves to speak their opinion,” Yaccarino said, before nervously glancing at her watch and saying she had to leave.

Swisher had already quietly slipped out of the room ten minutes earlier to catch a flight back to San Francisco. 

As Yaccarino’s white Tesla was about to drive away, Boorstin ran towards it and hopped in to thank her for coming, according to sources.

At Code’s closing dinner a short drive down the Highway One at the Montage Hotel in Laguna Beach,  attendees nibbled on caviar and steak and digested what had just happened.

Yaccarino was not there, on her way to Los Angeles for meetings. Boorstin showed up late, greeted by a smattering of awkward applause. 

Read the original article on Business Insider