SBF Trial: Did Sam Bankman-Fried Play The Media?
Two reporters who visited SBF under house arrest discuss his relationship with the media
By: Zack Guzman
October 6, 2023
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Even before the Sam Bankman-Fried trial began, the controversy started.
At the beginning of the week, author Michael Lewis kicked off his press tour for his new book profiling the rise and fall of SBF. Some of the positive things he had to say, like lamenting the fact the world now had “a Sam-Bankman-Fried-shaped hole,” triggered more than a few watchers of his interview on 60 Minutes.
Even some prospective jurors would later mention to the judge overseeing SBF’s trial that they had seen Michael Lewis’ interview — leading to questions about their ability to serve as impartial jurors. Soon, others in the press began to openly wonder if this was all another part of SBF's elaborate strategy to influence the narrative around his case.
As the last journalist to interview Sam at his parents’ home in Palo Alto, I couldn’t help but feel a little strange about it, too.
Watching Michael Lewis sit in the same room, in the same chair, in the same house that I sat in just a few months ago brought back a lot of questions I asked myself as we reported Coinage’s four-part series investigating Sam’s trial defense. Just how calculating was Sam Bankman-Fried?
After my interview with Sam in July, I would come to know I wasn’t so special. He held more than 1,000 calls with journalists, according to prosecutors reviewing his call records, and coordinated closely with the New York Times. After The Times published diary entries from his ex-girlfriend Caroline Ellison — which Sam himself provided — his bail was revoked after the judge ruled the move amounted to probable witness intimidation.
As we at Coinage dug into the facts of the case and fact-checked with former FTX executives, we were warned by at least one that the press was just as culpable in Sam’s immaculate rise to fame with FTX as anyone. How else would he have come to win the trust of the entire world?
As someone who had interviewed Sam nearly a dozen of times and would later raise funds from a handful of investors, including Alameda Ventures in early 2022, I looked back on a number of his other interactions with reporters. Of course, I had gotten to know a few while at FTX's conference in the Bahamas in 2022. And this week in the courthouse, Sam had once again brought together a Who's Who of the crypto press.
I started to wonder how true some of the recent allegations about Sam playing the media might be. For me, personally, Sam and I had never spoken about any editorial issues — and we had never covered FTX specifically until I reached out about potentially having Coinage NFT holders propose questions he'd answer in a taped interview. He had agreed, but was detained before that interview could happen.
For this installment looking into Sam's relationship with the media, I decided to reach out to Puck News Founding Partner Teddy Schleifer. I may have been one of the last reporters to make it out to Palo Alto to interview Sam, but Schleifer was one of the first. I wondered if his thoughts had changed since he was out there in December of last year. And, I wondered if he thought Sam really had played the media.
"I think he just understood the game," Schleifer told me in an interview that was recorded right before the trial began. "He understood the way that reporters are incentivized and think about decisions and I think more people should play the media. I mean, playing the media is like a skill. And he was good at it."
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Disclosure: Alameda Ventures is one investor among many in Coinage's production company Trustless Media.