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Elon Musk’s lawyers pressure caver Unsworth for an apology

“Did you ever tell anyone that Musk should get his big checkbook out?”

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Toward the end of the lunch break, a courier arrived outside the courtroom, holding two boxes of Advil. The delivery was received by Elon Musk’s defense team. The courier asked for a name, and Michael Lifrak’s name was given. He had, in fact, received the delivery but had promptly gone back into the lawyer clubhouse room where the defense’s lawyers were discussing their strategy.

The majority of the day was devoted to a cross-examination of Vernon Unsworth, who had brought the defamation suit, by Bill Price, a lawyer for Musk. Partly because of the style in which testimony must be introduced, it was exhausting. I could hardly blame anyone for requiring headache medicine. After a long discussion of Unsworth’s awards and honors, his media opportunities, what money he might have expected to make, and when he separated from his wife, we were all pretty tired.

No apology forthcoming

After Unsworth had assisted in the rescue of a boys’ soccer team and their coach from a cave system in Thailand, he gave an interview to CNN. He was asked about Musk, who had worked with a team of SpaceX engineers to build a minisub that could be used to carry the boys out, as a kind of a plan B. Unsworth was dismissive of the minisub, saying that it was a “PR stunt” and Musk could “stick it where it hurts.” 

“I did not attack Elon Musk,” Unsworth said. Then we all watched the CNN video again, in case anyone had forgotten it from yesterday and the day before, when we also watched it.

Price focused on the “PR stunt” part of the interview. To be clear, it was not just Unsworth expressing that opinion at the time, though Musk testified earlier that he’d found Unsworth’s interview especially hurtful. Price asked if “PR stunt” was to communicate that Musk wasn’t trying to help the kids. Yes, Unsworth said.

“Don’t you find that insulting?” Price asked.

“My insult was to the tube, not to Mr. Musk personally,” Unsworth said. “I believed at the time it was a PR stunt.”

It would be pretty “cold-hearted” to make something like this as a PR stunt, rather than to help these kids, Price suggested. Unsworth said he didn’t think Musk was cold-hearted, but that it was a PR stunt. Next, Price asked if after Unsworth’s time in the courtroom, and seeing the evidence presented about Musk’s involvement with the rescue, would Unsworth be willing to apologize for the “PR stunt” remark?

Unsworth said he was “not sure how I need to apologize”

“My opinion is that it is a PR stunt,” Unsworth said. So Unsworth wasn’t willing to apologize to Musk? Unsworth said he was “not sure how I need to apologize.”

Price moved on to some of the details of the rescue we’d heard before elsewhere. There were no guarantees that the procedure that ultimately rescued the children and their coach would be successful; it had never been tried before. As far as Unsworth was concerned, however, it was the only plan. 

SpaceX engineers had been on site, and Unsworth had even met one briefly. The engineer Unsworth had met was in fact surveying to try and find another entrance to the cave. Price asked if that was a PR stunt. “I wasn’t aware of what [the engineer] was there for,” Unsworth said. Unsworth wasn’t even sure he’d spoken to the engineer face-to-face, so Price brought out Unsworth’s deposition where he said he’d met the engineer for less than five minutes.

We then went exhaustively through the various concerns people had about the eventually-successful rescue plan, which I will spare you because it was very boring. We’d heard testimony earlier that the minisub was built as a kind of plan B. After all that, Price asked Unsworth if it was still his opinion that Musk’s effort was a PR stunt. “It is, yes,” Unsworth said.

A prolific texter

We then moved on to the “asked to leave very quickly” portion of the CNN interview, which was a statement of fact — and based on the testimony I heard in court, a false one. Unsworth said that the basis of that comment was essentially gossip, and he couldn’t identify anyone specifically who had told it to him. Also, there had been an order that only rescuers were allowed into the cave on the rescue days, Unsworth said. Price asked if Unsworth knew now that it wasn’t true that Musk had been asked to leave. Unsworth said “I don’t know that.”

For a few minutes, it looked like Unsworth was going to have to read at least a hundred pages of his own texts to respond to the question

Price then said that Unsworth had been investigating Musk after the lawsuit was filed. Text messages were brought up — Unsworth does not tweet but is apparently a prolific texter — where one of Unsworth’s friends told him a Thai official had gone with Musk into the cave and that the two were there for at least an hour.

Price asked if Unsworth had said anything in his texts about emotional distress. “I can’t recall,” Unsworth said. For a few minutes, it looked like Unsworth was going to have to read at least a hundred pages of his own texts to respond to the question, which increased the likelihood I was going to have to extend my hotel stay, change my flight, and apologize to my boyfriend for making him cancel our dinner reservation this weekend. Mercifully, Unsworth’s lawyer, L. Lin Wood stipulated that there was no reference to any emotional grief in the texts. 

We then heard that Unsworth had spent an enormous amount of time with lawyers. How long? “Possibly days, many hours.” Price asked if Unsworth had met with a jury consultant, a question that Wood objected to. The objection was sustained.

We were then shown a video clip of Unsworth saying, before he’d hired lawyers, that he felt he’d been called a pedophile. “No further comment about him [Musk], but I think people recognize what kind of guy he is,” Unsworth said in the video. He also said he was considering legal action. Price asked if the statement “people recognize what kind of guy he is” meant that Unsworth knew it was an insult and no one would believe that Unsworth was a pedophile. Unsworth said he was simply expressing how he felt about Musk.

There was then a long and tedious exploration of the various honors Unsworth had been given, in great detail, in both the UK and Thailand. Photos of Unsworth smiling while being honored were shown. “Nothing Mr. Musk tweeted got in the way of any honor,” Price said. Unsworth pointed out he didn’t know what honors he hadn’t been given.


Then, inexplicably, it was time to discuss Unsworth’s public-facing Instagram account. It was public at least in part because Unsworth testified that he does not understand the platform. Anyway, a photo of Unsworth’s back, covered in red welts, was shown to the court, with the caption “NFTFH” which apparently means “not for the faint-hearted.”  I guess this was supposed to paint Unsworth as a braggart, but to me, this mostly suggested that Price wasn’t that familiar with Instagram, either. (Just as the point of Twitter is posting without becoming The Main Character, the point of Instagram is showing off.) 

The next line of questioning Price pursued had to do with whether Unsworth had claimed to risk his life during the rescue. “I had not made any claims to physically risking my life,” Unsworth said. According to Price, someone purporting to be Unsworth’s agent had. 

Price then went back to Unsworth’s texts. First, we saw one where Unsworth said he’d told film companies to “piss off” for not offering him any money to be interviewed. Then we saw a text where Unsworth called the Thai Navy Seals “kwai,” a Thai word which literally means “buffalo,” but there was some confusion about the slang meaning of the word. It seems to be an insult.

We returned to the agent. According to Unsworth, he’d made an informal agreement with someone, but the arrangement lasted “weeks.” That agreement ended when Unsworth saw the contract and decided it would be too onerous, he said. The two remained friends. Price attempted to establish that the maybe-agent was still Unsworth’s agent and had sent him a pitch to correct recently. Unsworth said he thought he was helping his friend’s business; in any event, he hadn’t finished adding annotations.

Price asked if Unsworth’s mindset was that he wouldn’t tell his story for free. Unsworth said interest in the cave rescue had seriously died down and it was unlikely he’d be involved in anything. “It’s gone very quiet,” he said. Price then showed a few exchanges of Unsworth denigrating other media ventures that had gone forward without him. 

“The big piece in the jigsaw”

Possibly this is evidence of Unsworth’s greed; to me, it just seemed like shit-talk. Of a book: “this book will fall flat on its face” because Unsworth wasn’t talking calls about it, and a committee approving the soccer teams’ appearances hadn’t approved theirs. “What I don’t like about this is everyone is trying to do deals that won’t work. I am the KEY. I am the big piece in the jigsaw.”

The maybe-agent also said in an email that “there is a substantial amount of media interest” in Unsworth. Unsworth suggested that was possibly not accurate. “Are you saying that agents might exaggerate?” Price said, in Los Angeles, a city full of agents who exaggerate. The maybe-agent did act on Unsworth’s behalf in some email correspondence, including with The Guardian.

Unsworth participated in three books and two documentaries, for a total of $3,000 in compensation, which Price characterized as about 10 percent of Unsworth’s annual income. (The income “varies,” according to Unsworth, but is around £25,000, which is about $33,000.) He also became a member of the British Club Bangkok, which is apparently prestigious, and gave a talk there.

Price characterized a video as a “movie trailer;” Unsworth disputed this. Unsworth explained that parts of the cave had been blocked by silt, blocking the part where the boys had been, so he and his friends spent four hours digging through the silt and then made their way to where the boys had been found. The video had been shot on GoPros the group wore, and a friend had edited it into a little movie. Unsworth had been credited as director and producer as a kind of joke.

After this was over, Wood rose to stipulate that Rick Stanton, the head of the rescue dive team who’d corresponded with Musk and testified on behalf of Unsworth, had also received offers. We broke for lunch.

Vern, MBE

There was more discussion of Unsworth narrating a segment of what Price called a “documentary” and a group chat with people from SK Global, a production company that contracts with Netflix. Another chat suggested that Unsworth had been approached by another production company and turned the opportunity down. Price was clearly trying to establish that Unsworth hasn’t lost wages as a result of the “pedo guy” tweet, but Unsworth said he didn’t know if he’d lost possibilities.

We moved on to the Member of the Order of the British Empire, and discovered Unsworth had signed at least one email “Vern, MBE.” A photo of Unsworth being commended by Prince William at the investiture ceremony was displayed, and another of Unsworth smiling while holding the medal that comes with the award.

“Did you ever tell anyone that Musk should get his big checkbook out?”

“Did you ever tell anyone that Musk should get his big checkbook out?” Price asked. Unsworth can’t recall. He also doesn’t recall if he’d ever told friends he’d sue in Thailand and get a large amount of money. 

Also discussed was Unsworth’s wife, Vanessa Unsworth, who I will call by her first name for disambiguation. The two married in 1993 and are still married. They separated in March 2013; Unsworth met his current companion, Tik, in 2011. His first time in Thailand was also in 2011, when he went with Tik — he’d told Vanessa he was going for caving, and Vanessa found out about Tik later. Since 2013, Unsworth said he’d seen Vanessa in person once. His daughter also no longer speaks to him, he testified. He sends her cards and presents. “I still love my daughter.”

Price asked if Unsworth lost weight during his separation with Vanessa, or saw a doctor. Unsworth doesn’t recall. Price asks if Unsworth saw doctors or got medication after Musk’s tweets. Unsworth says no — he avoids medications, even headache medications. 

What did Prince William say?

Wood rose for the redirect, and I am now about to describe the absolute most maddening part of the day. Unsworth said that when Prince William awarded the MBE, he suddenly mentioned the situation with Musk. “He said to me —” Unsworth begins, before he is cut off by an objection. I love gossip and genuinely hope I will not have to go to my grave without finding out what Prince William had to say about Musk.

Unsworth had never been involved in litigation before, in any way. Wood attempted to ask him a series of questions about how difficult cross-examination had been, and received several objections, all of which were sustained.

As for Vanessa, the marriage was effectively over in 2006 or 2007, as she would later testify in her video deposition played for the court. Unsworth said Vanessa learned about Tik in 2011 and that Unsworth and Vanessa moved to separate houses in 2013. His daughter stopped speaking to him in 2015.

“Only talk to me or to the witness.”

There is some testimony about the Thai Navy Seal who died in the cave during the rescue that I do not entirely see the point of; Unsworth says he thought the UK team divers were better-equipped to take on the rescue. There is some cross-talk between the lawyers I don’t catch, which moves the Honorable Stephen Wilson to snap that “the interchange between the lawyers is starting to concern me. No more talking to each other. Only talk to me or to the witness.”

After the relationship with Unsworth’s maybe-agent ended, Unsworth did not seek out an agent. He testifies that if a group asks him to travel to speak that he expects them to pay his travel expenses. Wood then displays all the same photos that Price did and asks of each if the photo captured everything in Unsworth’s mind when it was taken. It did not, in every case.

There was a recross about the Thai Navy Seals, and the circumstances that led to the death. (The deceased had run out of oxygen, Wood establishes on the redirect.) Finally, Unsworth stepped down.

Some technical difficulties

The court attempted to call Jim Jansen, an expert witness for the plaintiff, but Jansen couldn’t get into the witness stand. “Did that door get locked again?” Judge Wilson asked. He addressed the courtroom: “Sorry, this is a brand-new court. Your tax dollars at work.” One of the judge’s assistants in a gray suit approached the bench and climbed awkwardly over it into the witness stand to try to unlock it from the inside. He was unsuccessful. He then scrambled back out, to the court’s general hilarity. We took a five minute break.

Tenure a year early

Once the witness stand situation was resolved, Jansen testified at length to his qualifications, which include that he got tenure a year early at Penn State and published a book with Cambridge University Press, which he tells us is very prestigious because it is very old. He has been a co-author on three other books besides. He spent 112 hours on data collection and validation for his testimony, for which he was paid $400 an hour — or $44,800. He is currently an adjunct at Penn State; his primary job is at an independent research institute he does not name.

Plaintiff’s lawyer Nicole Wade attempts to introduce a bunch of evidence from Jansen, including five full volumes of articles Jansen found. The judge won’t allow most of this, asking her instead to solicit testimony from her witness. Jansen found 490 articles in English about Musk’s “pedo guy” tweet on 361 sites from 33 countries, 445 published from July 15 to September 3, 2018. (Articles like this one that were about the litigation were excluded from his search.) It was pretty limited testimony, and the cross-examination was limited to what Jansen didn’t do, so I’m going to skip it.

We then saw excerpts from Vanessa’s deposition. She testified Unsworth hadn’t been to Thailand until 2011, and had traveled there to do caving. She found out about Tik later, and Unsworth was honest when she asked directly, though he hadn’t been forthcoming with the information he was seeing someone else. Unsworth pays her bills, and she seems unconcerned with getting more money from him.

“...Really devastated.”

As a result of Musk’s tweets, she said she’d been contacted by journalists who knocked on the door of her home, slipped notes under her door, and called her at home and at work. She’d spoken with Unsworth on the phone and said he was “really devastated.”

Vanessa testified that Unsworth occasionally insults people, “usually when it’s warranted.” She rated his level of rudeness in the CNN interview as a five on a 10 point scale, where 10 is maximally rude. She said that when she and Unsworth were separating, Unsworth saw a doctor. With that, the plaintiff rested.

As the burden of proof is on the plaintiff, the defense called no one. I cannot for the life of me understand why no one called a linguist to testify about the nature of insults.

The jurors were excused 15 minutes early, but Judge Wilson kept the lawyers to discuss closing statements and jury instructions. Ellyde Thompson, another lawyer for Musk, moved to make an end-run around the jury and decide the case as a matter of law. Judge Wilson declined. 

We will hear closing arguments tomorrow at 9AM PT.

Correction: This piece initially misspelled the first name of Ellyde Thompson. We regret the error.