Crypto winter has come for Silicon Valley. Bitcoin has fallen below $23,000, the lowest level since 2020, and crypto lender Celsius just froze withdrawals, citing “extreme market conditions,” shortly after another crypto ecosystem, Terra-Luna, also collapsed. Some $2 trillion in crypto market value has evaporated since last November. Coinbase C.E.O. Brian Armstrong is laying off 18 percent of his staff in anticipation of a prolonged downturn for the industry.
You’d think that might be a setback for FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, who appeared alongside supermodel Gisele Bündchen in a poorly-timed New Yorker spread this week advertising their shared “passion for creating positive change.” Bankman-Fried, after all, has turned his multibillion-dollar crypto fortune into an engine for his super-sized philanthropic ventures, some of which might plausibly be endangered by the recent implosion of the crypto economy. But S.B.F.—with his growing celebrity and political ambitions—is, in many ways, now a brand that rivals crypto itself. The other week he suggested that he might spend as much as $1 billion on the 2024 election, a comment that would be written off as absurd had it come from anyone else.
I’ve spent the past few months documenting these moves by Bankman-Fried in politics and philanthropy—including his record-setting, quixotic support of a House candidate in the Portland exurbs whose platform was focused on staving off the next pandemic. But what has been overlooked is that S.B.F. has major aspirations in media, too. And the story is much bigger than the $5 million check he wrote to ProPublica to fund pandemic reporting earlier this year. As I’ve learned in recent days, S.B.F. has been hiring his own staff with experience in journalism to advise him on how to focus the media’s attention even more acutely on the issue of biosecurity, or preventing an existential risk like a pandemic or nuclear attack from ending the world as we know it, which has become a singular obsession.