Sam Bankman-Fried has given nearly a dozen public interviews, on nearly every media platform imaginable, in the month since FTX filed for bankruptcy, all against the advice of his lawyers. Bankman-Fried, after all, is under investigation for misappropriating billions of dollars of his own customers’ deposits to fund risky bets by his trading firm, Alameda Research, which it then lost. Meanwhile, Alameda extended S.B.F. a personal loan for some $1 billion. Countless people, from amateur crypto traders to institutional investors, have lost a fortune.
I can understand why some people worry that S.B.F. is being given too much license to author his own narrative. His ubiquitous, Buttigieg-esque P.R. strategy has offered the media some extraordinary human theater. In conversation, S.B.F. is meek, halting, and sad, but also prone to startling evasion and dissembling when asked about specifics, like what happened at Alameda, or whether he is worried about going to jail. He comes across as deceptively well-produced in a homespun way, as if he were a kid who got in over his head and is really, really sorry about what happened.
On Monday evening, it was my turn. Sam, still wearing a FTX-branded t-shirt despite the company now labeling him a “complete failure,” called me from his bunker in The Bahamas, patched through by his new crisis P.R. handler Mark Botnick, a former aide to Mike Bloomberg. Other financial reporters have already probed Sam about his conduct at FTX, which is now being investigated by the Department of Justice, the S.E.C., and other regulators around the world. Instead, I wanted to ask him about the worldview behind his catastrophic decision-making—the political and philanthropic objectives, now under question, that might have clouded his judgment.