The Eternal Sunshine of S.B.F.

sbf substack
The most interesting thing about Sam Bankman-Fried’s Substack memo last week was his decision to publish anything at all. Photo: Gotham/GC Images
Theodore Schleifer
January 17, 2023

Sam Bankman-Fried, ensconced and a little stir-crazy in his home on the Stanford University campus, has been doing a lot of writing recently, in part for his mental health. “You find it helpful to write things out,” he told me when I spent a few hours with him for my piece, The Only Living Boy in Palo Alto. But it was clear that he was also thinking about the meta-structure of his defense. One of my big takeaways from my time with Sam was just how dismissive he was of the traditional crisis-comms playbook. That, of course, was obvious by the mere fact that I was sitting across from him at his dining room table, with a phone recording our conversation for public consumption. But it was also obvious within hours after we published, when Sam, like Warby Parker and Casper before him, went direct-to-consumer and published an apologia himself. And now tonight, Sam is at it again with another post responding to the news of the day and attacking his old law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell.

The most interesting thing about Sam’s Substack memos is his decision to publish anything at all. No, alleged criminals don’t usually respond to allegations of having perpetrated one of the world’s greatest financial frauds on They don’t usually make arguments about the liquidity of their businesses based on stats “pieced together post-hoc, coming from models and approximations” and “estimations.” They don’t usually make material statements in replies to anonymous accounts on Twitter. They don’t usually cast public aspersions on the law firm that represents their former company. The traditional crisis-comms playbook, naturally, is to take your lumps, to say as little as possible and to respond surgically to accusations, rather than opening new avenues for prosecutors to dissect and attack when the trial eventually begins.

But if we know anything about S.B.F., it is that he cares tremendously about public relations—about how he is perceived, about how he is tweeted, and about what mainstream media figures think of him. Yeah, maybe he cares too much. But perhaps S.B.F. is not totally wrong that the traditional media strategy is out of date. Responding only in formal legal filings or during courtroom proceedings makes more sense when a case is being covered in print on a daily or weekly basis, not being devoured hourly online. It might make sense when the only people writing about the case are credentialed journalists who cultivate credible sources and ask subjects for comment, not by anonymously-run crypto-fetishizing Twitter accounts that post rumors without corroboration. Impressions of public figures are formed quickly these days and can be cast in stone even before the trial kicks off. I wonder how many people thought Elizabeth Holmes was already convicted and sitting in jail when her trial began in 2021.