The media is unfair to Coinbase—but that’s partly Brian Armstrong’s fault

January 12, 2023, 3:36 PM UTC
Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong
Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong at the Singapore Fintech Festival, Nov. 4, 2022.
Bryan van der Beek—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Poor Brian Armstrong can’t catch a break. The Coinbase CEO has for years built a corporate culture centered around compliance, which is a rarity in the freewheeling world of crypto. Despite this, the media has often portrayed Armstrong as a villain, while portraying FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried, the notorious liar and fraudster, as a good guy.

This is not just a casual observation. On Wednesday, Semafor reported there is empirical sentiment analysis to show that, in the publication’s words, “The media loved Sam Bankman-Fried; it hated Brian Armstrong.”

The question is why. Semafor suggests it’s because Bankman-Fried went out of his way to charm the media, making himself available to reporters day and night, while cultivating a political persona that aligned with the left-wing views held by most journalists. Meanwhile, Armstrong has long avoided interviews and frequently expressed contempt for a media establishment he feels is out to get him because of his public embrace of right-leaning Silicon Valley values.

This is all true by the way. Journalists are susceptible to friendliness and flattery like anyone else, and Bankman-Fried was particularly good at making them feel like he was a kindred spirit. It also didn’t hurt that he had the right pedigree—an MIT grad who’s the son of Stanford law professors—and rubbed shoulders with top-level Democratic politicians. Meanwhile, Armstrong is right that some media outlets, especially the New York Times, are out to get him because they don’t like crypto and abhor his heterodox political views.

Based on all this, Coinbase executives are right to complain the media is unfair. But that’s only part of the story. The other part is that Armstrong has made the situation much worse for his company than it had to be with a series of unforced errors such as publishing a controversial “diversity memo” that coincided with the height of the Black Lives Matter debate and going out of his way to provoke the Times. These stunts may have endeared him to his Silicon Valley chums and crypto groupies, but they also destroyed political goodwill at a time when Coinbase and the industry desperately needed it. Is that good leadership?

And while many of Armstrong’s complaints about the media are fair, some are misguided and just plain wrong. This includes treating the media entirely as a political cabal and failing to acknowledge its role in publishing truthful information that is indispensable to a free society and that allows markets to operate transparently. Armstrong has also refused to learn the nuances of the media business—one that is very different than his own—and instead tried to construct his own fantasy version of journalism by funding expensive propaganda projects that everyone ignores.

In recent months, his decision to sit down with CNBC and other big news outlets suggests Armstrong is evolving. Let’s hope this persists since the entire crypto industry is more vulnerable than it’s been in years, and desperately needs the sort of leadership Coinbase can provide. And who knows? Maybe Armstrong will change his own views of the media. To put it simply: Don’t hate the player, Brian, hate the game.

Jeff John Roberts


Digital Currency Group is looking to sell off assets from its large venture portfolio as part of an ongoing effort to rescue its subsidiary Genesis, which reportedly owes creditors $3 billion. (FT)

Sam Bankman-Fried, who is under house arrest, has extended his media outreach with a self-serving Substack post explaining he did nothing wrong. (CNBC

FTX Arena is no more as a judge granted Miami-Dade County’s request to end a naming rights deal for the home of the NBA’s Miami Heat. (Fortune)

The influential NFT brand Bored Ape Yacht Club is releasing a new token to members called Sewer Pass that will let them participate in a skill-based game called Dookie Dash. (CoinDesk)

Lawmakers in El Salvador approved a measure to go forward with a plan for the impoverished country to sell bonds backed by Bitcoin, which El Salvador’s president has bought in large quantities. (WSJ)


SBF, media baron:

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