Tesla Vs New York Times And Modern Journalistic Ethics


Yesterday both here and in the Times of Israel I posted about a New York Times reporter who took an electric Tesla Model S luxury car on a road trip in the north east United States testing Tesla’s newly installed Supercharger fast charge stations. He ran out of power.

Last night the larger than life founder and CEO of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk, fired the first shots in what could become an interesting battle with the New York Times.

That’s a pretty big accusation and you’d have to have something to back it up. Well he probably does:

A quick word of explanation about the reference to “Top Gear BS”. A few years back, just as Tesla were starting up, the British BBC TV show Top Gear tested their first car: the Tesla Roadster. Whilst the first half of the review praised the car highly, the show then launched into a theatrical portion criticising the long time it would take to re-charge and claiming the car broke during testing.

In what I would say was an ill advised sense of humour failure (and probably bad legal advice in the UK) Tesla sued the BBC for libel and eventually lost. Much more so than the New York Times, most reasonable people in the UK know that Top Gear is a scripted entertainment show with barely any real journalism. UK libel laws were always going to protect the BBC no matter how upset Elon Musk got, or how much money he wasted on Barristers.

Just like my car, Tesla is capable of turning on extensive logging and tracking for each of their cars. Tesla owners have a choice whether to allow this or not (unlike Better Place drivers who have no choice because of the subscription model). So Tesla really do have logged data showing exactly what the New York Times reporter so if he is lying he will be caught.

The New York Times, of course, has already issued a statement standing by their report.

What’s interesting, especially for those of us who regularly criticsise the New York Times for it’s reporting on Israel, is the wider picture. Did this particular journalist have some pre-conceived ideas or some point to prove. So of course it doesn’t come as much of a surprise to find that John Broder has previously written at least one broadly negative piece about electric cars.

Which does lead Elon Musk to ask exactly the same question I asked yesterday. Who was it at Tesla who decided this was a good guy to give a car to for this journey?

I completely agree: full background checks on journalists and a hunt through their prior work for potential conflicts of interest and bias are now necessary. The days of dispassionate journalism have long since faded. What a shame.

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