On the face of it, it is natural that Elon Musk would be somewhat of an opponent to gas-powered vehicles and the Big Oil cartel that fuels them. All he seems to be asking for, however, is a level playing field, where his electric cars can be measured against their gas-powered brethren based on actual customer experiences and objective reporting.
He contends that he is not getting a fair shake. He has argued that coverage of crashes involving Tesla cars have been disproportionately over-reported and negatively slanted by design, as a consequence of the undue influence of Big Oil.
In this tweet he refers to an Electrek article entitled ‘Tesla (TSLA) could rally as media negativity is ‘increasingly immaterial’, says Baird.’ The article quotes Baird’s auto analyst Ben Kallo in a note to clients about Tesla:
Negative headlines have increased substantially in the past month and, in our opinion, increasingly immaterial reports have dominated news cycles. We think we have hit a peak in negative coverage/sentiment, and believe shares could appreciate significantly with execution, which should coincide with an improvement in sentiment.
Later in the article Electrek puts their two cents in:
I have to agree with Baird here. I have been increasingly bummed out by the media’s coverage of Tesla.
Not only with the obsessive coverage of crashes trying to link what are mostly driver mistakes to Tesla Autopilot or risk of battery fires, but also a general increase of misleading clickbait.
Wow nevermind, they had a third one and it was even worse: pic.twitter.com/0BIsxc3oSO
— Fred Lambert (@FredericLambert) May 21, 2018
Endemic Problem In Mainstream Media
Elon Musk, the quintessential innovator, sees the root of the problem not as personal leanings of the reporters and journalists, but in the business model of mainstream media itself and the undue pressure it puts on slanting the narrative a particular way:
Problem is journos are under constant pressure to get max clicks & earn advertising dollars or get fired. Tricky situation, as Tesla doesn’t advertise, but fossil fuel companies & gas/diesel car companies are among world’s biggest advertisers.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 23, 2018
It’s interesting to see mainstream journalists resist and take personally what Musk is condemning, as evidenced by some of the responses to Musk on Twitter. While some mainstream journalists may hold on to the illusion that they are completely free to report and analyze on the impulses of their convictions and conscience, the more conscious among them realize that their success is dependent on their efforts to proliferate a narrative that favors not only advertisers, but the controlling interests of the media establishment itself. Often they are one and the same.
In this case, a journalist’s condemnation and mockery of Tesla cars is likely fostered and encouraged by superiors and the overall culture, while outright advocacy for Tesla cars is covertly or overtly discouraged. It does not take long to subtly weed renegades out of an intellectual culture and assimilate/elevate those who are willing to follow the party line and be proponents of a controlled perception.
Elon Musk’s issue with mainstream media might appear to be about cars, but it is more fundamentally about a the struggles of a highly successful innovator dealing with a reactionary established order. As the general public becomes more aware of the fact that mainstream media is not the objective journalism we once believed in more naive times, this looks like a fair fight. Musk even lays down the gauntlet as follows:
Going to create a site where the public can rate the core truth of any article & track the credibility score over time of each journalist, editor & publication. Thinking of calling it Pravda …
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 23, 2018
While this may be the half-serious ramblings of Musk’s Twitter rant petering out, it nonetheless sparks our interest and imagination. As seekers of truth, we certainly look forward to the day when mechanisms are in place to bring greater accountability for media story inaccuracies; a time when all journalists, most of whom are undoubtedly decent people trying to earn a living, are liberated to speak the unblemished truth as they see it.