Tesla founder Elon Musk is becoming increasingly disenchanted with the media’s treatment of his company, and he’s threatening to return fire.
Tesla has received plenty of negative media coverage recently: Missed production schedules, questions about working conditions at its factories, a negative review by Consumer Reports, and criticism for abandoning the people’s car, the $35,000 version of the Model 3.
Musk said this kind of coverage is driven by reporters under pressure to get “max clicks”–the modern version of “they just want to sell more newspapers”–and is biased because of advertising by auto makers and oil companies.
“The holier-than-thou hypocrisy of big media companies who lay claim to the truth, but publish only enough to sugar-coat the lie, is why the public no longer respects them,” he tweeted recently. “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.”
He didn’t explain how the public is supposed to rate the “core truth” of an article it didn’t research or report on, but nobody bothers with the facts anyway when it comes expressing an opinion on the internet.
The idea reflects Musk’s penchant for publicly battling media outlets, analysts and investors who raise questions about his business, a tradition of high-tech hot-shots who come to resent the media after early encomiums turn to criticism when their companies’ performance doesn’t live up to the hype.
Even successful companies eventually turn on the media. Despite Apple’s success and generally glowing media coverage, Steve Jobs came to loathed the media over time, still reflected today in the company’s penchant for being closed-mouthed with the media and paranoia about any employee who leaks to the media. (It produced a multi-page internal memo on the subject recently, which of course was leaked to the media.)
Like many of his peers, Musk over promises, under delivers, and then wonders why he gets criticized. The company has repeatedly blown production targets in recent years as it burns through billions of dollars in cash, and now it has essentially conceded it is giving up producing a car for the masses.
Long derided as a manufacturer of expensive toys ($75,000 and up) for eco-elitists, Tesla announced it would produce a car for the masses–the Model 3–for around $35,000. That prompted nearly 500,000 people to put down $1,000 deposits for the car. Now Musk has announced a new $78,000 version of the Model 3, conceding the $35,000 version would cause the company to “lose money and die” if built right away.
“The problem is investors have given Tesla a nearly $50 billion market cap in the belief the company will up-end the global auto market, not become a niche, high-end electric-car company,” The Wall Street Journal reporter Charley Grant wrote recently in its “Heard on the Street” column. “What that latter company is worth is hard to say, but it isn’t the current market valuation.”
No wonder Musk’s upset with the media.