It’s hard to tell whether Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s latest idea was more influenced by the old Soviet Union or the current resident of the White House.
Like President Donald Trump, the billionaire entrepreneur has had his run-ins with the media, Tesla coming under increasing scrutiny in recent months due to production problems, lawsuits, quality issues and mounting financial losses. So, it seems, Musk might lift the name for the old Soviet government’s official media mouthpiece, Pravda, and use it as a way to fire back at critical journalists.
“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,” Musk said in his latest burst of tweets. “Thinking of calling it Pravda …”
Meaning “truth,” in Russian, the Russian “news” paper was published from 1918 to 1991 as the official mouthpiece for Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and their successors. It endlessly praised the achievements of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or CCCP in Cyrillic. And it routinely faulted Soviet foes.
(Safety groups want Tesla Autopilot name banned. Click Here for the story.)
The burst included criticism of what Musk called a “holier-than-thou hypocrisy” on the part of “big media companies who lay claim to the truth, but publish only enough to sugarcoat the lie.”
Andrew J. Hawkins, a reporter with The Verge, was one of those firing back, calling Musk “a media-baiting Trump figure.”
He wasn’t alone in suggesting Musk was starting to sound like President Trump, who routinely dismisses unflattering reports as “fake news,” Musk responded to Hawkins by saying that he, “Thought you’d say that,” adding, “Anytime someone criticizes the media, the media shrieks,’You’re just like Trump!’ Why do you think he got elected in the first place? Because no ones believes you anymore. You lost your credibility a long time ago.”
The irony, according to several media followers of Musk and Tesla, is that the company has generally been a darling of media coverage that, for quite some time, seemed reluctant to criticize the South African-born executive and his various ventures.
There are a number of media outlets that dedicate specific columns to following Musk’s every twitter feed, blog post and other pronouncement. Users of Apple News can have entire Musk sections set up to read on their iPhones and Mac computers.
But while there are still plenty of reports breathlessly praising his plans to dig tunnels under Los Angeles, launch a colony on Mars and drive the internal combustion into extinction, Musk’s apparent rage at the media – or at least some within the media – seems to be triggered by ever more critical scrutiny of his corporate problems.
(To see more about Elon Musk striking back after tough reviews of the Model 3, Click Here.)
That includes reports on a series of crashes, some resulting in battery fires, some linked to Tesla’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system. There have been several fatalities and a number of injuries, and the incidents have triggered several investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board in the U.S., and another by Swiss authorities.
Things seemed to start going sour in mid-2017 when production of the critical new Model 3 battery-sedan got off to a horrendous start. Production is still running well behind schedule and that led to Tesla reporting record first-quarter earnings.
It has also resulted in less enthusiastic coverage of Tesla’s and Musk’s frequent sales and earnings forecasts. It has almost never hit key targets, the Model X SUV, for example, coming to market two years late.
The Model 3 production problems have led to increasing scrutiny by investors, as well, several large groups currently trying to block the re-election of two Tesla board members seen as too close to CEO Musk.
Industry analysts have issued more scathing assessments in recent months, among other things questioning Musk’s repeated assurances that Tesla won’t need to raise new capital this year. A new Goldman Sachs assessment forecasts the company will need another $10 billion in equity by 2020.
Musk doesn’t appear to be limiting his disdain to media critics. During a conference call triggered by the first-quarter earnings call, the Tesla CEO cut off questions from several analysts, calling them, among other things, boring. But while each analyst was told they could ask just one question and one follow-up, Musk spent nearly 20% of the 75-minute call fielding a dozen or so queries from one who repeatedly voiced his adoration of the executive and his company.
His handling of that call was sharply criticized, and Musk also was rebuked by some for attacking the driver killed in a California crash of a Model S earlier this year – one of the incidents under NTSB investigation.
Even traditionally friendly faces have been less fawning in recent months. Consumer Reports magazine, which once declared the Tesla Model S “broke” its rating system with a more-than-perfect score, this past week refused to give an endorsement to the Model 3, citing a series of problems, including poorly performing brakes. After Musk fired back, CR did agree to a retest, and the exec’s plan to attack the media came shortly afterwards.
(Click Here for more about Musk looking beyond Model 3 problems, but creating some headache in the process.)
Of course, Musk could use his own, news site to snipe at any and all of his critics, whether they be journalists, analysts, Tesla owners, government officials or anyone else who doesn’t show him the expected degree of fealty and deference. That would be quite in line with how the Russians used their own version of Pravda.