The war of words between Tesla CEO Elon Musk and the New York Times dominated the world of automotive news last week after one of the paper's reporters failed at his D.C. to Boston drive in a Model S and Musk responded by calling the story "fake." Now Musk says he wants to "bury the hatchet and move on." Or, in other words, he wants this to all go away.
I'm not sure what exactly sparked this, but Musk this morning tweeted this to James G. Cobb, the Times' Automobiles Editor:
Cobb hasn't yet responded as of this writing on his Twitter (Update: He has now, see also below), and I'm not exactly sure which of his tweets — if any — spurred this comment from Musk. Perhaps there was a behind-the-scenes email exchange between the two that did it. I'd love to see what that looked like.
At any rate, it looks like Musk now simply wants this debacle to go away. Though it's completely understandable that Musk wanted to stand up for his product, more than a few people have said calling the Times' story "fake" was a PR misfire on Musk's part. This was a fight Musk started — saying the story was faked was the first shot in this war.
Doing so made the clash between the his company and the newspaper, not the Model S or the Supercharger stations, into the real story last week. It was a debacle in every sense of the word, and it makes sense that Musk would want to be done with it.
Meanwhile, Musk claimed a bit of a victory after Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, in a lengthy and thoughtful review, wrote that Broder took the drive in good faith but made some poor decisions along the way. In other words, it wasn't a "fake" story, but it could have been performed and documented better, Sullivan wrote. I think that's probably the best and most logical conclusion to this whole ordeal.
So maybe the story will go away now, although who or what was truly at fault for Broder's failed drive may never be settled. But I doubt people will forget about it any time soon, and I have to wonder, after collecting countless "Car of the Year" awards from auto pubs, is Musk going to respond this way to every negative review that comes out?
Update: If you haven't seen it, Musk has posted a follow-up on his blog after reading Public Editor Margaret Sullivan's piece on the Tesla v. NYT controversy. Automotive News' Nick Bunkley made a very good point on Twitter that Cobb retweeted:
Here's the quote in question from Musk:
Yesterday, The New York Times reversed its opinion on the review of our Model S and no longer believes that it was an accurate account of what happened. After investigating the facts surrounding the test drive, the Public Editor agreed that John Broder had “problems with precision and judgment," “took casual and imprecise notes” and made “few conclusions that are unassailable.”
I added emphasis to the last part, because it's just plain wrong. Here's what Sullivan actually wrote:
People will go on contesting these points – and insisting that they know what they prove — and that’s understandable. In the matter of the Tesla Model S and its now infamous test drive, there is still plenty to argue about and few conclusions that are unassailable.
Basically, what she said is that no one — not Musk nor Broder or anyone else — has presented evidence that is completely unquestionable. She's saying that this ordeal has not yet been decided. Musk is attributing that line only to Broder when he is guilty of it as well. Why he feels the need to take a quote out of context, I don't know.
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