Published on June 27, 2019 |
by Zachary Shahan
27. June 2019 by Zachary Shahan
Among people following Tesla, it seems that the largest subject in the past week has been biased and misleading coverage of Tesla, and electric cars or cleantech more generally, from great media.
This is a particularly difficult topic in this day and age. Independent world-class investigation journalism is a fundamental pillar of a democratic society. Journalists at New York Times Washington Post and elsewhere have done a tremendous job and deserve much more praise and honor than they come from the public for their political reporting. It seems that Michael Flynn, who was a serious national security threat to the United States, would not have been interrupted if it were not for investigative journalism from top media. In fact, dozens of corrupt, anti-democratic and damaging acts of the Donald Trump administration would not become public knowledge (to those who follow these things at least), if not for truly admirable journalism.
"Was it again to I decide if we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter," said Thomas Jefferson famously.
Reporters can be very helpful and highlighting important truths to the public when dedicated to a topic, exploring it deeply, having good sources, and having sufficient resources and support to back them up at various levels of the news organization.
Unfortunately, even though Tesla is a hot topic And being put into a lot of headlines, it seems that the people in large media stores who are tasked with understanding and reporting on Tesla lack most if not all the main ingredients. Why?
A hypothesis that many people are jumping on car companies and oil companies run ads, Tesla does not, and media stores feel at least slightly inclined to write fine tin go about it earlier and attack the latter. Except in some rare fringe cases * (and perhaps car media), I don't buy into this theory. I am still of the opinion that sponsorship / promotional items of large media and editorial arms from these outlets are kept separate; that journalists mostly do not think about the sponsors, and even if they do, they care more about their journalistic integrity than pushing up a sponsor; and that editors care deeply about the integrity of their professions and their roles in society.
So, where does it leave us? I'll suggest some reasons for the problem. I think it's a combination of all these issues. I can go wrong, but for whatever reason, I think a proposed solution at the end is an important one that will help whatever the cause.
Bad information: First of all, we must be honest about the smear campaigns outside the of the media. These are not theories. Some of them have been documented, others are obvious. There are very large industries that are threatened by Tesla, and by cleantech as a whole. It's the oil industry. There are car manufacturers and car dealers. There are large utility companies threatened by sun on the roof. All of these industries have an overview of running misleading messaging campaigns, and there is plenty of evidence that together they have formed a large, offline Tesla smear campaign. Throw in very vocals often wrong, and influential Tesla sellers, and you have a whole world of anti-Tesla propaganda. Look left, you can find it; look right, you can find it; Look in front of you, you can find it.
It is not difficult to see how this massive misinforming mislead journalists, suck them in and convince them to spit out Tesla hits. (I think I should emphasize again that this is really a lot separate effort with the same overall goal – slow Tesla / cleantech growth. It is not a large and centrally organized butter campaign that organic decentralization does The More Effective.]
As an example: A Tesla fan and investor recently undertook to dig through all 484 articles from an extremely anti-Tesla reporter by the LA Times . He tried to determine where the reporter's "enmity against Tesla" arose. Quote his analysis:
- End of 2016 Russ Mitchell published his first interview with Bob Lutz:
- In April 2017, the tone of Russ Mitchell's Tesla articles dramatically changed with the publication of the following article in a summary of the TSLAQ Card Thesis:  The next 2+ years are barring almost exclusively negative articles about Tesla by Russ Mitchell: well over 90% of the headlines are negative.
- Note that shortly before sending his short sales mission on April 24, he wrote an article about a random model S / X recall April 20:
Bob Lutz is a remarkable name in the automotive industry. You might think he was a legend, or you might think he made a mistake by mistake, but he clearly rose to one of the highest positions in the auto world. If you don't know much about making cars, automotive, or automotive finance, I think it would be very easy to swallow what Lutz made up, think it made a lot of sense and have your basic opinion of the Tesla business formed.
A remarkable point here that is likely to be glossy when it comes to this topic is that Tesla is a disturbance. Tesla interferes with the automotive industry. "Well, duh," you can think. But let it strike for a moment. Tesla interferes with the automotive industry because traditional car manufacturers did not take it seriously, did not understand the vision, did not understand the consumer appetite for Tesla and Tesla-like electric vehicles, did not understand how an electrical start-up could grow on a large scale in the 21st century, did not understand the software potential available today and did not have the entrepreneurial startup state or experience. "Yes, duh." Yes, Duh, But if you are a reporter at a large media expiration mission to cover young Tesla, what is your job to do? You need to reach out to "industry experts", learn about Tesla through them, and report a clever story (or 100 of them) that puts the expert knowledge into common language. But since most of the experts of the automotive industry "don't get it," they will give you a terribly misleading story (or 100) .
Now, if you go back to 2013, 2014 or 2015 comments from the car industry executives and experts on Tesla, it is easy in hindsight to see how wrong they were. These people were often confident in their opinions about Tesla, certainly that Tesla would soon be a short footnote in the history of diesel particles. They were dramatically wrong, but they were cited and also used as unknown sources at the highest levels of auto business journalism. They were considered the smart people who really knew about Tesla and Tesla's gloomy future, even though they didn't. Circles back to Bob Lutz and just picks him up because I somehow love him, stroll through our Lutz archives to see how fun he was almost every time he talked about Tesla.
I have sometimes been invited to major expert discussions about Tesla in recent years. Many years ago, and still on the last conversation I was a couple of months ago, automotive experts made a relatively small handful claim of why Tesla is doomed, and if I didn't know the company and marketed myself, I could easily be misled by their arguments. Tesla has faced an "obvious demand cut" or "demand plateau" at least since I started covering Tesla in 2012, according to the experts, according to people who believe they know all about the limits of consumer demand for electric cars ("1% of the market maximum, maximum 3%, not more than 5% … "). The obsession with Tesla's lack of profit is more of a scratch card – the company wants to pump every bit of money it can to faster growth, the whole mission is to accelerate the transition to sustainable energy and transport, but critics continually believe that Tesla should be making money and pay dividends over everything else. The company has seen really shocking growth and demonstrates the strong potential of its approach to the industry, but critics continue to miss the mountain by focusing on the pebbles on the ground. The point is that if large media journalists have got their Tesla worldview shaped by the automotive and energy industry experts (and they have been), they are just as lost as industries Tesla is disturbing.
Finance is another important topic here. Technical journalists, transport journalists, and "hi, this company is hot" journalists are not necessarily financial wizards. Again, turning to "experts" can cause a lot of bad information. For one you have what is often the most shorter stock on the US stock market. There are many people who are financially motivated to get Tesla's share price down . It is also legal to do so. They can feed all kinds of scary nonsense to journalists and face no consequences. Even without lying, you can get Tesla's story to look very shaken with some manipulation and omission of facts / context. So why wouldn't you? As it turns out, Tesla's short sellers are quite vocal and are trying to influence the media discussion. Some of them have formed a close relationship with journalists on the New York Times LA Times Business Insider etc.
Apart from the short sellers themselves, you have different Wall Street analysts who are tasked with covering Tesla because they cover cars. Like the problem I continued to describe with automation experts, these Wall St. auto analysts find it difficult to understand the company and fill it in the usual automatic business spreadsheets and context they handle. It is a unique company, a difficult to understand and analyze. Throwing up its startup quality into a world of old, large, established car business analysis leads to confusion. There have been many cases in recent years that these analysts are far out, but they continue to be trusted sources of insight into Tesla, a company many of whom don't really understand at all.
The next point to talk about continuing the discussion on this topic is verification disturbance, but it concerns all the issues I run so it's last saved.
Narrative holes: Yes, I'll put this one heavy on Tesla. When you have a company that draws in a hundred thousand reservations for a $ 35K + product within a few weeks – years before production – there's really thirst for news about your company. Tesla rarely publishes new blogs or press releases. If journalists are to make the news themselves, they will look elsewhere. The news came away from Tesla when it became clear that Model 3 was a big deal, but Tesla did not have a strong policy for often managing the story around the company. It could have done so with shallow and deep dives into the technology, the employees, the mission, the better products, etc., but the approach was instead too limited and disconnected.
Yes, it's Elon's Twitter feed. I'm a big fan of Aaron's Twitter feed, and I was long before he often started tweeting CleanTechnica stories. I think he is a great communicator, fun and truly brilliant. Elon's Twitter feed, however, is a gold mine for absurd news stories. He is sometimes a Monty Python character (useful or not for Tesla, it's a little damn good entertainment). He is sometimes a flame-throwing troll. He sometimes comes across as a student with an existential crisis. (Great! We should all have existential crises on a regular basis in my opinion! But it may be that hell can be twisted in a bad look for Tesla.) Journalists can often take greater account of what their career goals are, but they also know their job is to entertain and bring the eyeballs. Many a non-Tesla Elon tweet can be used to write an interesting, generous, controversial article that is a giant magnet for eyeballs and not a good look at Tesla, so that's what you get. I don't think that's right (wait until I get to the "Fundamental Lack of Context" section), but it's also to be expected, especially when Tesla doesn't otherwise do much to shape the story and stimulate more news stories about itself.
Ancient Peoples: Some journalists will not like this. I don't like this. I hesitated to address this. But I think it's important. Partly because of how extremely large the US divide has become, partly because of how much super rich people can play the system to become richer, while others become poorer, partly because of how shitty some rich people are "less people", and partly because journalists are not in the top economic part of society (to put it nicely), many people in the journalism world have a bias towards rich people. I'm not picking out any specific journalists here, but I think this bias is part of the culture of journalism.
There is no doubt about that, Elon Musk is a rich mother f *****. The guy is a business environment, extremely intelligent, and has an abnormally high appetite for risk – which often pays off. I do not know of any other person who so consistently succeeded in starting disruptive start-up. In the entrepreneurial world in the United States, it is a good thing to have failed at startup – because it means you must have learned something and matured and everyone does. Well, not all – Elon seems to have no problem winning with startup after boot.
Whether wealth is earned or not, but many are terrible that Elon is so rich. They are annoying that some so eccentric, goofy and sometimes flipping critical of respected people or norms is a billionaire. It puts a measure on the back. I'm a progressive. I believe wealth inequality is one of the three biggest crises the country is facing. I know some people in "my tribe" take it a step further and basically equate "billionaire" with the "bad guy." In an industry where you have to "torment the powerful", this is often not even a hidden bias.
Of course, when some journalists claim that Elon is a "scam" or a "Ponzi scheme," they begin to salivate and imagine their big, shiny Pulitzer prizes to take him down. It is easy for people in the industry to discover that Tesla is a house of cards, be condemned to the obvious physical and market proof.
Lack of depth at Tesla and the industry: Name a reporter at a large media outlet that is 100% focused on Tesla. I don't know about anyone and I suppose I had to spend some time through our Pravduh About Tesla archive to possibly find such a reporter. In general, journalists are spread out and spread thin. They are expected to cover many topics, many companies, and at a fairly low dollar per hour salary. It can't leave much time to try and dive into the deep history, economy or customer base of Tesla.
This industry has broken, crushed, crushed and crushed. "Publishing" was democratized, made easy and free, thanks to the internet, simple blogging templates, Facebook and Twitter. So much free content reduces the value of published content, which means that journalists and editors are more spread out, less specialized, responsible for multiple tasks (such as engaging in social media) and less skilled dives and patients into a single story or topic. Combine it with the issues I discussed above (especially in the first part), and you have a dozen or two Tesla and cleantech journalists who still don't understand Tesla or cleantech, but know enough to cause harm. (A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.)
Backlash to criticism: Elon Musk made a big boo boo last year. (To be fair, I think CleanTechnica may have done so too.) As someone who follows obsessive politics, I am deeply disturbed by political attacks on the media, on facts, on truth, on useful investigation, and on basic democracy. To put it simply, the United States faces repeated dumb attacks by a super boring object / person. Unfortunately, being on his last straw in the face of actually illegal and seductive media coverage, Elon threw around a hard media criticism with his Hulk-like Twitter arms, and I'm sure he deeply offended many journalists and editors. The time could not have been worse. I don't think Elon pays much attention to the political stories of the day or week, so I think this was a case where he had no idea how badly this would be received and how much it could lead to long-term setbacks. I think backlash is pretty much part of the foundation for Tesla media coverage now. (And again I think we might have flamed the flames a bit with Pravduh about the Tesla reports, one reason we quit them.)
Antique Silicon Valley bias: Silicon Valley has transformed our lives. From Apple to Facebook to Google to Microsoft, and found a world where Silicon Valley did not exist, is an exercise in imagining an alternative universe. No business is perfect, and the great influence and power of the Silicon Valley companies has made the problems of some of these companies particularly visible and controversial. The whole culture of Silicon Valley has idiosyncrasies and character flaws that are pretty well established now – even for people who never set foot there.
As the discussed anti-rich people I discussed above, criticism sometimes goes too far and also becomes criminal, counter-productive disturbances. In fact, I know of several people whose entire career seems to be centered on non-critical criticism of the Silicon Valley companies, and the media as a whole has "evolved" against a solid anti-tech, anti-Silicon Valley slope. It goes to Tesla coverage. Some of the same critical Apple, Facebook, and Google experts are drawn on TV shows or newspaper reports to throw darts and hand grenades at Tesla. The whole thing is too predictable and thoroughly annoying. Many progressives and conservatives have gathered most of what they know – or think they know – about Tesla from this type of comment. It is unfortunate because it is very influential and typically just outside the mark.
Unhappy tendency to tear everything down: I said that it is common in the media to believe that your job is to afflict the powerful. The quote itself is, "The work of the newspaper is to comfort them and disturb the comfortable." But I don't think it's a newspaper or media job. I think the media's basic job is to help the public get as complete a picture of reality as possible. Both democracy and a free market economy are based on the idea of complete, perfect truth in everyone's hand and mind. The closer we get, the more rational and effective it is to be democracy and economy.
In many cases, there is a lack of important information or entire narratives that are lacking in public awareness because rich and powerful people enjoy benefiting from suppressing them. This is a major problem, and that is why so many people in the press keep the maximum "nuisance comfortable" and make it a central pillar of their work. But it is a tremendously inadequate industry mission and leads to its own externalities or market failure if it follows too narrowly.
There are many good stories, many uplifting stories, many "puff pieces" that are excluded from large media for not good reason. It is frankly still shocking to me – despite everything I have written above – that more journalists and editors in the regular media do not find it helpful to mark the American success story and climate success story Tesla has created. There is so much regret about lost production jobs in the US, there is so much concern about the global warming crisis. There is such a dramatic health epidemic from pollution in this country, but large media do not think it is worth noting for the American public that Tesla is a major production success story that has created thousands of jobs and rapidly reduces emissions from the transport sector, a completely critical task list task. to avoid disruptive climate change. Instead, they find it curious to mention that Elon Musk takes a short and seemingly unnatural breath of weeds on a popular podcast hosting a vocal pothead. Instead, those who seem to be billions of dollars and bites on Twitter run over the downturn in Tesla's share price. What?
Basic lack of context: This is like repeating things I have already said, but it is spreading over topics. Time and again, the problem I see with mainstream media coverage of Tesla, and cleantech as a whole, is that history lacks important context. This is all from the full meaning of an email sent by Elon to Tesla's staff in stopping climate change. This includes negative misleading coverage of Tesla's finances as well as harmful unbalanced coverage of security related topics (car fires, Tesla Autopilot, etc.). This includes reporting on Tesla executive departures without putting them in the context of career changes at other automakers or in Silicon Valley tech companies.
I really don't understand the root of this problem. I just know it's somewhat consistent and it makes me crazy.
As a generic example, a Tesla fan recently noted the following about Tesla merchants (and much of the media): "Ironically, Tesla shorts, which continue to talk about Tesla's scams," completely ignore the actual scams committed by older gas car manufacturers such as VW, Mercedes, Nissan, etc. In fact, those responsible for these companies are actually in jail. "
Editorial: On large media, there is much more than outdoor box, freestyle, rant-all-you-want blogger like CleanTechnica There are often restrictive vocabulary goals, layers of editorial process that chop up an original story and stupid it, and abundant headline manipulation (by humans and computers) to try to click in the hell of you.
An example of this is allegedly the deep-wailing article that was recently published in New York Times on a Los Angeles-Las Vegas-Los Angeles Electric Car Driving vehicle. I heard from someone who allegedly contacted the author and found that useful information (including about Tesla) was included in the original, but was then removed by the editor. In addition, the headline was written by someone else and was a misleading, clickbaity headline that did not reflect the point of history. This happens safely in various ways with many articles. (It is said that it still seems that there were several major issues with the article.)
Confirmation Disturbances: When we have formed some strong faith, we tend to find arguments that support it and ignore reasons for doubting it. We are quite talented at rationalizing faith, including erroneous. This is not unique to any level of intelligence or education either – very intelligent and educated people can be excellent at rationalizing the wrong faith.
There is absolutely no doubt about it – many people are wrong with Tesla. There are millions of Tesla bulls / fans and also lots of Tesla bears / critics. One of the major groups has some basic errors in the analysis of Tesla. Confirmation disorders are strong on both sides.
Some people have probably turned their views on Tesla even after they had a bearish view for a long time. (For example, we have reported a long-standing Tesla card seller who turned into a Tesla long and quoted 4 of my Tesla sales maps in the letter explaining why. We have also recently reported Bob Lutz changing his Tesla story.) Most of the time we learn a little about Tesla, forming a holistic opinion, reinforcing the meaning of our tendency towards confirmation disturbances, and perhaps even getting into the nasty Twitter flamewars over the company. But even if we are the right ones, is it the most effective way to deal with the conflict?
What should I do, what should I do?
As with almost all good ideas, this is not mine. A few years ago, one of our readers suggested that we begin a letter writing campaign and encourage readers to write letters (e-mail) to local newspapers and major nationwide newspapers to better communicate the history of cleantech – solar, wind, electric cars and energy storage. I thought it was a good idea, but we never got there.
I think it's time to start this. We need pepper newspapers and TV news with a more complete and accurate story about cleantech.
As you can see if you read this piece or if you read us often, I think Tesla is a critical company / topic to focus on. It is far from the leader in the EV market, and it continues to push the entire automotive industry to the EV transition at a faster pace than if the company did not exist. Tesla is also a large roof terrace and stationary energy storage company. It covers most cleantech bases and is the market leader in each of these industries.
Furthermore, misinformation and throws are thrown into Tesla much more than any cleantech company – or any company – that I know of. The result is that people are massively misinformed about Tesla and need to get their perceptions corrected.
To help us formulate and coordinate such a campaign, send us a note. Otherwise, someone can start today independently.
* Note: Despite my beliefs, there has been some scientific research that concludes that advertising affects the coverage of advertising agencies.
- Some environmentalists are punked about Tesla
- From Brother to 2018 Tesla Short Seller Storm to today – What a long, strange trip it has been