- Tesla CEO Elon Musk has had a lengthy battle with the news media.
- In 2020, he shut down Tesla’s PR department, and chose to use his Twitter to communicate instead.
- Musk has complained about recent and past coverage of Tesla crashes.
Elon Musk has a long history of qualms with the news media.
The chief executive officer and self-proclaimed “Technoking” of electric-car maker Tesla showed his disdain in a recent call with investors.
He lambasted news stories covering an April 17 Tesla crash, which killed two people in Houston, Texas, as “completely false,” and said the journalists who reported the car’s autopilot might have been engaged, “should be ashamed of themselves.” Houston-area police said there were two victims in the crash — and nobody in the driver’s seat.
The recent comments are just the latest in a string of attacks against the news media.
He has complained about coverage of Tesla crashes before. In one tweet from May 14, 2018, he said it was “super messed up” a Tesla crash was front page news.
It’s super messed up that a Tesla crash resulting in a broken ankle is front page news and the ~40,000 people who died in US auto accidents alone in past year get almost no coverage https://t.co/6gD8MzD6VU
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 14, 2018
That same month he criticized news coverage of Tesla accidents in the company’s quarterly earnings call. He said, “It’s really incredibly irresponsible of any journalists with integrity to write an article that would lead people to believe that autonomy is less safe. Because people might actually turn it off, and then die,” he said.
Last year, Musk, who also runs SpaceX, eliminated Tesla’s public relations team, the crew responsible for responding to journalists’ questions and managing public perception of the company.
News outlet Electrek was the first to notice the move, and since then, many journalists’ requests have gone unanswered. For example, no one responded to a request for comment on this story.
At the time, the Public Relations Society of America said the move could result in “dramatic reputational ramifications with long-term consequences,” according to a report from PR Week.
“In a world fraught with instability, disengagement is not a path to success,” the group said.
Musk has instead used a Donald Trump-like method of shaping public opinion about him and his companies — by using his Twitter account. He also uses the company’s YouTube channel, social media influencers, and direct email to communicate, CNN Business reported in December.
His Twitter account, which has 52 million followers, has become his main form of public communication. In a lawsuit against him, an investor claimed he has sent “erratic tweets” that have allegedly cost the company millions. One day after he tweeted “Tesla stock is too high imo,” shares fell almost 10%.
In one Twitter rant on May 23, 2018, Musk called the media “holier-than-thou” and linked to an Electrek article that pointed out negative news coverage of Tesla. He also said the public no longer respects the media.
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
That same day, he said he wanted to create a website where the public can rate the truth of any journalist, editor, or news outlet. He wanted to call it “Pravda,” which is the Russian word for “truth” and also the name of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s newspaper.
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
In response to the media coverage, just a week later on April Fool’s Day, Musk sent out a tweet, which looked like the beginning of a newspaper article, with the headline “Tesla goes bankrupt.”
Later on that month, Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting found Tesla failed to report a number of workplace injuries.
Tesla responded in a blog post, saying that it welcomes constructive criticism. But, “In our view, what they portray as investigative journalism is in fact an ideologically motivated attack by an extremist organization working directly with union supporters to create a calculated disinformation campaign against Tesla.”
One fund manager told Insider in March that he didn’t like Tesla as an investment, partly because he viewed Musk’s online presence as a liability. Even so, Tesla shares have risen more than 300% in the past year, according to Markets Insider data.