Billionaire and Tesla CEO Elon Musk is finding out what the rest of us already know—no amount of money or evidence can neutralize a negative news story, especially when it is printed in The New York Times
But you have to credit Musk for trying, and following a solid reputation management response plan that despite the tough odds is actually gaining some traction and putting the Times
on the defensive, prompting the paper to publish a lengthy blog post explaining itself.
The dispute between the Times
and Musk occurred when the newspaper published an article
last week critical of the all-electric Tesla.
reporter John Broder test drove the last model Tesla and complained about the car’s alleged inability to keep a charge, and how he had to slow down his speed and turn off the heat. He claimed the car’s battery system ultimately died before reaching its intended destination due to cold temperatures sucking the battery power out of the car.
Broder’s conclusion was that the car did no perform as advertised: “The Model S has won multiple car-of-the-year awards and is, many reviews would have you believe, the coolest car on the planet. What fun, no? Well, no.”
Enter Musk. First, he had his team at Tesla review the article and track the reporting with the vehicle’s log. Musk claims he found inconsistencies with what Broder reported about fully charging the car and driving speeds. He passed that information on to the Times
The outlet’s response? You guessed it, even with the car’s log as backup, the Times
is sticking by its reporting.
's article recounting a reporter's test drive in a Tesla Model S was completely factual, describing the trip in detail exactly as it occurred. Any suggestion that the account was 'fake' is, of course, flatly untrue,” a spokesperson from the newspaper told CNET
But Musk did not stop there.
Musk attacked Broder on Twitter, calling the article a “fake,” and called Fox Business Network, saying the Times
was deliberately trying to write a negative article and “gain a picture of a Model S on a flatbed truck.”
He also set out with his own side of the story in a longer format, contacting media outlets about his concerns about the Times
’ story and its apparent inaccurate reporting. The story was picked up The Washington Post
and other outlets. Still not satisfied, Musk wrote a point-by-point refutation
of the article on his blog.
Clearly not afraid to pick a fight with the Times
, Musk said:
“We assumed that the reporter would be fair and impartial, as has been our experience with The New York Times, an organization that prides itself on journalistic integrity. As a result, we did not think to read his past articles and were unaware of his outright disdain for electric cars. We were played for a fool and as a result, let down the cause of electric vehicles. For that, I am deeply sorry.”
To further back it up, he included the vehicle’s logs for everyone to see.
Without claiming any sort of victory, Musk’s campaign might be having an impact.
After passing off Musk’s claim as sour grapes, a Times
’ spokesperson admitted
to the San Jose Mercury News
on Wednesday that the paper plans to publish its own post on the issue on its automotive blog after taking time to review Musk's assertions in detail. That post came Thursday evening when Broder published a lengthy rebuttal to Musk's claims, at times offering point by point responses to what Musk said in his blog. Broder concludes the piece by writing:
“Mr. Musk not only apologized, he said the charging stations should be 60 miles closer together and offered me a second test drive when additional stations were built.”
It looks like the Times
won't be recanting in the face of Musk's campaign, but the CEO did get its attention, and the attention of many others, for better or for worse.
Gil Rudawsky heads the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. He is a former reporter and editor. Read his blog or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.