New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has published her final word on The New York Times vs. Tesla saga, saying that she does not think writer John M. Broder purposefully sabotaged the Model S test drive. But she isn't letting him off the hook completely. As for the most salacious allegation of Tesla CEO Elon Musk's assertion that Broder did the review as a hit job against the electric car company, Sullivan firmly sticks with Broder: "I do not believe Mr. Broder hoped the drive would end badly. I am convinced that he took on the test drive in good faith, and told the story as he experienced it." But that's about where her sympathies with the Times writer stops. "Did he use good judgment along the way? Not especially," she writes. And then goes on to say:
In addition, Mr. Broder left himself open to valid criticism by taking what seem to be casual and imprecise notes along the journey, unaware that his every move was being monitored. A little red notebook in the front seat is no match for digitally recorded driving logs, which Mr. Musk has used, in the most damaging (and sometimes quite misleading) ways possible, as he defended his vehicle’s reputation.
That parenthetical seems to reference Musk's usage of data to "prove" Broder purposefully ran down the battery because he has some sort of vendetta against Tesla. As I showed last week and Sullivan suggests here, all that information might have shown that Broder's test did not reasonably represent a real-world experience, but it did not show a lack of journalistic integrity. That said, Broder could and should have driven the car more responsibly, asserts Sullivan. Or, as the crew of Tesla superfan roadtrippers proved this weekend, a drive between these two 200 mile apart stations is possible, under certain (optimal) conditions. Broder made decisions that resulted in an article with a "high-drama ending" to use Sullivan's words.
Of course, just because this is the Times's public editor's final word on the topic, does not mean the subject will die. The commenters are not convinced by Sullivan. Nancy, for example, writes:
The point is to buy a care and drive the care from here to there and not worry about every foot driven. All this exercise showed is that the annoyance of driving a Tesla makes buying a Tesla beyond absurd.
And then on the other side, we have this:
One thing this doesn't explain is why Broder was reviewing the Model S in the first place---all his other recent articles are about big oil/gas which doesn't seem like too big a leap to say there might be a conflict of interest or at the very least a dearth of knowledge. Good well balanced response but the NYT can still do better than this. The original article read like a tabloid or a soap opera, not the kind of journalism that should come from the NYT or an experienced writer. And it no doubt has been unfairly damaging to Tesla's reputation, which the above response hardly makes good on.
But, Musk seems to approve of the response, retweeting a link to it.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.