In October 2017, after The Wall Street Journal reported on the state of Tesla’s assembly line—specifically, that it wasn’t quite in operation, and “major portions of the Model 3 were still being banged out by hand”—Tesla attacked the Journal’s credibility. “For over a decade, the WSJ has relentlessly attacked Tesla with misleading articles that, with few exceptions, push or exceed the boundaries of journalistic integrity,” the company said in a statement. “While it is possible that this article could be an exception, that is extremely unlikely.”
Also in October 2017, after The Guardian reported that a Tesla worker was suing the company because he was harassed for being gay by a supervisor, penalized for reporting the situation to human resources, and then fired, Tesla similarly criticized the publication. “We are disappointed that The Guardian, a corporation that ironically [does] have a track record of proven discrimination, is displaying a complete lack of journalistic integrity by misrepresenting this matter to generate clicks,” Tesla said in a statement to Jalopnik about the Guardian story.
In November 2017, Musk shouted “shame!” at journalists who covered layoffs at Tesla during a conference call with investors and press.
But none of this is likely to change people’s perception of Musk for the worse. That hasn’t been the case for years. “When Musk publicly took on The New York Times over an unfavorable review, for example, he kept the feud in the news for days while managing to galvanize the Tesla faithful on his behalf,” The Mercury News reported as early as 2013. Back then, Musk had only 176,000 followers on Twitter. Today, he has nearly 22 million.
The same thing has happened this week. At the time of this writing, Musk’s poll on his proposed media-credibility rating site records 88 percent in favor (“yes, this would be good”) and 12 percent against (“no, media are awesome”) out of more than 630,000 votes.
A day later, Musk is still tweeting through it. And there’s a chance that his media-rating website, Pravda, may soon exist. Mark Harris, a reporter for IEEE Spectrum, shared a document that showed a Musk agent filed a notice to create “Pravda Corp.” In October 2017, the same month that saw multiple Tesla statements attacking news organizations for their coverage. “He’s not kidding, folks,” Harris said. Musk responded to him with a hugging emoji.
The idea that yet another tech billionaire may soon be wading into the complicated swamp of modern-day newsmaking may be exhausting, but that it is Musk should not come as a surprise. Musk has made his career out of creating companies to fill gaps he perceives in various industries, and now he thinks he sees one in the news business. If only he knew the first thing about journalism.