Elon Musk vs. the Media

Elon Musk, the eccentric South African billionaire head of Tesla and SpaceX, is anything but subtle when it comes to marketing his own personal brand of nerd-cool CEO. Musk’s latest wild business ideas include consumer-ready flamethrowers and underground mass transit tunnels.

These new projects might be a distraction from troubles at Tesla, which is currently the most-shorted stockon the market, and has received a flurry of negative media coverage over production woes and fatal crashesof its autonomous car prototypes. Some investors have even called for Musk to step down.

Dismissing the criticism, Musk called the press “misleading“ this spring.

A few weeks later, Musk announced his newest enterprise: a website “where the public can rate the core truth of any article and track the credibility score over time of each journalist, editor, and publication.” He even plans on calling it Pravda (or “Pravduh.com“) after the former Soviet newspaper.

There’s concern that Pravda — superficially similar to Snopes and other fact checkers — could be used to undermine journalists who critically cover Musk’s business interests.

A major spark for Pravda was a report on Tesla’s labor practices by Reveal, an outlet of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting, which reported that Tesla had inadequate safety standards and was underreporting injuries.

In response, Tesla released an official statement calling Reveal an “extremist organization” that’s “working directly with union supporters to create a calculated disinformation campaign.” Tesla workers have fought with Musk in recent years over issues such as excessive mandatory overtime, low pay, and confidentiality requirements that deter contact with journalists.

Ironically, Musk’s larger-than-life persona and seemingly revolutionary business ventures have brought him legions of journalist cheerleaders over the years. He’s often held up as a Herculean ubermensch who will save the Earth from climate change and propel humanity to Mars.

Yet despite all his huffing about (finally) receiving a bit of critical coverage, Musk does have some valid points about the relationship between media and advertising.

Just prior to announcing Pravda, Musk tweeted that journalists are “under constant pressure to get max clicks and earn advertising dollars or get fired. Tricky situation, as Tesla doesn’t advertise, but fossil fuel companies and gas/diesel car companies are among world’s biggest advertisers.”

This is a fair assessment. Large media properties are owned by just a handful of corporations, whose advertisers and business interests hamper them from taking critical stances on important issues, including climate change. These outlets frequently tiptoe between coverage that’s just incisive enough to be provocative, but sanitized enough to not upset their corporate partners.

Yet in attacking Reveal, Musk was opening fire on a nonprofit organization not beholden to advertisers. Reveal and other investigative outlets fill important and overlooked gaps in corporate media coverage, which typically overlooks the concerns of workers.

If the goal of journalism is to act as a check on power, then Musk’s attacks on both labor and media show that his concerns about the press are less noble than they seem.

By criticizing media only when his company’s bottom line — and his personal brand — are threatened, Musk is displaying the same type of hypocrisy he decries. Pravda could easily be used as a cudgel against journalists or outlets like Reveal who might be critical of Musk or his companies.

Moving humanity away from fossil fuels to halt the impact of global climate change is indeed a noble goal, and Musk’s personal brand helps elevate the viability of electric vehicles. But Musk’s massive fortune, anti-labor views, and cult of personality make him a dubious vehicle for any media reform project. The public should remain wary of his intentions.

Justin Anderson is a contributor to FAIR.org, where an earlier version of this piece appeared.

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
March 22, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
The Ghost of Fascism in the Post-Truth Era
Gabriel Rockhill
Spectacular Violence as a Weapon of War Against the Yellow Vests
H. Bruce Franklin
Trump vs. McCain: an American Horror Story
Paul Street
A Pox on the Houses of Trump and McCain, Huxleyan Media, and the Myth of “The Vietnam War”
Andrew Levine
Why Not Impeach?
Bruce E. Levine
Right-Wing Psychiatry, Love-Me Liberals and the Anti-Authoritarian Left
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Darn That (American) Dream
Charles Pierson
Rick Perry, the Saudis and a Dangerous Nuclear Deal
Moshe Adler
American Workers Should Want to Transfer Technology to China
David Rosen
Trafficking or Commercial Sex? What Recent Exposés Reveal
Nick Pemberton
The Real Parallels Between Donald Trump and George Orwell
Binoy Kampmark
Reading Manifestos: Restricting Brenton Tarrant’s The Great Replacement
Brian Cloughley
NATO’s Expensive Anniversaries
Ron Jacobs
Donald Cox: Tale of a Panther
Joseph Grosso
New York’s Hudson Yards: The Revanchist City Lives On
Is It Really So Shocking?
Bob Lord
There’s Plenty of Wealth to Go Around, But It Doesn’t
John W. Whitehead
The Growing Epidemic of Cops Shooting Family Dogs
Jeff Cohen
Let’s Not Restore or Mythologize Obama 
Christy Rodgers
Achieving Escape Velocity
Monika Zgustova
The Masculinity of the Future
Jessicah Pierre
The Real College Admissions Scandal
Peter Mayo
US Higher Education Influence Takes a Different Turn
Martha Rosenberg
New Study Confirms That Eggs are a Stroke in a Shell
Ted Rall
The Greatest Projects I Never Mad
George Wuerthner
Saving the Big Wild: Why Aren’t More Conservationists Supporting NREPA?
Norman Solomon
Reinventing Beto: How a GOP Accessory Became a Top Democratic Contender for President
Ralph Nader
Greedy Boeing’s Avoidable Design and Software Time Bombs
Tracey L. Rogers
White Supremacy is a Global Threat
Nyla Ali Khan
Intersectionalities of Gender and Politics in Indian-Administered Kashmir
Karen J. Greenberg
Citizenship in the Age of Trump: Death by a Thousand Cuts
Jill Richardson
Getting It Right on What Stuff Costs
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Puddle Jumping in New Britain
Matt Johnson
The Rich Are No Smarter Than You
Julian Vigo
College Scams and the Ills of Capitalist-Driven Education
Brian Wakamo
It’s March Madness, Unionize the NCAA!
Beth Porter
Paper Receipts Could be the Next Plastic Straws
Christopher Brauchli
Eric the Heartbroken
Louis Proyect
Rebuilding a Revolutionary Left in the USA
Sarah Piepenburg
Small Businesses Like Mine Need Paid Family and Medical Leave
Robert Koehler
Putting Our Better Angels to Work
Peter A. Coclanis
The Gray Lady is Increasingly Tone-Deaf
David Yearsley
Elliot Sperber
Aunt Anna’s Antenna
March 21, 2019
Daniel Warner
And Now Algeria