Area billionaire mad at reporters for reporting

Oh, the humanity of being a billionaire and having to be criticized.

Billionaire entrepreneur and founder of SpaceX Elon Musk got into a Twitter war with the media this week, with Musk suggesting he might start a ratings website for journalists, similar to Yelp.
(CREDIT: PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images)
Billionaire entrepreneur and founder of SpaceX Elon Musk got into a Twitter war with the media this week, with Musk suggesting he might start a ratings website for journalists, similar to Yelp. (CREDIT: PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images)

Being a billionaire Silicon Valley entrepreneur is hard.

It’s bad enough having to manage multiple companies that give you the net worth of $18.9 billion, you also have to contend with numerous fawning media profiles and deal with the perils of dating Hollywood actresses and musicians.

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But the worst part, the absolutely most outrageous part? Sometimes someone will have the gall, the absolute cheek, to publicly criticize your publicly traded company.

This is exactly what Elon Musk, the owner of Tesla Inc., has had to contend with over the last month. In April, Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting ran a story about Tesla factory management allegedly not reporting on-site injuries, supposedly in order to make their numbers look good. Then in May, Consumer Reports found that there were severe flaws with the braking system of Tesla’s Model 3.

Tesla told Consumer Reports that it was working to make changes to the braking system and called Reveal’s story a “calculated disinformation campaign.” But that relatively benign (for the Trump era) response was completely overshadowed on Wednesday after Musk went on an anti-media tweetstorm, suggesting the public was right not to trust the press.

“The holier-than-thou hypocrisy of big media companies who lay claim to the truth, but publish only enough to sugarcoat the lie, is why the public no longer respects them,” he tweeted, before going on to insinuate that media companies were in the pocket of fossil fuel companies, and saying that he would create a site called Pravda where the public “can rate the core truth of any article & track the credibility score over time.”

There are several problems with Musk’s accusations and ideas. For starters, the “Big Oil backed” Reveal has also done stories exposing General Motors, Chevron and Exxon Mobile and is also a nonprofit. Second, while it is good and important to hold journalists accountable for the work that they do, crowd-sourcing their accountability is incredibly dangerous idea in an era where no one can even agree on what the truth is, and public platforms like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have shown themselves to be incredibly vulnerable to manipulation.

None of this, however, seems to have crossed the mind of Musk, who, according to state filings, was registered as a corporation last October. It remains to be seen whether the billionaire Musk will actually do anything with his new idea, but let’s not forget that Musk previously worked with Peter Thiel to help found PayPal — the same Peter Thiel who bankrupted Gawker and who previously floated ideas of creating a libertarian “utopia” in the middle of the sea.

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The media messes up plenty, but Musk’s rant shouldn’t be considered useful criticism. Rather it shows the have-your-cake-and-eat-it attitude that continues to infect Silicon Valley when it comes to responsibility. Musk seemed perfectly fine with the media attention lavished on the launch of his Falcon Heavy rocket in Florida but either recoils or lashes out at any remotely negative story — be it about safety standards or the efforts of Tesla workers to unionize. Similarly, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will happily describe his plans to connect the world, but has still refused to do an interview with The Guardian which exposed the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

Finally, let’s remember that Musk’s Space X company is building a spaceship designed to dock with the International Space Station and, eventually, get us to Mars. As one former NASA Mission Control Engineer pointed out on Twitter, if Musk can’t handle an investigation into the conditions at his Tesla factory, how would he handle an investigation into a hypothetical spacecraft failure?

“Everyone who works in human space exploration knows that any day could be a bad day,” the former engineer said. “If [Musk] acts like this now, when someone is critical of the lack of safety at his Tesla plant, how will he act if there is a loss of crew in a Space X vehicle?”