Elon Musk bashes media: Why the billionaire wants to start a journalist ranking website

FILE — Elon Musk listens at a press conference following the first launch of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., February 6, 2018. REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo

Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, is criticizing the media as being driven by advertising dollars and says he plans to create a website called Pravda that will rate journalists’ credibility.

Musk made his proposal last week, denouncing the press for what he feels is unfair coverage of his electric car company.

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But a 2017 annual report Tesla filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission shows the company crediting the media as a significant driver for sales.

“Historically, we have been able to generate significant media coverage of our company and our vehicles, and we believe we will continue to do so. To date, for vehicle sales, media coverage and word of mouth have been the primary drivers of our sales leads and have helped us achieve sales without traditional advertising and at relatively low marketing costs,” it stated.

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Tesla has been fighting negative press for several months over production bottlenecks for its Model 3 sedancrashes involving its cars and doubts raised by Wall Street over its cash position.

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And Musk was not impressed.

“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,” Musk wrote.

“Going to create a site where the public can rate the core truth of any article & track the credibility score over time of each journalist, editor & publication. Thinking of calling it Pravda…”

Pravda, the Russian word for “truth,” is also the name of a newspaper linked to the Communist Party in the Soviet Union.

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He followed that up with a series of tweets arguing that “sanctimonious” journalists were driven by constant pressure to generate clicks and earn advertising dollars.

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Sharon Weinberger, the executive editor of magazine Foreign Policy, tweeted back at Musk: “There’s no sanctimony. It might be impressive to see the innovation @elonmusk has brought to cars and rockets to journalism. But that requires taking time to understand how journalism works, rather than lashing out.”

Jessica Huseman, a national reporter for ProPublica tweeted back calling Musk ignorant and not understanding journalism. “I have never seen a more prolonged hissy fit than the one @elonmusk seems to repeat daily over entirely relevant and fair coverage of his company,” she tweeted.

Andrew J. Hawkins, a transportation reporter with tech website The Verge, tweeted that Musk was slowly transforming into a media-baiting Trump figure “screaming irrationally about fake news.”

“Thought you’d say that. Anytime anyone criticizes the media, the media shrieks ‘You’re just like Trump!’ Why do you think he got elected in the first place? Because no ones believes you any more. You lost your credibility a long time ago,” Musk responded in a tweet.

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Joshua Topolsky, a veteran tech editor and founder of The Outline, an online publication, asked Musk: “Do you think it’s in the interest of powerful people to A: support a free press that exposes their lies, or B: tear it down so their lies are easier to tell? Now ask yourself why the polls would look bad.”

Musk responded cryptically: “Who do you think *owns* the press? Hello.”

Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media studies professor at the University of Virginia, told CNN the “rating service” Musk proposed might make sense if it employed a careful methodology and was overseen by an independent journalism foundation.

“It’s not a crackpot idea,” he said. “The question is why should Elon Musk be the one running it and how trustworthy would it be if he ran it?”

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In an article in Medium, Lance Elanoff, an American tech journalist, said Musk’s Pravda idea would “cause endless anxiety and trouble for reporters.”

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“The truth often hurts. Angry readers or those who think they’ve been maligned by a factual-but-less-than-favourable review or piece of investigative journalism will take to Pravda and try to destroy the reporter’s credibility, but with Pravda’s carefully crafted ratings system behind them. It’ll be much more effective than trolling on Twitter and far more damaging to journalism in general.”

— With files from Reuters

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