The Washington Post

The Elon Musk meltdown


Elon Musk has lost his cool. And the tale of the Tesla CEO’s transforma­tion from media darling into spurned lover out to make the media pay encapsulat­es a key part of the Silicon Valley mind-set.

Recent months haven’t been kind to Tesla and the man behind it. Autopilote­d cars are crashing; the mass-market Model 3 has “big flaws” in braking and controls. Tesla stock has started to tumble. Then there’s the burgeoning push for unionizati­on at Tesla factories, and investigat­ive reporting revealing that some safety hazards have gone ignored and that injuries have been left off the books. All of this coverage has made Musk mad, and he has taken to Twitter to decry the media’s “holier-than-thou hypocrisy.”

“Problem is journos are under constant pressure to get max clicks & earn advertisin­g dollars or get fired,” Musk declared Wednesday afternoon. That, obviously, is not the problem at all. The article that has apparently dug the deepest on Tesla factory safety came from a nonprofit. The real problem is that it’s impossible to craft Earth-altering technology without running into snags, and because altering the Earth is an enterprise relevant to all Earthlings, those snags deserve attention.

Perhaps more alarming than Musk’s diagnosis was his proposed cure. “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,” he declared.

This is peak Silicon Valley. The industry’s most powerful players want to build things that will fix the world, an inherently narcissist­ic desire: The most ambitious technologi­cal enterprise­s rely on a single person’s vision of what society should look like, and a single person’s belief that he or she is the right person to surmount seemingly intractabl­e challenges.

Musk has taken this ethos to the extreme. He shares his peers’ belief that no obstacle is too big to engineer around (or under), and now he has identified an obstacle — negative media coverage — that is making his own personal world a worse place. To “solve” this “problem,” he’s trying to tackle a conundrum central to the human existence and define truth.

And his method is laughably simple: crowdsourc­ing. Even if Musk’s site did draw in a more diverse possible slate of reviewers, their opinions wouldn’t create a reliable metric of accuracy. You don’t get the truth by adding together those who think climate change is real and those who don’t and dividing by two.

Musk didn’t seem to mind the media when it was churning out fawning profiles of him. Now, he has posted a Twitter referendum on his new idea with two options: “Yes, this would be good” and “No, media are awesome.” His 21.8 million followers, many also his fans, weighed in overwhelmi­ngly on the “yes” side. To him, perhaps, that’s the only truth that matters.

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