This Tesla-related story is now bordering on the absurd. In November the New York Times trashed Tesla in a much criticized article by Randall Stross (now retitled and rewritten, trying to get a copy of the original). In “Only the Rich Can Afford It. Should Taxpayers Back It?” Stross attacks Tesla for requesting government loans along with the rest of the car industry, saying “Can you conceive any way that federal dollars could be put at greater risk — and for no equity in return, keep in mind — to benefit fewer people?”
The article had significant factual errors, most of which were called out by Jason Calacanis and myself. Stross ignored Tesla’s goal of trying to build a low cost all electric car, focusing only on the pricey $109,000 Tesla Roadster, their first effort. The fact that the government loan was being requested in order to build the manufacturing plant for their second model, the $50,000 Model S, wasn’t mentioned. Or even a token gesture towards the nobleness of the attempt to build a green car for the masses after that. The story was subsequently rewritten with most of the offending incorrect language removed, but the damage was done.
The story re-appeared last week when Tesla CEO Elon Musk, speaking candidly on camera to our own Sarah Lacy, called Stross a “a huge douchebag…and an idiot” for the tone and inaccuracies of his story. He adds “What is he doing picking on an electric car company? Why would he pick on the little guy who is trying to do good when you’ve got egregious waste of money in the tens of billions occurring in Detroit?”
So Musk calls Stross and the New York Times to the mat. What did New York Times editor Tim O’Brien do to uphold the dignity of the venerable newspaper? He hired a mercenary. To shoot the messenger.
Enter the snarky and often vicious New York Observer, who’s always ready for a wrestle in the mud. In an article today by John Koblin called “Silicon ‘Valley Girl’ Gets Tough With Times” O’Brien says “I still stand by Randy’s column” (presumably the current rewritten version) and attacks Lacy for not calling him for his side of the story.
“You can’t help but watch that interview and marvel at the squishy familiarity between Lacy and Musk,” he said. “And I wonder whether or not some journalistic blinders had popped off.”
Then Koblin goes on the attack against Lacy directly, using every weapon at his disposal. He reminds readers of the Lacy/Zuckerberg interview in 2008 without mentioning that many, including us, thought criticism was unfairly pointed at Lacy.
Koblin also says “Ms. Lacy spent years as a Business Week reporter, but now she spends her time doing videos for Yahoo, serving as editor at large for TechCrunch—a Web site that very much played up Ms. Lacy’s “douche bag” scoop—and doing other contract jobs” which trivializes her Yahoo TechTicker job and doesn’t mention that she still writes two monthly columns for Business Week. And no mention of her recently published book.
You Are A Coward, Sir
If O’Brien and Stross want to defend their atrocious work, the place to do it is at the New York Times, not some other publication. And they should aim their arguments at Elon Musk and Tesla, not the journalist who got Musk to talk on camera. Lacy, a hugely respected journalist in Silicon Valley, has no need to defend herself for getting a scoop like this. I’m appalled at what the NY Times has done here, and it won’t soon be forgotten.
The correct course of action would be to update the story, not quietly change the language, and then take their lumps when called out by Tesla directly. Only a coward would ignore the actual story and go on the attack against the journalist who pushed the story further. So roar all you want, NY Times. We know how frightened you really are.