Elon Musk wants to start rating journalists on their “credibility”
What happens when a rich narcissist gets a taste of criticism
The recent spate of news stories about the troubles at Tesla seem to be getting to Elon Musk. As a rich man used to fawning, uncritical reporting that has helped build his persona as one of America’s foremost entrepreneurs and innovators, the attention that’s being paid to the company’s financial troubles, inability to meet production targets, and fraught relationship with its workers is clearly making Musk angry.
In response to what he perceives to be biased reporting — because what else would criticism look like to a narcissist billionaire whose ego has been inflated by years of puff pieces? — Musk went on a rant Wednesday, claiming that journalists who work for big media companies “lay claim to the truth, but publish only enough to sugarcoat the lie” and that the media has “earned [the] mistrust” of voters that contributed to the election of Donald Trump. He claimed this happens because journalists “are under constant pressure to get max clicks & earn advertising dollars or get fired,” which he believes explains the recent negative coverage of Tesla: oil companies and Detroit car companies advertise, but Tesla doesn’t.
Musk’s diehard fans recently began floating a new conspiracy theory that anyone publishing anything critical of Tesla are not just being unfair to the South African billionaire, but are shorting Tesla stock (or being paid by someone who is) and are trying to stain the company’s name in order to turn a profit — or something like that.
ProPublica reporter Jessica Huseman had the audacity to point out to Musk that the story that really pissed him off — it detailed how Tesla misreports injuries to reduce its numbers in official reports and how safety measures were scaled back due to Musk’s aesthetic preferences — was done by a non-profit organization that doesn’t rely on clicks or advertising, and his supporters responded by claiming she was funded by George Soros — a line one might usually hear on Fox News, InfoWars, or from the mouth of Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister Viktor Orbán.
Faced with the terrible reality of *gasp* critical reporting, Musk has come up with a solution to try to scare journalists back into their rightful place of mindless praise for narcissistic billionaires whose egos just cannot take anything else.
Pravda, taking its name from the main media organ of the Soviet Union, would be a place for average people (see: Musk’s diehard fans and the alt-right white guys who love Jordan Peterson and somehow think their “culture” is under threat by gays and brown people) to rate journalists on their “credibility”; though, given the participants the site would attract, it wouldn’t actual rate serious journalism skills, but rather who is best at sucking up to thin-skinned rich people. In short: high marks to those who praise Musk, low cred for those who defy the official line.
What’s truly hilarious about this whole series of tweets is that Musk has benefited, probably more than anyone else, from uncritical media coverage. The tech press, and eventually many mainstream outlets, parroted the lines Musk fed them to build his profile as a self-made, entrepreneurial genius with a unique skill at devising innovative solutions to problems, while ignoring his wealthy upbringing in apartheid South Africa, the billions in public dollars his companies have received, the contributions of other talented people on his teams, and how many of his “innovations” are in the realm of marketing, not technology.
It’s understandable that, with his reputation unraveling before his eyes, Musk is descending into levels of ridiculousness usually reserved for Kanye West’s Twitter feed, with a strong helping of aggrieved white man who doesn’t have the first clue about oppression, while spending his days lashing out at unions and the media, and sicking his supporters on anyone who doesn’t flatter him.
But he needn’t worry. There will always be some so blinded by the persona that the media helped Musk build that they will never abandon their hero, in the same way that Trump supporters have linked their very identity to his success and ignore his growing scandals. It helps that there’s a growing overlap between those categories, as Donald Trump Jr. and other right-wing figures jumped on Musk’s comments about the media, ready to welcome him with open arms.
It’s worth remembering that Donald Trump admitted his reason for attacking the media and calling them “fake news.” It’s pretty simple, as he told Lesley Stahl: “I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”
That’s exactly what Musk envisions for his new venture. Pravda would take Trump’s goal and throw some technology on top, churning out a crowdsourced score so the sad men who have their hopes and identities wrapped up in narcissistic billionaires know which media figures to follow without getting their feelings hurt.
And they say those on the left are the snowflakes…