A disturbing response from the Times on the Tesla test drive
New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan — who’s job it is to investigate issues of journalistic integrity — made a rather disturbing comment in her investigation of the Tesla Model S driving-test saga. It makes me question exactly what she’s supposed to be doing.
Here’s a recap:
A writer for the New York Times, John Broder, took the new all-electric Tesla Model S for a test drive, the main goal being to check out the new “supercharger” on the east coast, but also to report on the car itself.
Broder’s report was damning, claiming the car didn’t last long enough on its charge and eventually had to be towed — a picture of which accompanied the story.
But then Tesla CEO Elon Musk weighed in, showing how the car’s data recorder (activated because it was a journalist’s test drive) showed that some, if not many, of Broder’s claims were false. At times Broder said he had the cruise control at 45, for example, the car was actually traveling faster. When he said he lowered the heat, the data logs show the opposite. And so on.
Much name-calling and many accusations flew. Did Broder intentionally let the car run out of charge to get a better story? Did Musk leave out important data when he accused Broder of making things up?
This is what Sullivan was to investigate, and yesterday she published her results.
Her conclusion: Broder didn’t do a very good job of taking notes, and he could have used more common sense to avoid running out of charge, but Musk was misleading in some of the data he released.
Basically, “Everyone was a bit wrong.” All right, maybe so. But then I came to this tidbit:
I could recite chapter and verse of the test drive, the decisions made along the way, the cabin temperature of the car, the cruise control setting and so on. I don’t think that’s useful here.
And that’s where I lost faith if not in the Times, in Sullivan. Because that information is exactly what’s useful and important here.
You can argue over whether Broder was looking to get a negative story, or whether he could have (or should have) driven differently. There’s debate there. But there should be no debate over the facts.
Either Broder set the temperature low (as he claimed) or high (as Musk’s data showed). Either Broder drove at 45 or at 55. Either the car said it was out of charge or it didn’t. And so on.
These aren’t matters of opinion. These aren’t issues to be tossed aside as “not useful.” They go right to the crux of the matter. Did Broder or Musk lie, or at least misrepresent the facts?
We, as readers, need to know that. And the answers are matters of fact, not opinion. The fact that Sullivan would simply toss these aside as “not useful” is dumbfounding. Did your reporter tell the truth? There’s no opinion there (although, if he did not, there may be opinion as to why). So tell us the facts, please.