John Broder’s recent account of driving a Tesla in the winter describes the monumental effort he went through to drive the all electric Tesla between charging stations, only to have the car’s battery die and have to be towed. The article prompted a damning response from Elon Musk, accusing Broder of largely faking the story, an accusation based on the GPS data and on board diagnostics. Broder’s rebuttal certainly diffuses some of Musk’s accusations, but not all.
The central question is whether or not John Broder’s account accurately represents his test drive. The answer for me is clearly no. When I read the original article, I summarized it to my wife by explaining that “electric cars just don’t do well in winter” and that this guy “turned off the A/C to the point of having cold feet, and slowed to 54 on the highway.” I also explained that the car “just wasn’t able to hold a charge in the winter, despite him trying to charge it.” Yet, none of my major summary points turn out to be true. Now that I know the whole story (and read the original article more carefully), it’s absolutely crystal clear that John Broder’s original article intentionally misled me.
The bottom line for me is that I felt duped. I read the original article and actually modified my opinion about the state of battery technology and the future of electric cars. I fully believed that the article was an accurate representation of the truth because I trusted the information source. Knowing the full story now makes me feel foolish for believing Broder.
The next part about this gets weird—there seems to be a divide between the mainstream media reports and bloggers/commenters/twitter users reflecting on those reports. Just look at the stories and the comments at NPR, the Atlantic and Slate, all of whom appear to circle the wagons around Broder, while simultaneously describing Musk as having ‘lost it’. Then go read the comments of those stories and a forum like slashdot. Completely different. Most frustrating is that even the editor the NYTimes goes so far as to set up a straw man,
I hope to post again Friday with some conclusions but for now, based on a day’s reporting, I will say this much: I reject Mr. Musk’s central contention that Mr. Broder’s Sunday piece was faked in order to sabotage the Model S or the electric-car industry.
Why is that a straw man you ask? The central issue is not Elon Musk’s conspiracy theory as to Broder’s underlying motivations. The central issue is whether or not John Broder’s account accurately represents his test drive. That is certainly the primary issue that reader of the NYTimes care about.
So did John Broder lie? Of course he did. His original article is a completely misleading account of the events, and even contains some outright lies to sensationalize the story. So is that a problem? Only for the NYTimes if they further entrench on this. They need to admit that the article was highly misleading and not up to the standards of the NYTimes, and then move on.
Update: CNN’s Peter Valdes-Dapena repeated Broder’s drive and didn’t encounter any problems, although without stopping overnight on the way.