Tesla has been attacked for years. Certain people have targeted Tesla as an entity to smear essentially since Day 1. The reasons vary — pure entertainment, efforts to block competition, envy, masculinity issues, entrenched insider inertia, etc. Some people also just think Tesla, its products, and its CEO are not as cool as the rest of the world thinks.
As I pointed out last Saturday, there are several talking points Tesla critics have been pushing for years — about the Tesla Model S for a while, then the Model X, and now the Model 3. These points are made on sites like Seeking Alpha almost every day and in the comments sections of many Tesla articles and forums. Almost certainly, some people are paid to make them. Others have just bought into the story and repeat it innocently. Some unfortunate humans are simply in threatened industries and are lashing out.
As Tesla has grown bigger, more successful, and more popular, it’s been a little interesting (and a little disturbing) to see how the attacks have evolved.
In 2016, it was uncovered that Republican lobbyists Craig Shirley and Diane Banister went after Elon and Tesla via their PR firm Shirley and Banister Public Affairs. The were behind an absurd but probably persuasive for some people website called StopElonFromFailingAgain.com, among other things. Presumably, someone put in good money for the PR firm to run those smear campaigns.
Also in 2016, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the oil pipeline firm Quest Integrity Group, Todd Katz, was sued by Tesla for impersonating Tesla CEO Elon Musk in an email sent to Tesla CFO Jason Wheeler. The claim was that he tried to “misappropriate highly confidential and proprietary Tesla information.” I wonder what he would have used that for. …
In 2017, a survey of staff ratings for Elon Musk indicated an insanely high approval rating of 98%. Elon is known to work his butt off and is also known to be a demanding person to work for, but even employees who get burnt out from the long work hours and pressure indicate (in every case I recall hearing — directly and indirectly) that they respect his own efforts, mission, and insane drive to change the world for the better. However, recent campaigns and major media coverage have targeted Tesla for what they claim to be unsafe and even abusive labor practices. Perhaps these are honest investigations and campaigns, and perhaps they even have some truth to them — or perhaps they are the conspiratorial smears Tesla has implied. I’d say that the investigations are not clear yet and we don’t know. Nonetheless, they are again leapt on by hardcore, multi-year Tesla critics as indication that Tesla and Elon are actually as evil as they always suspected, or at least insensitive and unfair. (There’s a similar story out there regarding gender discrimination.)
There have been a variety of other attacks on Tesla over the years, but one new approach caught my eye in recent weeks and compelled me to write this piece. Another approach is just so crazy, and so blatant, that I was thrilled to run across it right as I had this story started — serendipity, yo. I’ll save that one for the end.
On the first matter, I thought it was curious when I received a thoroughly, carefully, and it seems very systematically created email a couple of weeks ago. It was minimalist and seemed like it was from a basic reader (maybe was), but it included a super long list of links for articles and forum posts negatively discussing Tesla in one way or another (especially the Model 3). A screenshot from the email is on the right, but it was much longer than that.
I thought, “hmm, that’s weird,” and also, “wow, this person really combed the web for every negative article or forum thread they could find about Tesla.” But I mostly skipped past it. The next day, I received another email in the same format from this person. The next day, another. The next day, another. All in the same very clean format. No commentary, but the negative highlights carefully picked out and summarized.
I continued to wonder if this was simply a reader who had a grudge against Tesla. But then I also wondered if it was part of a funded campaign, and I wondered how many journalists and bloggers were receiving these emails. I can tell you with unfortunate certainty, if you feed emails like that to certain mainstream media reporters and bloggers every day, some of them will appreciate the “help” and will weave some of them together for “Tesla takedown articles” — whether in the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, or SnoopyDoopyHatesTesla.com.
How many different avenues of attack can we count above? Well, the last one will take the cake. Perhaps influenced by some of the smear campaigns noted above, a hatchet-wielding man in California was recently arrested for something akin to terrorizing Tesla vehicles and their drivers. A local Santa Barbara media outlet got the scoop from police Sgt. Andrew Hill: “He took issue with a Tesla, and said, ‘I hate Teslas,’ and created some motion with his arm while holding a hatchet.” The driver and witnesses say they saw and heard the hatchet make contact with the Tesla, but no damage was identified. Magic.
This last case may well be just another example of how extremist, hate-filled smear campaigns influence the public and our everyday lives. However, the breadth and multi-year focus of the smear campaigns have subtler effects on many of us. It is what political parties do over the course of years or decades to try to hurt the potential of rising stars on the other side (I’m tempted to discuss how effectively this was done with one person, but I’m not going to get into it right now). Smear campaigns may in many ways seem absurd and ineffective to us, but for the bulk of the public learning only tidbits about a company or person over the course of years (mostly from headlines), they can be hugely influential. Keep it in mind, and do what you can to counter the BS when you see it.
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