Published on January 2nd, 2020 | by Zachary Shahan0
6 Years of CNBC’s “Top” Tesla Coverage
January 2nd, 2020 by Zachary Shahan
Back when we published “Pravduh About Tesla” reports, it became clear that CNBC was the media outlet that published the most about Tesla. We tracked Tesla and Elon Musk coverage in the 22 or so largest media outlets, and CNBC routinely had the most stories published each week on Tesla or Musk. (Bloomberg was 2nd, Business Insider 3rd, and Fox News 4th).
While working on an article I published last night about false balance in the media and then about our coverage of Tesla from 2011 onward, it crossed me mind to take a closer look at CNBC‘s Tesla coverage over time. There are various ways to do so, including combing through thousands of articles and trying to categorize them or glean something from them, but what I decided on was to do Google searches for “Tesla CNBC” for each of the past 6 years and see what the top stories were. Here were the results and some thoughts on some of the stories:
January 1 – December 31, 2014
CNBC‘s front-page search results for 2014 showed a variety of stories just reporting on simple news.
Regarding the story “Tesla forecasts a big 2014,” to my surprise, the reporting was almost entirely positive and focused on Tesla’s expectations for itself, not negative commentary from outsiders.
On the flip side, a highly negative video analysis, “‘The Profit’ takes issue with Tesla,” was also in the top search results. The summary: “Marcus Lemonis, star of the CNBC series ‘The Profit,’ provides a preview of tonight’s premiere where he tries to help a struggling car business make a comeback. Also Lemonis explains why he doesn’t like Tesla’s business model.”
Scroll down a bit and you get to a very negative article, “Tesla stock tumbles on outlook, price target cuts.” It starts off with this line: “Is clock ticking for this Cinderella stock?” Cole Cox of Long Lomborg Asset Management told CNBC, “Three years from now, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s lower than it is at right now today as valuations and economic reality of this business catch up with the market cap.” The price of the stock was ~$194 at that time. It’s ~$430 as I type this.
The story “Is Tesla the ultimate growth stock?” may come across as a positive one on the surface, but it’s a mixture of positive and negative, probably more the latter. Of course, in retrospect, Tesla was one of the top growth stocks of the decade. So, a “balanced” view of the situation in 2014 — presenting positive and negative opinions — was half wrong. The negative half was basically deemed bunk over time.
All of the other stories seen in the screenshots above were either positive or neutral and were basically a simple reporting of the news and Tesla’s or Elon Musk’s comments.
January 1 – December 31, 2015
In the next year, CNBC‘s top ranked results in Google started off with positive news, but then also included the video, “Cramer: Tesla’s ‘not a real company.'” A related article headline read, “Clean up your act, Musk—Tesla’s a total disaster!”
There was also a warning about coming electric vehicles from Porsche and Audi. The big boys were coming to town. And Tesla was doomed. “‘It is burning money like crazy. It is spending money like crazy. No way the balance sheet can support the investment needed,’ said the ‘Mad Money’ host.”
January 1 – December 31, 2016
Top Tesla stories in 2016 were a mixture of highly positive (Ron Baron’s take on Tesla) and highly negative (“Time to short Tesla.”). There was also positive and negative coverage of Tesla’s plan and then decision to swallow up SolarCity.
January 1 – December 31, 2017
In 2017, it was all the rage to be concerned about Tesla’s cash campfires, or something like that. That was the one “issue” Jim Cramer had with the stock. Well known short seller Jim Chanos, who might have gotten interested in the company only because it swallowed SolarCity, claimed that Tesla was worth $0. That’s a claim we’ve seen or heard many times since, from Chanos as well as others. In Tesla short seller circles, it’s probably repeated dozens of times a day.
Quite humorous in this year’s Google results is that “How Tesla can become worth more than Apple” is right above “Jim Chanos: we think Tesla is worth zero.” Similarly, in the video section, you’ve got “Ron Baron: Tesla Could Hit $1000 By 2020” right next to “Former General Motors Vice Chair: I Think Tesla Is Doomed…” Well, I guess we are somewhere in the middle in this case!
Though, the most entertaining result in this year was the piece in which a CNBC columnist gave Musk advice on what to do “to keep Tesla on track.” The 6 tips included hiring a COO (which Musk didn’t do), being “more transparent about the things that matter” (ah, I could go so many places with this one, but I’ll just leave it alone), being “less transparent about things that don’t matter much,” and turning Tesla profitable. Well, to be honest, the whole list and column is an interesting read in retrospect, so I’ll actually link to this one.
January 1 – December 31, 2018
Popular 2018 articles were heavily negative. They centered around “the tweet.” This was despite the fact that Tesla surprised critics with two quarterly profits in a row at the end of the year. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a single headline on the front page of Google’s search results that noted Tesla’s record-shattering sales or the fact that the Model 3 was the #1 selling car in the USA in the second half of the year in terms of revenue.
January 1 – December 31, 2019
As you can see in the screenshots above, top CNBC stories of the year were a roller-coaster mixture of negative forecasts and bullish forecasts regarding the stock. Maybe, instead of simply covering wild speculation about the stock price, CNBC could dig into the company and try to reveal more about the fundamentals and why Tesla’s products today are so hugely popular. Man, if I had CNBC‘s budget to use to dive into this matters….