Elon Musk and His Precarious Relationship With the Truth and Journalism
Yesterday, Elon Musk took a page from the Peter Thiel playbook and launched into a Twitter tirade deriding journalists after Tesla received negative press coverage from a nonprofit, investigative outlet. He proposed developing a website called Pravda billed as “Yelp for journalists,” where the public can rate the credibility of journalists, outlets, and their stories.
We are living in a reality where if we don’t agree with the news and its takeaways, it’s “fake news.” Donald Trump has been leading the charge in discrediting journalists since his campaign started, and well into his presidency. This has had an insidious effect on our democracy, and how we regard the truth. The truth is what we want it to be; regardless of the facts, sources, or months of research that went into uncovering news findings.
Musk’s idea alludes to a much darker, prevalent way of thinking in Silicon Valley: leaders in the tech industry believe that the press should be its mouthpiece. When the press becomes propaganda, it loses its power to hold powerful companies accountable. As someone who works both as a journalist and in PR, I can see that Musk is trying to regain control over his story, and wants journalists to be held to the same standards that he is. It can be a bitter pill to swallow when press outlets are focused on the negative, not the positive changes you are making.
If you want to change your relationship with journalists, and improve your coverage, there are steps you can take. You can communicate truthfully; that includes addressing shortcomings along with the accomplishments. Follow the journalists that you want to cover your company. Understand how they they think about your industry and the way they write about it. Are there issues to address proactively? Who are the champions at your company that can speak to real world problems and how you’re working on them?
Journalists are tasked with looking at the stories tech companies put out about themselves and asking: what’s the real story? That story cannot always be positive. That is reality. But the more we advocate for a reality that makes us look good, not the reality that exists, the more harm we perpetuate, and the less we solve real world problems. If we want to defend the truth, we need to defend journalists, not become part of the propaganda machine.