The Journal’s Anti-Tesla Bias Examined

January 17th, 2014 · 1 Comment · energy policy, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

Can we talk?

Good, I want to tell you a story about the Albuquerque Journal’s treatment of Tesla, the company that builds and sells electric automobiles.

Tesla reported Tuesday, Jan 14 that “deliveries of its Model S sedan in the fourth quarter blew past what the company had forecast, sending shares up nearly 16 percent.”

Elon Musk’s company sold almost 6,900 Model S sedans in the quarter, 20 percent more than anticipated.

This was in a Reuters dispatch carried by the Washington Post.

Reuters also wrote:

“Analysts said California-based Tesla continues to perform strongly despite the specter of a safety probe by U.S. safety regulators related to two road fires of Model S sedans.

That was followed by three paragraphs on what went wrong with the car’s charging adapters and what Tesla was doing to correct them.

The Albuquerque Journal chose not to run that story. Instead, Wednesday, Jan. 15, it ran a Detroit Free Press account on the business page. Editors headlined it, “Charging adapters in Tesla recalled” and underneath, “Unit could cause overheating, fires”.

OK, I thought, the editors preferred a report stressing Tesla’s technical problems, not its commercial success. No surprise there, the Journal detests Tesla (as I will demonstrate below) but at least the editor based both rubrics on reporter Nathan Bomey’s lead.

That’s standard, proper procedure.

Oh, Alpert, how can you be so old and still so naïve!

I checked out the original Detroit Free Press story. And by golly, that wasn’t Bomey’s lead!

It’s true, a Journal editor dumped his lead. Cutting a story from the top? Why?

Well, here’s what Bomey wrote:

“Tesla Motors executives emphasized that their luxury electric vehicle is safe for the road, following a new recall affecting the Silicon Valley automaker’s electric-vehicle charging technology.”

The reporter put Tesla’s defense first. But hey, what does he know?  The Journal’s version reversed him. Now the big story was the company’s technological troubles. Now the editors could write headlines to that effect.

Neatly done.

Journal editors, however, were not finished. They also trimmed this from the Detroit Free Press account:

“The recall didn’t scare off investors, who rushed into Tesla’s stock after executives announced at the auto show that fourth-quarter deliveries of the Model S sedan totaled 6,900 units, about 20% above expectations.

“Shares of the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company soared more than 15.7% to $161.19, it highest closing price since Nov. 5.”

And while they were at it, they cut – this time from the bottom, hurrah – the information that Tesla’s Model X electric crossover wasn’t ready but might be later this year, the company would double the number of U.S. dealerships in 2014 and would deliver its first units in China within weeks. Also, Tesla execs, unconventionally, took questions from the press.

The Journal’s version of Mr. Bomey’s story did include the news that Tesla sales came in 20 percent above expectations. It was in the next to last paragraph.

None of this surprised me. Well, I admit to shock at finding they cut the Detroit reporter’s lead, but the anti-Tesla bias was old hat. I have watched and savored the Journal’s approach to the electric car maker for a long time. It’s pretty straightforward:

Report any and all troubles. Omit or bury the triumphs.

That’s why a Journal reader probably would not know Tesla received a $465 million loan from Washington a few years ago, that it came from the DOE as part of the Advanced Technology Manufacturing program, signed into law by President George W. Bush or that President Obama awarded Tesla the money.

That Journal reader could not know that Tesla repaid the loan, with interest, well ahead of schedule because our major statewide daily has never reported it.

(The syndicated “Money & Markets” page did notice it.)

The Journal’s website, which lists some 75 Tesla stories, confirms what I’ve said, listing several on technical imperfections, none recounting Tesla’s borrowing and repayment.

It wasn’t a minor story. When I googled, “Tesla repays U.S. loan early,” up came 770,000 results.

So what to make of this?

The Journal is not opposed to the use of federal funds for “private enterprise.” Heck, the newspaper is one big daily argument for allocating tax money to boost that “private enterprise.”

Perhaps it’s electricity. Electric cars don’t use gasoline. And the Journal’s passion for the oil and gas industries long ago overflowed the editorials, splattered the Op Ed columns and inundated the “news” columns.

Could that be the source of the Journal’s journalistic malfeasance here?

I don’t know, I’m just speculating. Perhaps you can explain management’s dislike for Tesla and, of course, journalism.

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