Elon Musk of Tesla fame has a knack for getting his name in the headlines. There is barely a week goes by when his name doesn’t appear in the media somewhere, whether it is the mainstream media or more niche sectors of the press. This week he has taken on the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), because he is fed up of journalists’ criticisms of Tesla.
As always, Musk launches his attacks on Twitter. This time he presented the WSJ and its columnist Holman Jenkins as “sock puppets for “big oil.” In one tweet he asked his followers: “Please support my campaign to rebrand WSJ as sock puppets emoji.”
Francois Asure at CCN finds it very odd that Musk should behave somewhat like Trump on Twitter, suggesting that surely as a creative genius, Musk can do better than hurl “Trump-style epithets” at such an esteemed institution. Asure was referring to the way in which Trump branded Hillary Clinton, “Crooked Hillary”, and he also called Kim Jong-Un “Little Rocket Man.” Presumably he didn’t call him that when he met him at their famous summit meeting.
Instead, Musk appears to be adopting Trump’s tactics with the WSJ, simply because he doesn’t think the paper gives him fair coverage. It sounds a lot like Trump’s ongoing battle with The New York Times, CNN and his other perceived media enemies that he is sure tell lies about him. It often comes across as childish petulance on trump’s part, and Musk’s response to this WSJarticle, “Tesla Can’t Stop Dreaming Big.” The introduction reads: “Elon Musk’s plans to turn Tesla into a dominant automobile player have become a liability instead of an asset.” It is a less than glowing account of Tesla and the upheavals within the company. It also questions Musk’s leadership style and the way in which he uses his personality –“erratic, bombastic and alternative” –to draw attention to his brands.
As Asure remarks, “For the CEO to use Twitter to communicate with shareholders is about as unusual as a U.S. president turning to the social media platform to craft a message.” And as he rightly points out, the way in which Musk courts media attention is always likely to lead to some negative reviews. It is not difficult to see why the WSJ cites Musk as a liability for Tesla; he positions himself as bigger than his car brand. If you stopped the average man in the street, I’d say it is likely that they know more about what Musk gets up to than the engineering or design of a Tesla model.
And why did he choose to use “big oil” as his idea of an insult? Simply because his fan base is into electric cars, and oil, a fossil fuel, is the nemesis of those who are environmentally conscious. The oil industry probably doesn’t love Elon Musk much either, but as Asure points out, the oil industry often gets a “free pass” in the press, whereas the Tesla story is much more entertaining for any journalist.
And Musk often makes big claims that he can’t follow through on, which is more grist for the media’s mill. But, the point of this whole story is to illustrate how social media has become the battleground for characters like Musk and Trump. When their backs are against the wall they hit out in tweet form. And it often backfires on them, because calling people names makes things personal that should be treated with gravitas and diplomacy. However, neither Trump nor Musk possesses much of these qualities. While Musk’s tweets are entertaining, as are Trump’s, he is in danger of allowing his game playing to obliterate his Tesla brand; just as Trump’s outbursts have lowered the tone of the Office of the President of the United States.