Elon Musk, the CEO of electric-car startup Tesla Motors and rocket-launcher SpaceX, should be applauded for the mighty challenges he’s taken on and the powers of persuasion he has deployed to build his companies. But along the way, he discovered that he could stretch the truth, casually and frequently, as a shortcut to getting things done.
Clad in a sheen of bubbly optimism, his mendacity nonetheless has consequences. Through Tesla’s IPO, he has now taken hundreds of millions of dollars from taxpayers and public investors who expect not just a return but square dealing from the man who is managing their company for them.
So where has Musk spun the facts?
Well, let’s go with the most recent one: He’s lied about me, and VentureBeat, apparently in retaliation for our aggressive and accurate reporting.
In an article published by the Huffington Post, he calls me “Silicon Valley’s Jayson Blair.” He accused me of making errors, but never once specified them. Here’s the truth: I cited Musk’s own words from court filings, which we had paid a freelance reporter to find and copy, legally, from a courthouse in Van Nuys, Calif. I also interviewed a host of other sources. I emailed Musk questions and called his lawyer repeatedly before publishing. We went to extra lengths to nail down the facts: Before publishing, VentureBeat editor-in-chief Matt Marshall called Musk and had interviews with at least three Tesla board members.
We make no apologies for seeking the truth about Tesla Motors and Elon Musk, a vital company and an iconic entrepreneur of Silicon Valley. Our reporting (here’s one example of our series) helped investors get a more truthful picture of a company that was going public and the man behind it.
Musk also accused me of “collaborating” with the lawyer representing Justine Musk, his ex-wife, in their divorce case. Also false: I picked up the phone and called her lawyer, and he had the courtesy to answer my questions.
Now, we should all be used to Musk insulting journalists who don’t report what they’re told to. But calling someone a “Jayson Blair” is a troubling assertion to anyone who prefers his insults to have a factual basis.
When I ran fact-checking at Business 2.0 magazine, here’s what I would have asked the writer to prove before I’d let him get away with that kind of factual assertion: So, you want to compare this Owen Thomas person to one of journalism’s most infamous miscreants. Is Owen Thomas a drug addict? Is Owen Thomas mentally unstable? Has Owen Thomas plagiarized or invented facts? The answer to all of those, in case you were curious, is no.
And so out comes the chief of reporters’ red pen.
The one specific claim Musk made about my reputation was that I had written that he was broke. Not true. If you review the story I reported on his personal finances and their impact on Tesla, you’ll see I merely quoted Musk’s own words from his divorce filing, in which he said that he “ran out of cash.”
When VentureBeat first started raising questions about Musk’s personal finances, his expensive divorce case, and the impact they might have on Tesla’s IPO, a Tesla spokesman initially said that the company had no plans to update its IPO prospectus to reflect our reporting. However, in the end, Tesla updated its SEC filings to acknowledge substantially all of the concerns we raised as potential risk factors investors should consider.
That is the ultimate correction of the record, and it stands today.