Sarah Lacy and Elon Musk Take on Stross and the New York Times, But Are they Flat Out Wrong? 6


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One of TechCrunch’s latest hires, is sparking some controversy of her own. Sarah Lacy, who is known for creating a buzz around interviews (remember that interview with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg?), is at it once again. In an interview that aired on Yahoo! Finance’s tech ticker last Friday, Lacy sat down with Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk.

During the interview, Musk lampooned New York Times columnist Randall Stross and his November column on Tesla, entitled “Only the Rich Can Afford It. Should Taxpayers Back It?

John Koblin chronicles their conversation in a piece for the New York Observer today:

Randy Stross is a huge douche bag,” said Mr. Musk. Ms. Lacy let out a long, loud belly laugh.“And an idiot,” he continued. More guffawing.” Mr. Musk continued to tee off on Mr. Stross, and wondered aloud how anyone who lived in Silicon Valley could produce such a story. “Well,” said Ms. Lacy, who began to chuckle again, “a lot of people agree with you.” It didn’t take much to know where she stood. “There was a huge outpouring of letters to the editor, and actually, I should point out, that The New York Times printed a retraction,” he continued. “Oh, did they?” she asked. “Of course, when they print retractions, it’s on page 27—like micro-fine,” he said, prompting more laughter from Ms. Lacy. “They actually printed a retraction, yeah.”

Michael Arrington quickly brought more attention to the interview, with a post on TechCrunch shortly after the interview went online last Friday entitled “Tesla’s Elon Musk Calls NY Times Writer Stross “A Huge Douchebag…And An Idiot.”

In which, he praised Musk for standing up to his detractors, calling it “awesome.” He also noted that the Times’ article was edited and corrected for errors.

But was it really retracted?

Actually no, says Koblin:

A correction—not a retraction—ran and the headline was softened. (It changed from “Only the Rich Can Afford It. Should Taxpayers Back It?” to “Should Taxpayers Back a High-End Electric Carmaker?”)

Koblin also got some eye opening quotes from New York Times’ editors airing their displeasure with Musk and Ms. Lacy:

“I think Sarah Lacy was too busy giggling to do Journalism 101 and call Randy or me for comment to make sure what Elon was saying was accurate,” said Tim O’Brien, the Sunday Business editor of The Times, in an interview. “Because it was not only inaccurate, it was flat-out wrong. We wrote a clarification of the headline. We didn’t retract the story at all; we stood firmly by the story, and I still stand by Randy’s column.” “You can’t help but watch that interview and marvel at the squishy familiarity between Lacy and Musk,” he continued. “And I wonder whether or not some journalistic blinders had popped off.”

While I agree in part, that it’s a little unfair for the Times to completely turn it around on Lacy when it was Musk really lampooning Stross and the Times, her interview style is once again being brought into question. Even her former employers note that she often makes herself the center of interviews. Perhaps, she’s just good at creating buzz around her interviews? What is it she says, “Once you’re lucky, twice you’re good.”

As for Musk, it’s unfortunate that someone as talented as him, would turn to a personal attack to get his point across. Let alone, utter the word “douchebag” as the CEO of a company. Musk and Tesla have been media darlings, with the Stross piece being the exception to the rule. He’s graced the cover of Fortune and was featured, at great length, within GQ. However, this blatant personal attack on Stross could change the tide.

“The press rarely grants an autumn reprise for those it loved in the spring,” is a saying that New York Times columnist Russell Baker made famous, which others often cite when describing the fickle nature of the media. They build you up to take you down and it’s never a good idea to open the door to the inevitable  take-down by attacking them.

As Marc Gunther recently told me, Shai Agassi and Better Place are already the new media darlings of the electric car circuit. In part because they have a very charismatic CEO. One that I’ll bet will never be caught uttering the word “douchebag.”


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6 thoughts on “Sarah Lacy and Elon Musk Take on Stross and the New York Times, But Are they Flat Out Wrong?

  • Ben Haber

    Her TechCrunch posts have also become all about her, hence this story on why people shouldn’t go to journalism school (www.techcrunch.com/2009/04/08/who-the-hell-is-enrolling-in-journalism-school-right-now) and follow in her shoes instead.

  • Dan Walsh

    I’ve never been that impressed with Musk. Dan Lyons had a good piece about him and Tesla in Newsweek a few months back (http://www.newsweek.com/id/16916). This recent outburst seems to be par for the course but given his personal stake in the company it’s no wonder he’s so defensive.

  • Charles Day

    Although his choice of words might have been different, I can understand Musk’s frustration. It’s easy for a journalist to criticize, but more difficult and a challenge to offer constructive comments. I believe what the journalist wrote was more the former than the latter.

    And I think Musk was spot on that an initiative like Tesla’s should be more encouraged than discouraged.

    And I would think that something would be not quite right if Musk had not responded so strongly. It shows his commitment, dedication and determination, which is why Tesla will be successful.

  • Kyle Austin Post author

    Charles – Thanks for the comment. I certainly believe Musk should have responded, but he should have chosen his words better. Take the fight to your blog with actual facts to prove inaccuracies wrong. Don’t make it a game of he said vs. she said , where everyone ends up looking bad.

    In agreement with you, Tesla and companies like it should be encouraged, and it is a shame that they didn’t get more of the government bailout.

  • TMOGuy

    Musk get a clue! Stick to computers and leave the car cars stuff to the guys in Michigan, Japan, and Germany. You have no idea what your getting into. Your way out of your league.