Join 3,424 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Now watch this drive
February 12, 2013 11:02 AM   Subscribe

The Verge (video) and the New York Times (text) push the Tesla Model S electric car to its limits
posted by Blazecock Pileon (126 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
New York Times Model S review is 'fake', says Tesla CEO
posted by Floydd at 11:05 AM on February 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


Gum is gross.
posted by nathancaswell at 11:19 AM on February 12, 2013


The part in The Verge video where he's climbed into the Santa Ynez mountains and just starts coasting downhill, you can see him just coming off the scariest bridge on the face of the earth for as long as the marine layer lasts.
posted by carsonb at 11:20 AM on February 12, 2013


Yeah, the whole data-logged grudge match between Musk and the Times is pretty interesting.
posted by GuyZero at 11:22 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


If Musk's claims are borne out, New York Times needs to correct itself quickly (and the reporter in question needs to explain himself or face some kind of disciplinary action).
Well, Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, has responded on Twitter. You can see the tweets above (and we'll link to the more detailed blog post when it's available); basically, Tesla now turns on the logging feature on its EVs when it allows media to borrow them, and the logs on Mr. Broder's Model S tell a different story from what is in the NYT review.
Judging by the way some in the press are already running with the story, this might be a smear job.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:23 AM on February 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Musk made those claims yesterday, but we haven't seen the data yet.
posted by grouse at 11:26 AM on February 12, 2013


"I think this has been the most exhilarating experience of my life" = depressing.
posted by nathancaswell at 11:27 AM on February 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


The blinkers on that car are sweet.
posted by nathancaswell at 11:28 AM on February 12, 2013


Electric cars have their place, sure. But not for long distances and definitely not in cold weather.
posted by whuppy at 11:33 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I used to have a very much non-electric Buick LeSabre car/boat -- and I would always try to see if I could coast it the last mile or so of road when I was heading home. There were enough rolling hills where there were both times when you would nearly run out of speed and then moments when you would have too much speed but you wouldn't want to risk losing any precious momentum by tapping the brakes (don't worry this was all between 0mph and about 12mph).

It was definitely exciting in the same way as his drive seemed to be, but not something I would want to be doing at all times.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 11:34 AM on February 12, 2013


I'm going to put an aftermarket radioisotope thermoelectric generator in mine. Shouldn't have to recharge for thirty or forty years, at least. Note to tailgaters: bad idea.
posted by echo target at 11:50 AM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Note to tailgaters: bad idea.

Good news: I have a titanium radiator filled with liquid lead.
posted by GuyZero at 11:57 AM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I saw one of these for a split second yesterday on my way home from class. They're definitely striking in person.
posted by Chutzler at 12:08 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


It was definitely exciting in the same way as his drive seemed to be, but not something I would want to be doing at all times.

What's interesting is that current electic and hybrid owners seem to be made up of people to whom this gamification (and I don't think the word is inapposite here) is really appealing. I know a guy who owns three -- a Prius, a Volt, and now a Leaf -- and he constantly engages in things like driving in the rain while whipping the wipers only once a minute or so, just to maintain charge. He also has paper notebooks detailing the usage, "mileage", and other statistics for all his vehicles from purchase to date. It's not something I'd preferentially spend time on myself, but I can see how it could be fun in its own way as a challenge to eke out performance.

Then there's that word -- performance -- and I wonder about transforming the challenge into the world of performance car aficionados. I think it can, but it's not going to appeal to everyone.
posted by dhartung at 12:10 PM on February 12, 2013


dhartung, I'm sure your hypermiler friend is on the whole a safe driver, but please tell them to keep their windshield wiped and defogged. TYVM.
posted by whuppy at 12:29 PM on February 12, 2013


What is this fetish among car-makers for touch screens in cars nowadays? Don't they realize that we're supposed to be able to use these things without taking our eyes off the road?
posted by mhum at 12:38 PM on February 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


What is this fetish among car-makers for touch screens in cars nowadays? Don't they realize that we're supposed to be able to use these things without taking our eyes off the road?

Agreed, and they usually look and feel cheap in comparison an iPad or iPhone. (Which most people would agree are the impetus behind the whole touchscreen in car movement.)
posted by entropicamericana at 12:45 PM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


The touch screen is the worst idea to come along in car design since the Torqueflite/push-button shifter. Hell, even worse than the automatic seat belt! Besides the obvious safety issues the responsiveness of every car touchscreen I've ever used has been atrocious.

Or, I guess, what mhum and entropicamerican said.
posted by basicchannel at 12:52 PM on February 12, 2013


Jalopnik weighs in with a survey of complaints aired on a Tesla owners webforum: The Tesla Model S Is the World's Most Expensive Beta Test.
posted by notyou at 12:54 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, if Musk is to be believed, the takeaway here is don't forget to charge your car and don't drive like an idiot if you'd like to get the advertised range.

And I don't care one way or another about touchscreens in cars. I've had them in rentals from time to time and have never had an issue, given that they don't replace things like steering wheel controls that can be easily used without looking. Voice commands are more interesting to me, though.

Of course, I'm the one person who actually liked automatic seat belts...
posted by wierdo at 1:01 PM on February 12, 2013


New York Times Model S review is 'fake', says Tesla CEO

Thanks, Floydd. I didn't know about this — hopefully both Musk and NYT soon offer some additional comment on this beyond what has already been said.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:02 PM on February 12, 2013


What is this fetish among car-makers for touch screens in cars nowadays? Don't they realize that we're supposed to be able to use these things without taking our eyes off the road?

This is one of the things I really miss about my Saab. It was designed to be used by human beings who want to pay attention to the road and not hunt around for the right radio/lighting/climate control button. Our Subaru has a pretty poor interface, in that respect, but thankfully it isn't a touchscreen, which would make a bad situation worse.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:05 PM on February 12, 2013


The Jalopnik thing looks like a hatchet job too. The owner's webforum? Doesn't seem like a good place to gauge the acceptance of the vehicle. People don't get an account and log in to write comment after comment saying "yeah, it worked fine, no problem". That's where you go when you have a problem, and then you post over and over again discussing it. And yeah, first run of a new vehicle, it is going to have kinks. For sure. I'd wager that an owner's webforum of even a "mature" vehicle with over a decade of mass-production would be filled with complaints of all sorts of random failures.

I also read this awful Forbes article, which contains this gem:

But I do know this: Broder’s story revealed a simple truth about electric cars: they’re not going to replace internal combustion cars any time soon. They’re just not ready for mass acceptance.

They're just not ready for mass acceptance = I'm just not ready to accept them.

Ugh. Thanks for your wonderful dinosaur insight, Detroit Bureau Chief of Forbes!
posted by molecicco at 1:06 PM on February 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


I quote from the NY Times "If this is Tesla’s vision of long-distance travel in America’s future, I thought, and the solution to what the company calls the “road trip problem,” it needs some work. "

What a stupid thing to write.

The assumption that the six digit EV you are driving is your only car is dumb. Roadtrip? Take the SUV, or your spouses car. Duh. Commute across town, the EV.

The biased hate against EV's is pretty dumb and blatant.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:09 PM on February 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I disagree about your characterization of owners' webfora in general, and this Tesla owners' forum in particular, molecicco. Most car owners' forums are filled with people who like their cars a lot, and who are avid tinkerers/moders/automotive DIYers, etc. An owner's forum is also usually the best place to go to learn about common fixes to common problems.

Jalopnik's editors also noted that Tesla owners active on the site -- even those who had experienced various niggles -- were proud of their cars and of being part of the electric car revolution.

In any case. Hydrogen fuel cell power is the future. Batteries are the bridge.
posted by notyou at 1:32 PM on February 12, 2013


For roadtrips, we take the Prius. Ours is a 2008 and gets about 43 mpg on the highway going an average of 75 mph. Slow it down to the actual legal speed-limit and it's damn close to 50 mpg.
posted by Cookiebastard at 1:37 PM on February 12, 2013


Keith Talent: Tesla wasn't selling the S as a runabout, they specifically told the reviewer that it could go from Newark, DE to Milford, CT.
posted by whuppy at 1:37 PM on February 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is pretty much the 21st century variant of "I'd rather push a [Chevy|Ford] then drive a [Ford|Chevy]".
posted by GuyZero at 1:46 PM on February 12, 2013


Hydrogen fuel cell power is the future.

Except for the production, transportation and storage of refined hydrogen.
posted by GuyZero at 1:47 PM on February 12, 2013


molecicco, the author of the Forbes article listed two substantial problems with the EV: (a) 30 minutes to recharge the battery and (b) unable to heat the cabin. Those are serious issues, not "I'm just not ready to accept them".

It's like the car was designed by people who don't understand winter.
posted by whuppy at 1:57 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Isn't winter cold a design issue for all EV cars? How do the others handle this?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:08 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Similar to Jaguars with Joseph "Prince of Darkness" Lucas electrics: Don't drive at night.
posted by whuppy at 2:13 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's like the car was designed by people who don't understand winter.

Well, if we keep driving cars powered by gasoline we won't have winter to worry about anyway.
posted by mrnutty at 2:13 PM on February 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Isn't winter cold a design issue for all EV cars? How do the others handle this?

I'm sure all electric cars have heaters, but it eats up battery. So if your goal is to drive your electric car as far as possible, you're going to want to minimize drain. If you want the heat on, then your range'll be lower.

The Volt (technically a hybrid) has a "fan-only" AC option, an "eco" mode, and "comfort". Each one uses more battery. And if it's really really cold it will run the engine to provide chemical heat.
posted by mrnutty at 2:18 PM on February 12, 2013


Electric cars are ready. The problem is they have a limited number of use cases compared to gas powered cars. Tesla tried to sell this thing as if it was interchangeable with a gas powered car. Well, it's not.

I'd really like to see the data from the car logs. I have a hard time believing that the Times reporter would go through this ordeal (just read the article, it's awful) for shits and giggles.
posted by falameufilho at 2:24 PM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Except for the production, transportation and storage of refined hydrogen.

Here's a photo I snapped of a hydrogen gas pump at a retail gas station in Newport Beach, CA.

Here's another.
posted by notyou at 2:34 PM on February 12, 2013


I have a hard time believing that the Times reporter would go through this ordeal (just read the article, it's awful) for shits and giggles.

I suppose you have a lot more faith in the state of journalism than I do.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 2:36 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm sure all electric cars have heaters, but it eats up battery.

I'm sure that's the case, too. What I mean, I guess, is that these are design considerations, tradeoffs that allow the car manufacturer to make certain claims. When weather is colder than expected, maybe a test won't go as well.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:49 PM on February 12, 2013


Isn't winter cold a design issue for all EV cars? How do the others handle this?

Your range is reduced. Period. The car still works. The heat still works. Your range is reduced. The heat is only turned off if the battery charge become dangerously low.

whuppy, look at the first comment on the Forbes article. Dude took his family, in winter, on a ski trip on one charge. The cabin heat works. Your range, however, suffers as a result. This is not rocket science, and the people who made the cars are not idiots. And imagine, your range estimator still works too, incredibly enough - no surprise "battery empty!" coming out of nowhere.

So point (b) about no cabin heat is 100% bullshit - I would even say it is an invented problem, used by someone who is not personally ready to accept the idea of an electric car. And point (a) -- 30 minute charge. I would here argue, and really it is pure speculation on both our parts, but I would argue that 30 minutes for a half-battery charge is, in fact, acceptable to most drivers in most situations. Don't forget, it's not like an ICE. The "tank" is *always* full when you leave home. And probably also full when you leave work, if there is a charger there. And if you really did drive continuously from totally full to totally empty, then waiting for a full charge (which I assume takes one hour), is probably for most people acceptable, since you must have been driving a pretty long time.

Anyway, I am not trying to convince you to love and want an EV. I am trying to convince you not to dismiss them out of hand based on distorted generalizations of cherry-picked special cases.
posted by molecicco at 2:56 PM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


If I had a Model S, I would not take it on cross country road trips. It would be for local and regional use only, and would be perfectly great at that at any temperature. Even if my SO didn't have a car to use for that, there are these wonderful companies that will rent me reasonably nice cars (and sometimes objectively great cars, but that's luck of the draw) for $200 a week or less.

When I had a car, it wasn't a truck, yet that somehow didn't make it any less of a car. They don't have to be all things to all people.
posted by wierdo at 3:10 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Times responds.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 3:13 PM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I started my commenting by noting that EVs do have a role, just not for distance and not in winter. That comment you cite mentioned a 270 mile round trip, i.e. a 135 mile range, which is not what I consider far.
posted by whuppy at 3:14 PM on February 12, 2013


This rundown of the Tesla v. Times scrap as of yesterday is worth a read if only for this excellent line:

"Guess what? If you don't put gas in your car, it will stop working, too."
posted by gompa at 3:15 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have a hard time believing that the Times reporter would go through this ordeal (just read the article, it's awful) for shits and giggles.

This is rather circular reasoning. If he's making it up, he didn't go through the ordeal.
posted by jaduncan at 3:19 PM on February 12, 2013


"Guess what? If you don't put gas in your car, it will stop working, too."

I'm all in favor of electric cars, but it's not true that if you don't put gas in your car overnight, the gas levels will fall by almost 75 percent by the time you wake up.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 3:22 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm all in favor of electric cars, but it's not true that if you don't put gas in your car overnight, the gas levels will fall by almost 75 percent by the time you wake up.

I think the point is that when the mainstream press talks about electric vehicles it talks primarily if not exclusively about range limitations -- as if they are categorically different from the limitations of internal combustion engines or else cannot possibly be solved by more robust infrastructure and a few more years of R&D. Didn't see the episode, but my understanding is that the only thing Top Gear did with its Tesla was drive it around till it ran out of charge and then made fun of it (which, in my admittedly limited experience, is what Top Gear appears to do to anything that isn't a conventional internally combusting sports car of the sort that teenage me would've agreed was oh so cool).

I mean, you used to have to crank internal combustion engines to make them go, but that didn't turn out to be the defining feature of the technology.
posted by gompa at 3:28 PM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anyway, I am not trying to convince you to love and want an EV. I am trying to convince you not to dismiss them out of hand based on distorted generalizations of cherry-picked special cases.

You don't need to convince me: I would love an EV. However, Elon Musk is making certain claims about his car's performance, and it's a journalist's responsibility to explore those claims and verify or refute them. Real-world driving (such as driving 10 mph over the speed limit, driving in NE winter) appears to be in conflict with those claims. Having to search for a charging station probably makes it harder for EV drivers, as well.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:29 PM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


if EVs had the kind of refueling infrastructure that our gas/diesel transport has, there would absolutely be no issue.

take for example a modern car like the Mitsubishi EVO X. it has a turbo 4 cylinder motor and the mpg is a bit on the low side. with a 14 Gallon tank, owners report a range of about 200 miles. a shorter range even than the Tesla S' (optimistic) estimates. but, does anyone who buys an EVO care about that relatively low range? no. because the source of energy can be refilled almost anywhere, at any time, in under 5 minutes.
(i picked the EVO because it's a small volume production car with a shorter range than, say, an Accord.)

even with the Supercharger stations, which are very limited in their locations, can't refill that fast. IF there were these fast charge stations everywhere (like, as available as a corner gas station), EVs might be everywhere.

and that still doesn't solve the issue that, right now, they're powered by either coal or nat gas. maybe nuclear or hydro, but the majority are still fossil fuel based.

don't blame the car. it is cutting edge as far as EV tech goes. it's the 'E' part that's the problem.
posted by ninjew at 3:31 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is new technology needing new infrastructure - it should work flawlessly and immediately dammit, otherwise what's the point!
posted by mattoxic at 4:02 PM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


That comment you cite mentioned a 270 mile round trip, i.e. a 135 mile range, which is not what I consider far.

Maybe you need to adjust your sense of trip length? If you look at travel statistics taken from the 2009 National Household Travel Survey (pdf), you will see that nearly half of all car trips are less than 25 miles. The average distance driven for vacation/relaxation trips is about 35 miles. (And remember that the mean is sensitive to outliers, which in this case means the number is high as an estimate of what most people do, since there are no negative-mileage trips.)

More importantly for EVs as replacements for gas cars is the fact that cumulative daily driving is less than 60 miles for more than 80% of cars on the road. The fact is that an EV with a modest range would do perfectly well as an alternative to a gas vehicle for most people, regardless of the weather.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 4:03 PM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also... Mr. Ibsen?
posted by mattoxic at 4:07 PM on February 12, 2013


I'd like to back up and point something out here:

Tesla now turns on the logging feature on its EVs when it allows media to borrow them

Let me zoom in on that:

the logging feature on its EVs

I am going to need a detailed and impartial explanation of just what the fuck that means before I am ever going to consider buying a Tesla.
posted by Mars Saxman at 4:23 PM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


You'll need the same from GM also, their onstar system is capable of tracking equipped vehicles in a similar fashion. I believe there are other manufacturers that have introduced similar systems, but I can't think of them off the top of my head.

What I'm saying is, this is not only a Tesla thing.
posted by inparticularity at 4:56 PM on February 12, 2013


lots of cars already log data

here's the info the Tesla records pdf
posted by ninjew at 4:57 PM on February 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Maybe you need to adjust your sense of trip length?

Hey, if you've got a way to shorten the distance from New York to Boston, I'm all ears. Bonus points for eliminating Winter weather.

In the meantime please read my previous (several!) comments wherein I state (repeatedly!) that EV has its place, just not for long drives, and definitely not in Winter.
posted by whuppy at 6:26 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


My point is that whether or not you consider a one-way trip of 135 miles far or not, 135 miles is much longer than the majority of one-way drives that people make, including drives that people make to go on vacation, to relax, or to visit family and friends.

Put another way, when you say that "EV has its place," what comes across is that an EV might be suitable for a small number of drivers or suitable in a small number of special cases. But the statistics show that EVs are suitable for the majority of drivers in the majority of circumstances. The deleterious effects of cold on batteries does not at all undermine that point, since most ordinary driving is well under 25% of the range of an EV at full charge.

And this is roughly why I have a problem with reviews like the one in the Times. They put a lot of emphasis on a kind of driving that is pretty rare and then use problems with that rare sort of driving to argue that the product is not ready for ordinary consumption or to make people afraid to buy the new product.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 7:57 PM on February 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Sorry Blazecock, my earlier comment about not dismissing EVs was directed at whuppy, not at you. But I also take issue with this statement:

Real-world driving (such as driving 10 mph over the speed limit, driving in NE winter) appears to be in conflict with those claims. Having to search for a charging station probably makes it harder for EV drivers, as well.

Not really. You can drive fast. You can drive in winter. But the faster you drive, and the colder it is, the less range you have. If you insist on only using supercharger stations, and they are further apart than that reduced range, then, yes, problem. But they are not your only charging opportunity. From what I understand there is a very convenient app in the car's display that will show you all the possible charging stations (super or not) near you.

Take a look at gompa's bizjournals link -- the NY Times guy seems to have purposely tried to get the car's battery to empty. I use battery devices all the time. I'll bet he does too. And yet, he did not leave the car plugged in over night in a regular socket? (I mean really, if you have range anxiety about an EV, wouldn't you leave it plugged in at every opportunity?) He did not stop to recharge the battery, even though he had opportunities. He insisted on only using the supercharger stations.
posted by molecicco at 1:36 AM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The FA wasn't about ideal conditions for EV, it was about pushing the envelope. If you're gonna sell the Tesla S as ready to make the trip from Newark to Milford in Winter, don't get thin-skinned when physics intervenes.

And if this is how Elon Musk handles promotion, criticism, quality assurance and customer service, remind me to stay off the Falcon 9.
posted by whuppy at 6:02 AM on February 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


What is this fetish among car-makers for touch screens in cars nowadays? Don't they realize that we're supposed to be able to use these things without taking our eyes off the road?

Yes. This!
God, if I could favorite this any harder I'd crack the Earth in half.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:11 AM on February 13, 2013


In skimming through Tesla's site, I'm not seeing anything claiming that the Tesla S is a 1:1 replacement for all IC vehicles. Their range estimator takes into account temperature, driving style, driving environment and which vehicle package you buy. They tell you to recharge it every night. The closest they come to talking about cold weather issues is this, (the) Model S is engineered to perform in both hot and cold climates.. But they note repeatedly that all cold and all heat are not the same thing. And that you'll learn your vehicle's capabilities over time and caution should be your byword until you do.

I don't understand why people have so much trouble having to come to a different understanding about what their new vehicle is capable of. Do people riding the bus somehow think that they're going to get to hit the office at the same time as if they drove their polluting, single-occupant vehicle? No, you're doing this to be a responsible citizen. Driving a Tesla is the same thing. Grow up.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 11:54 AM on February 13, 2013


Elon Musk responds to the New York Times, with guns blazing: "A Most Peculiar Test Drive"
posted by teraflop at 12:05 AM on February 14, 2013 [16 favorites]


Based on that data, Musk appears to have a point.
posted by jaduncan at 12:22 AM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wow, I really did not expect this to be another case where the NYTimes just flat out lied, but there it is. Pretty shameful. Not because I respect the paper more than any other source, but just because it would be incredibly stupid to lie like that. The review's writing was rather florid, which should have been a give away, but that's all too often the NYTimes style. Was the writer paid off? Were editors in on it too? What other motivation is there for something like this? Just really hating the idea of a car that can run without carbon?

Reputations last too long; I'm not sure why the New York Times is considered to be different from any other rag or blog out there.
posted by Llama-Lime at 12:46 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


the logging feature on its EVs

I am going to need a detailed and impartial explanation of just what the fuck that means before I am ever going to consider buying a Tesla.
Supposedly:
Tesla data logging is only turned on with explicit written permission from customers, but after Top Gear BS, we always keep it on for media. --Elon Musk
Which is a weird thing to say, why would Tesla have explicit written permission for any of its customers? But whatever, I'm carrying a cell phone that's on most of the time, and cell phones are far greater intrusions than a car recording locations. If LoJack creeps you out, stay away!
posted by Llama-Lime at 1:01 AM on February 14, 2013


Broder drove around in circles, with the car on empty? Charged it less and less each time?

I was ready to say "Yeah, maybe the driver did some not-so-smart things," but now I'm thinking somewhere between 'hit piece' and 'sabotage'.
posted by fontor at 5:40 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course it's a hit piece. The whole "saved by a good old traditional American pick-up truck" angle was just too on the nose for real life. I assume NY Times will be issuing a retraction/public apology?
posted by saulgoodman at 6:19 AM on February 14, 2013


My bet is they're gonna double down.
posted by aramaic at 7:55 AM on February 14, 2013


Which is a weird thing to say, why would Tesla have explicit written permission for any of its customers?

Onstar style services, remote app and tell you where your car is parked? Mostly features of convenience.
posted by Talez at 8:11 AM on February 14, 2013


DECAL: Calvin in Tesla peeing on Hobbes reading New York Times.
posted by Fizz at 8:13 AM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Based on that data, Musk appears to have a point.

But what proof do we have that the data is true? I'm not saying Musk made it up -- I'm saying we don't know. Putting a bunch of (not very) pretty graphs in a blog carries no more or less weight that the narrative from the NYTime guy.

It's still "he said/he said."
posted by Frayed Knot at 8:20 AM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's still "he said/he said."

That's why all cars and robots should have the ability to talk. A robot/machine wouldn't lie to us!?!
posted by Fizz at 8:31 AM on February 14, 2013


The chances of the company making up logging data are IMHO extremely low. But yeah, they have root on the car and chargers so can make anything up they wish. Musk would have a lot to lose from that though, as people tend not to like space contractors that make up data.

Things in the NYT article being necessarily untrue due to internal inconsistency is also a red flag for me about the journalist.
posted by jaduncan at 8:31 AM on February 14, 2013


Which is a weird thing to say, why would Tesla have explicit written permission for any of its customers?

Tesla is a ground breaking car that a lot of people believe in. Think of it the same as "Will you allow your data to be anonymously submitted to help (Apple/Microsoft/Adobe whomever) better judge use cases in the real world?". It would be a hugely valuable R&D tool to have that logged data and anyone who believes in the concept and wants it to improve would potentially be open to it.

The chances of the company making up logging data are IMHO extremely low.

Totally agree. If pushed, they should be able to release the raw logged data. Unless the journalist has GPS data from his phone to disprove any of these claims or data/printouts from the charging stations that directly refute it, I think this is precisely why Tesla was right to switch on media car's data logging. You simply cannot trust yourself to impartial journalism when you are already an outside and radically different solution.

I looked at the Tesla in one of their showroom things in Miami a few weeks ago. They have an entire cut away of the chassis and a lot of good engineering pictures and schematics. I really liked it. I'd not buy one personally, but the person I was with was very, very interested as it'd fit his daily routine extremely well and we looked at it with a view to buying and it is a very well designed concept from what we could tell. I liked it.
posted by Brockles at 8:43 AM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


With that new data, it's the best kind of trainwreck you can't turn away from. CEO of company vs journalist with inflammatory story.

I mean, if Tesla's wrong, they go down burning with this. I'd hate to be the guy who had to prepare this data for the exec. You're basically staking the company on it being 100% correct. Can't step back from this one or say "oops we had some things wrong in some software somewhere our bad, guess he was right about our car and we tried to hide/lie about the truth."

So yeah, I think the NYT will have a job opening soon.
posted by ish__ at 8:50 AM on February 14, 2013


Putting a bunch of (not very) pretty graphs in a blog carries no more or less weight that the narrative from the NYTime guy.

The graphs and their interpretations are a higher standard of evidence than a story. At this point I've got to give this one to Tesla. If the NYT wants to back up their story, they're going to have to either come up with their own data logs showing something very different, or else show that Tesla faked the data (which I doubt they did).
posted by echo target at 8:51 AM on February 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'd hate to be the guy who had to prepare this data for the exec.

Being as they have been sitting on this for a while now (they had the data the second the car returned to them, surely) I would suspect they have spent the ensuing time firmly covering their arses. You don't waste time with this kind of pretty damning rebuttal unless you are making sure that you are completely right and checking with the lawyers, I suspect.
posted by Brockles at 8:53 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


You don't waste time with this kind of pretty damning rebuttal unless you are making sure that you are completely right and checking with the lawyers, I suspect.

Oh I agree. Doesn't make it any less nerve wracking for the data guy though :)
posted by ish__ at 9:00 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The graphs are straight out of MATLAB, the industry standard for controls software and almost certainly what all of the software(minus touch screen) on the car is written in. The fact that it is a straight screenshot of MATLAB makes me more confident of the results. It probably took this long to release just to make the graphs that pretty. Another give away is that the parking pawl stayed engaged. That's a 12V system and unless he drained the 12V battery completely it would have released.
posted by TheJoven at 9:07 AM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Putting a bunch of (not very) pretty graphs in a blog carries no more or less weight that the narrative from the NYTime guy.

Ok, lets remove your pejorative language and see:

Publishing a bunch of data carries no more or less weight that the narrative from the NYTime guy.

Which I think the majority of critical thinking people might disagree with. Perhaps those who subscribe to the idea that there are not true things, just differences of opinion might be ok with such a statement.
posted by Bovine Love at 9:07 AM on February 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


Bovine Love, you've missed my point.

Musk didn't "publish data." He put a bunch of stuff on a blog. Give me a day, and I can generate all of that data, and all of those graphs, with some programming -- don't even need the car.

Again, to be clear, I'm not accusing Musk of lying. I'm pushing back on the idea that the information he's presented, which is unverified by a third party, is any more reliable that the NYTime's information, which is unverified by a third party. And I'm pointing out that they both have ample reasons to lie.

And most critical thinkers I know realize that putting something on the web in no way makes it a 'true thing.' The bar is much, much higher than that.
posted by Frayed Knot at 9:33 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's sort of a Fox fallacy ('Fair and Balanced'). Obviously either source could be untrue at this stage, but that doesn't mean that they're both equally likely, or that we can't make a decent epistemic guess based on other contextual factors.
posted by forgetful snow at 9:48 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Musk didn't "publish data." He put a bunch of stuff on a blog. Give me a day, and I can generate all of that data, and all of those graphs, with some programming -- don't even need the car.

Sure. But if he's lying (and some of this can be checked with timestamped CCTV from third parties) he is then someone asking for billions of dollars so that SpaceX can do NASA missions whilst demonstrably being prepared to fake data.

Even if you think he's prepared to lie all day, it's just not in his interest to bluff here for the small reward.

Also, again, his claims are at least internally consistent.
posted by jaduncan at 9:48 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm as much a fan of Musk as I am of the NYTimes (I think they're equal parts good-to-groovy), but I couldn't help but shout "MY MAN!" after reading Musk's rebuttal this morning.
posted by Chutzler at 10:06 AM on February 14, 2013


It reminds me a bit of Chomsky's Worthy and Unworthy victims, but more for ideas. Electric cars = unworthy, gasoline cars = worthy, because $$$ and interlinked friendships with the directors of petrochem companies via Harvard and Yale for e.g.
posted by marienbad at 10:12 AM on February 14, 2013



Musk didn't "publish data." He put a bunch of stuff on a blog. Give me a day, and I can generate all of that data, and all of those graphs, with some programming -- don't even need the car.


Yes, he did publish data. Being on a "blog" does not make it less so. Of course he could have faked the data, which has nothing to do with publication or not; published data can be faked just like any other. You are trying to devalue his data because of the venue it showed up on, which is not supportable.

Again, to be clear, I'm not accusing Musk of lying.

Yes, you are. If you claim that his data is not worth anything, then you are saying it is untrue; if it is untrue, then he is lying. If his data is true, then it is not a he said/she said situation -- it is a fact/she said situation.

Data makes all the difference. There is a lot less room for interpretation. Not zero, of course, but a lot less. The only way this is a he said/she said situation at this point is is Musk lied.

And most critical thinkers I know realize that putting something on the web in no way makes it a 'true thing.' The bar is much, much higher than that.

I never said it was. I am saying that the presentation of data takes it past the he said/she said, and showing contempt for the publication medium doesn't make it any different. Once one side presents clear data (pretty or not), you now either have to find fault with the data, accuse the date presenter with falsifying the data, or accept that the data is correct. Is is no longer a matter of hearsay.

So, are you saying he falsified the data or not?
posted by Bovine Love at 10:21 AM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Regarding the vehicle logs, it looks like the iOS and Android apps that interface with the car use a pretty standard web API, which has been unofficially documented. You can see everything from GPS coordinates to which doors are locked. On future test drives, maybe Tesla will let independent third parties monitor so that they don't have to get their hands dirty like this. But in my mind, exposing anti-electric bias like this, directly from the CEO, goes a long way towards bending public perception closer to reality.
posted by Llama-Lime at 10:23 AM on February 14, 2013


Bovine Love, I'm saying I hold single-source data on the Internet in contempt, yes. Deep, deep contempt. But I also hold single-sourced data in the NYtimes in contempt, so this has nothing to do with the medium. You keep skipping that part of my argument.

(And with that, I'm gonna be done. Feel free to have the last word; I've said my piece.)
posted by Frayed Knot at 10:55 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm saying I hold single-source data on the Internet in contempt

Setting the bar so high as to be unachievable, in other words.

A legal deposition and discovery process may well happen, but it's a bit much to expect audited chains of custody, and adjudicated balances of evidence at this stage. Maybe a few years from now when the appeals process has settled down, but not before.

I'm curious as to what you think the appropriate response from Musk should have been. Clam up and file a fraud/libel suit? In a battle for public opinion, I think he does far better by releasing credible data in a transparent and timely manner. I guess this is a problem if you don't think any data from Tesla is credible.
posted by bonehead at 11:06 AM on February 14, 2013


Though, I suppose, Tesla could require someone from KPMG in the passenger's seat the whole time. Maybe Musk needs to make that his new policy.
posted by bonehead at 11:09 AM on February 14, 2013


Frayed Knot, I think going strictly by "single source on the internet" is quite flawed. You need to look at the motivations of the source, what they have to lose, what are the chances they will be caught out, etc. Lots of things are single sourced; we still need to make judgments on them. Those judgments will always be subject to error, but it doesn't them valueless either. I am not missing that part of your argument; I am saying that considering them all equally useless is not correct. They are not equal. Additionally, things like data can be examined for coherence and self-consistency; much harder for hearsay, since most of the statements have a lot of flex.
posted by Bovine Love at 11:10 AM on February 14, 2013


I would have preferred if he also included the data he used to create the graphs, or at least provided it to the NY Times. But then I also don't really consider graphs to be data, but an interpretation of data, just like his statements of "fact".
posted by smackfu at 11:14 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


You don't waste time with this kind of pretty damning rebuttal unless you are making sure that you are completely right and checking with the lawyers, I suspect.

I do hope, for their sake, that they've done this properly. Legal instrumental data handling and chain of custody is hard if you've had little or no experience with it. There are many potential gotchas which could take them from air-tight to balance of evidence territory.
posted by bonehead at 11:15 AM on February 14, 2013


You don't waste time with this kind of pretty damning rebuttal unless you are making sure that you are completely right and checking with the lawyers, I suspect.

No lawyer would let someone write this: "When the facts didn’t suit his opinion, he simply changed the facts. "
posted by smackfu at 11:20 AM on February 14, 2013


wierdo: "If I had a Model S, I would not take it on cross country road trips. It would be for local and regional use only, and would be perfectly great at that at any temperature. Even if my SO didn't have a car to use for that, there are these wonderful companies that will rent me reasonably nice cars (and sometimes objectively great cars, but that's luck of the draw) for $200 a week or less.

When I had a car, it wasn't a truck, yet that somehow didn't make it any less of a car. They don't have to be all things to all people.
"

Yes, this. My husband has a Tesla Model S, delivered at the end of December. His office is 7 miles from our house, he takes the kids to school, and if the two of us go out in the evening, we take the Tesla. I'd say he's averaged 20-30 miles a day, max.

If it's all five of us, or a longer trip, we take my GMC Acadia, which I use every day to haul kids and stuff (though I swear his Tesla has more cargo capacity, with the rear and front trunks). We had no expectation that the Tesla would replace the family car. It's a commuter vehicle, an about-town toy.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 11:47 AM on February 14, 2013


Don't know if it's been mentioned already in the thread, but is it at all weird the NYT reporter normally covers the oil industry?
posted by yerfatma at 11:49 AM on February 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


So, there's an interesting tidbit here. Broder posted a note on February 8th inidcating that he'd had a fillup of 8.4 kWh on his test drive in Norwich, the site of that incomplete charge, according to Musk's post. The Tesla S has a nominal charge capacities of 40, 60 and 85 kWhr. If we assume the largest battery size, this would imply that Broder did about a 10% charge at the Norwich station.

I'm not certain how that jibes with the Tesla data, particularly this graph. From that data, the Norwich charge appears to be closer to 5% of the battery.

Now, I could easily be missing a subtlety here. This math is just based on some publicly available data and I am not terribly confident I have everything right. Still, something doesn't seem to work between these two stories.

It would help the reporter's case a lot if he released the bills/receipts from the charge stations along the way. I can't explain the difference between the reporter's numbers apparently posted prior to the story breaking, and what Musk posted today. Tesla have put their cards on the table, it's time for the Times and the reporter to do the same. Third-party billing receipts would be great evidence for the Times, if they exist.
posted by bonehead at 12:12 PM on February 14, 2013


but is it at all weird the NYT reporter normally covers the oil industry?

I think his beat is energy / environmental issues. He's definitely not the car review guy, but I think Tesla's goal for this story was to publicize their new charging network, not the car itself. In that context, him being the reporter makes more sense. But it also certainly makes errors more likely.
posted by smackfu at 12:33 PM on February 14, 2013


The Atlantic: Elon Musk's Data Doesn't Back Up His Claims of New York Times Fakery
posted by Floydd at 12:48 PM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Don't know if it's been mentioned already in the thread, but is it at all weird the NYT reporter normally covers the oil industry?

Is there a specific set of articles you found which suggest a bias towards gasoline-based vehicles? A number of the linked articles seem to be critical of oil companies for environmental risks their operations pose. Did you just link to his NYT article list or did you read any of them?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:50 PM on February 14, 2013


Just linked to it because it seemed strange that he wasn't a car reporter, but smackfu's response makes sense. Apologies for not adhering to the strict fact-based commenting this thread requires.
posted by yerfatma at 2:05 PM on February 14, 2013


That Atlantic article's worth a re-read - it's been updated several times in the last few hours.
posted by Chutzler at 4:22 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Times' Public Editor weighs in and Broder responds to Musk's blog post.
posted by plastic_animals at 5:15 PM on February 14, 2013


This is becoming he said:he said and I have no idea who is right. One thing I would say is that virtually every small production level car has quality issues. The sort of level of quality we expect from a car is because we are used to them being manufactured in serial production in mass quantities.

A Tesla is like owning one of the first five 787's.
posted by JPD at 5:33 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Two CNN journalists are repeating the route and tweeting their results:

Abigail Bassett
Peter Valdes-Dapena

So far, no troubles like the NYTimes.
posted by Llama-Lime at 6:55 PM on February 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


"The touch screen is the worst idea to come along in car design since the Torqueflite/push-button shifter."
Bite your tongue! Pushbutton transmissions are glorious. Which is why they are making a come back in various forms of manumatic transmissions. I'll agree though that the touch screen interface for a car (especially for heater and radio controls) is a stupid design decsion probably the result of a pack with the devil.

mattoxic: "This is new technology needing new infrastructure - it should work flawlessly and immediately dammit, otherwise what's the point!"

It's always amusing to see neo Luddites rail against technology that has obviously crested the hump of usability and it's all going to get better and better as infrastructure rolls out. Like railing against cell phones once they reached self contained hand held size or railing against the Internet after the September that Never Ended.

"Which is a weird thing to say, why would Tesla have explicit written permission for any of its customers? "

Man if I could get detailed logs like this emailed to me I'd sign that peice of paper in a heart beat.
posted by Mitheral at 7:25 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would have preferred if he also included the data he used to create the graphs, or at least provided it to the NY Times. But then I also don't really consider graphs to be data, but an interpretation of data, just like his statements of "fact".

You... don't consider graphs data? Have you ever read a scientific journal? They don't publish reams of spreadsheet numbers. They publish graphs because it gives the same information in a concise form.

Do you consider numbers data? Because any numbers they released could be faked exactly as easily as if they had faked the graph. This is true in blog posts and it's true in peer-reviewed journals. If people want to fake their data then they'll get away with it -- until someone else tries to recreate the experiment.

Moaning about the presentation is concern trolling.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 7:28 PM on February 14, 2013



So far, no troubles like the NYTimes.


If twitter is correct it is taking them 12 hours to drive from DC to Boston.
posted by JPD at 7:44 PM on February 14, 2013


I think his beat is energy / environmental issues. He's definitely not the car review guy ...

Extreme Tech's Sebastian Anthony's take:
It will be very interesting to see how The Times responds to Musk’s claims. It’s possible that the logs were fabricated, but when you consider Broder’s love of Big Oil and his public distaste for electric vehicles, I am fairly certain that retractions will be made and heads will roll.
posted by ericb at 5:41 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


You... don't consider graphs data? Have you ever read a scientific journal? They don't publish reams of spreadsheet numbers. They publish graphs because it gives the same information in a concise form.

Yeah, and if someone thinks a scientist's results are dubious, what's the first thing they do? Ask to see the source data or repeat the test.
posted by smackfu at 5:42 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Broder's beat is energy & the environment - what do you think he's mostly going to be doing?

Good lord have the fight about the data and the response from Broder telling his version of events. Stop trying to read tea leaves in his prior writing to "prove" his bias. That's like Fox News "Pravda on the Hudson" kind of bullshit.
posted by JPD at 5:46 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


The CNN drive from DC to Boston
In the end, I made it -- and it wasn't that hard.

There were some differences with my ride and the one from the New York Times. The weather for mine was about 10 degrees warmer. And I did mine in one day; the reviewer from the Times split it into two.
The cold night seems to have been the thing that made all the difference. The CNN reporter had lots of reserve capacity over the same drive, despite being anxious about range.

Musk's reaction seems overblown (especially about the circling the parking-lot thing), and the NY Times reporter seems to have either been a dolt or deliberately misunderstood what driving with cruise control meant, but the large difference between the two drives to me is the overnight stop.

The battery got killed overnight in the cold on the NY Times drive. Broder's problems the next day all arose from that. He was rather cavalier about following instructions, and Musk assumed the worst motives and actions possible. Both of them come off looking like idiots, in my opinion.

The lesson to me would be that the Tesla S needs a plug-in battery warmer for cold nights, not unlike the block heaters every car had when I was a kid in Edmonton. Compensating for that temperature problem, the car seems perfectly capable, even pleasurable to drive over the DC-Boston route, based on the CNN reporter's experience.
posted by bonehead at 7:42 AM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


First tweet - 9:30 AM - leaving DC
Arrival in Boston 10:23 PM


So 13 hours to drive from DC to Boston. Yeah if that cruise control was set at 60 for large portions of the trip there was also a lot of not moving going on.

For non-East Cost folks - that's an 8 hour drive w/o traffic at the speed limit.
posted by JPD at 8:02 AM on February 15, 2013


Not inconsistent with the stop times: three stops for charges of more than an hour each. That leaves a 9-10 hour drive time.
posted by bonehead at 8:07 AM on February 15, 2013


A day later and I'm still mystified why the NYTimes guy would have it in for the Tesla, and lie about the speeds he was traveling, etc. Why would he fail to charge the car, or just barely charge it enough to get to the next station?

I'm mystified why the Atlantic is more concerned about picking apart Elon Musk's questions about suspicious behavior from Broder than it is at the obvious lies of Broder that are written down in the account. Is that the standard of journalism? It's OK to be incorrect in your articles?

My personal experience with journalists has been that they don't really care much about details or facts. Details and facts are mere tools, among others, that can be bent in to shape in order to serve the overarching narrative, which is the true purpose of a journalist's endeavors. This is in direct contrast to what the public expects from journalists, and journalists seem to enjoy exploiting this difference. In any case, I'm never going to be interviewed again without my own recording of the conversation, and I'm going to tweet the hell out of the audio where a reporter makes up sentences around various words that were used throughout the conversation.

It reminds me of when the NYTimes had to ask if they had a responsibility to tell the truth. This is the level of disconnect between what is expected of journalists, and what journalists think their creative license allows. There's little value in what journalists are doing now, but there would be value if their first responsibility was to be accurate.
posted by Llama-Lime at 8:42 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Atlantic article is a good example of digging the details but missing the synthesis, frankly.
posted by bonehead at 8:44 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think if you come into this thinking "all journalists are liars", that might influence how you see things.
posted by smackfu at 1:53 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


"All journalists are liars" are your words, not mine, despite the quotation marks. And that's not what I believe. If you'll read my first comment, I didn't expect this of the NYTimes; my personal experiences have been with more rinky-dink local journalists, and I expected the outright lies to be the exception at the Times rather than the norm. It really is shocking that they would be inaccurate on easily checked matters of fact.
posted by Llama-Lime at 2:03 PM on February 15, 2013


Yeah, and if someone thinks a scientist's results are dubious, what's the first thing they do? Ask to see the source data or repeat the test.

"Source data" doesn't mean anything special. They can fake the data on the onboard computer if they want. My point was that criticizing them for showing graphs instead of numbers is meaningless, since they could make the data say anything if they wanted to fake it.

Anyways, the CNN folks made it to Boston with 96 miles to spare (though in slightly warmer weather), so I'd say the ball is in the NYT's court.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 2:44 PM on February 15, 2013


JPD, they went past NYC at about 5pm, I have a feeling they may have hit traffic.
posted by crashlanding at 3:40 PM on February 15, 2013


"I think if you come into this thinking "all journalists are liars", that might influence how you see things."
posted by smackfu

After the phone hacking/police-cash-for-info scandal in the UK, where they logged into a dead girls voicemail, liars and many other words come to mind.
posted by marienbad at 10:17 AM on February 16, 2013


Tesla, The New York Times And The Truth About 'Truth' In Data.
posted by ericb at 10:52 AM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


TTAC: Plus ça Charge: Electric Touring
That need for public charging stations has been obscured by other issues in the discussion of electric cars, which it seems to me have been focused more on range than anything else. Tesla is not unwise to create it’s own charging infrastructure for its customers because the simple fact is that if you could recharge an EV as quickly and as conveniently as you can refuel a gasoline or diesel powered vehicle, and if you could find a charging station within your EV’s range, range becomes more of a non issue. Let’s face it, how many owners of gasoline cars really consider range on a single tank of gas when buying a new car? As long as you can get ~300 miles between fill ups, the vast majority of car consumers don’t really care about range. Gas mileage yes, but I’d bet that total range is only important to a minority of gas/diesel drivers.

posted by ninjew at 11:44 PM on February 16, 2013


The NYTimes public editor defends truthfulness of review but calls the reporter a dumbass:
My own findings are not dissimilar to the reader I quote above, although I do not believe Mr. Broder hoped the drive would end badly. I am convinced that he took on the test drive in good faith, and told the story as he experienced it.

Did he use good judgment along the way? Not especially.
posted by bonehead at 11:31 AM on February 18, 2013


So I guess the takeaway is that Tesla's charging network is inadequate for idiots?
posted by wierdo at 1:26 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Llama-Lime: "My personal experience with journalists has been that they don't really care much about details or facts. Details and facts are mere tools, among others, that can be bent in to shape in order to serve the overarching narrative, which is the true purpose of a journalist's endeavors. This is in direct contrast to what the public expects from journalists, and journalists seem to enjoy exploiting this difference."

marienbad: "After the phone hacking/police-cash-for-info scandal in the UK, where they logged into a dead girls voicemail, liars and many other words come to mind."

Legitimately bad experiences and "rinky-dink" journalists aside, these are careless and unproductive extrapolations.

And this: "... It reminds me of when the NYTimes had to ask if they had a responsibility to tell the truth," goes in a whole different direction, and deserves a comment of its own (if not a FPP). Seeing as journalistic integrity's become a not-insignificant part of this thread, I feel comfortable in responding.

I've been on the short end of shitty, published interviews, too, and I agree that it's not fun. But I disagree with this overly-simplified presentation of the situation. Below, for those wary of the rabbit hole, is a quote from the link that Llama-Lime provided. It navigates to a post on the blog of the NYTimes's public (not executive) editor, then Arthur Brisbane (and now Margaret Sullivan). This blog is not the outlet for the Times's official line. The post's headline reads, "Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?"
I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about. [An] example: on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney often says President Obama has made speeches “apologizing for America,” a phrase to which Paul Krugman objected in a December 23 column arguing that politics has advanced to the "post-truth" stage. As an Op-Ed columnist, Mr. Krugman clearly has the freedom to call out what he thinks is a lie. My question for readers is: should news reporters do the same? ... How can The Times do this in a way that is objective and fair?
Brisbane's post, contrary to Llama-Lime's framing, was meant to engage a dialogue that had recently come to his attention - a dialogue which speaks to a much broader issue than binary interpretations of honesty. Brisbane clarified his thoughts in a follow-up post:
My inquiry related to whether The Times, in the text of news columns, should more aggressively rebut “facts” that are offered by newsmakers when those “facts” are in question. I consider this a difficult question, not an obvious one. To illustrate the difficulty of it, the first example I used in my blogpost concerned the Supreme Court’s official statement that Clarence Thomas had misunderstood the financial disclosure form when he failed to report his wife’s earnings. If you think that should be rebutted in the text of a story, it means you think a reporter can crawl inside the mind of a Supreme Court justice and report back. Or perhaps you think the reporter should just write that the “misunderstanding” excuse is bull and let it go at that. I would respectfully suggest that’s not a good approach.
This isn't meant to be any kind of indirect defense of journos like Broder or Blair or whoever else. The questions faced by professional journalism are many and complicated - pretending that this isn't the case is a waste of everyone's time.
posted by Chutzler at 8:12 PM on February 18, 2013


Metafilter already discussed Brisbane's concept of truth "vigilanteism", and I think that there was a broad consensus that even asking this question that way shows that there's grave trouble at the New York Times. You can dispute my particular framing of the issue, but there really is a large disconnect between what the public thinks that journalists are doing, and what they are actually doing. This is abundantly clear if you look through any of the many many reactions to Brisbane's articles, such as:
Yes, you absolutely should put great(er) effort into determining the truthfulness of your subjects' statements. Especially when they're making assertions, and especially when those assertions are about other people. That info is part of the story, not separate from it.

This is called research. I used to assume that journalists were trained in it.
Or, linked from the bottom of the Metafilter thread, Glenn Greenwald's introductory paragraph of criticism of the stenographer method of journalism:
The New York Times‘ Public Editor Arthur Brisbane unwittingly sparked an intense and likely enduring controversy yesterday when he pondered — as though it were some agonizing, complex dilemma — whether news reporters “should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.” That’s basically the equivalent of pondering in a medical journal whether doctors should treat diseases, or asking in a law review article whether lawyers should defend the legal interests of their clients, etc.: reporting facts that conflict with public claims (what Brisbane tellingly demeaned as being “truth vigilantes”) is one of the defining functions of journalism, at least in theory. Subsequent attempts to explain what he meant, along with a response from the NYT‘s Executive Editor, Jill Abramson, will only add fuel to the fire.
Greenwald continues with an excellent point: only the powerful are allowed to use the media as their uncritical mouthpiece. Apparently Elon Musk does not cross the line into someone powerful enough to have his opinions and "facts" aired uncritically, or even accurately in this case.

Margaret Sullivan's response is hugely damaging to the New York Times. It calls in to question all of their reporting. By brushing aside significant and documented errors of fact, apparently even recorded into the journalist's notebook, she has implicitly shown that the Times is not concerned with them. As a way to explain what appears to many to be deliberate sandbagging, Sullivan claims poor judgement from the journalist, yet somehow the New York Times has maintained its "integrity," according to its own standard. Whatever this standard is, it clearly does not meet the a significant number of their reader's expectation of a top-tier source of journalism. In the previous Metafilter thread, the expectations for Voice of San Diego reporters were linked. This is the sort of standard that the public would expect, it's the type of journalism manifesto that is celebrated in our culture through plays, movies, and TV. I would add that it is perhaps not a coincidence that Voice of San Diego was born on the web, if the Times' abstruse notions of journalistic integrity are prevalent at many other newspapers. As print-based news atrophies in audience, it is perhaps because the public understands that even at its supposed highest levels of professionalism in the NYTimes, print journalists simply do not attempt to provide what they expect or need from journalists.
posted by Llama-Lime at 3:17 PM on February 19, 2013


« Older Slow Motion Video of Fireworks Exploding Inside Bu...  |  While travelling in Antarctica... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments