'50 Shades of Grey' Producer Slams NYT Tesla Review: 'Hit Piece'

Dana Brunetti Headshot - P 2013
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Dana Brunetti Headshot - P 2013

Dana Brunetti, who made "House of Cards" and "The Social Network," joins a growing chorus questioning New York Times reporter John Broder's review of the electric car, saying he was "clearly looking to have [it] break down to make it scandalous."

The feud between The New York Times  and Tesla Motors exploded Wednesday, when the boutique automaker's CEO, Elon Musk, presented data that refuted many of the claims made by the paper about one of its car's insufficiencies. The data, logged during reporter John Broder's test drive, has media reporters buzzing and some in Hollywood rallying behind the environmentally friendly electric cars.

Broder wrote that the Model S that he drove over a two-day period between Washington and Boston suffered from inefficient charging, low battery life and inconveniently slow speeds. Musk countered, saying that Broder deliberately drove at speeds that went against manufacturer recommendations, while neglecting to properly recharge the vehicle.

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Among the cars' Hollywood owners are Morgan Freeman, Ben Affleck, Ari Emanuel and Dana Brunetti. Brunetti, the producer behind House of Cards, The Social Network and the upcoming 50 Shades of Grey and a car aficionado, tells The Hollywood Reporter that he never trusted Broder's report.

"He had 60 some miles left in his drive, and he charged for 30 some miles," he says, citing statistics Musk posted online Wednesday. "OK, you’re clearly looking to have this break down to make it scandalous. He clearly is anti-electric cars, it clearly was a hit piece."

Brunetti, a Tesla owner who races cars and owns Ferraris, says that "from a performance standpoint, the car is insane."

"It's one of the most amazing cars I've ever owned," he says of his Tesla. "Every day I get into it, I get blown away. So when I saw that article, I was like, 'Either there's something wrong with the car, or this guy did something wrong.' But now with the data coming out -- it was just dumb on this guy's part. He was caught red-handed. You can't argue the facts; everything is logged."

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The flap drew the attention of New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, who said Thursday that she would be discussing the subject with Broder later in the day.

"Mr. Broder’s article was certainly negative for Tesla, and Mr. Musk’s contentions are devastating ones for any journalist," she wrote. "When I reached [Broder] earlier, he said that he and his editors were working on a point-by-point response to Mr. Musk’s blog that would appear on The Times’ Wheels blog."

There were some voices that continued to criticize the car; The Atlantic Wire posted a takedown of Musk's blog post, while Reuters' Jack Shafer tweeted, "If detailed instructions from Tesla's engineers are needed to make an E. Coast trip between charging stations, maybe the car is not yet ready."

There is a reluctance to accept electric cars as viable alternatives to traditional combustion engines, Brunetti said, acknowledging that many of the early electric models that came out of Detroit were inefficient and unattractive.

He also blames the major automakers for doing as little as they can to push electric technology forward, adding that the oil industry has an acute interest in the continued reliance on gasoline.

"We all thought we’d have flying cars by now, but we don't," Brunetti laments. "The cars haven't advanced that much since we were kids. When you boil it down, it's still a gas combustion engine. We still rely on fossil fuels; it's just kind of asinine. How we get power, how cars are powered, when the technology and resources to have something that is infinitely better, we still use old-school technology. We’re still using that same exact structure."