New York Times Editor Defends Tesla Takedown

2012-43 STY Cars Tesla Model S H

The electric Tesla Model S can be charged at home via a conventional electrical socket or, for a quicker charge, a 240-volt outlet.


After a war of words over a test drive of the electric car last week, the paper's Margaret Sullivan writes that the story had "problems with precision and judgment, but not integrity."

After careful consideration, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has issued her opinion on the paper's charged dispute with electric automaker Tesla -- and it is unlikely that her careful approach to the case's journalistic and technical questions will do much to unplug the rivalry.

To recap: Journalist John Broder attempted to test drive Tesla's Model S from Washington, D.C., to Boston, with scheduled stops at newly installed charging stations along the way. The drive went poorly, with insufficient battery charges, lagging speeds and freezing conditions conspiring to ultimately have the car towed in Connecticut. After the publication of the story, Tesla CEO Elon Musk fired back, publishing the data that the car's computer logged during the trip, and insisting that it proved that Broder both improperly drove and charged the car.

Producer Dana Brunetti, a Tesla car owner, called the Times story "a hit piece" in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

In her evaluation of the affair -- informed by interviews with Broder and his editors -- Sullivan says that she does not believe Broder meant to drive in a way that would doom the car to a poor evaluation, but says he did not use especially good judgment during his trip. "In particular, decisions he made at a crucial juncture," she writes, "were certainly instrumental in this saga’s high-drama ending."

Sullivan continued: "In addition, Mr. Broder left himself open to valid criticism by taking what seem to be casual and imprecise notes along the journey, unaware that his every move was being monitored. A little red notebook in the front seat is no match for digitally recorded driving logs, which Mr. Musk has used, in the most damaging (and sometimes quite misleading) ways possible, as he defended his vehicle’s reputation."