Elon Musk, the ever-busy CEO behind SpaceX and SolarCity, couldn't hold his tongue when it came to his war with the New York Times over Tesla Motors, his (third) company. After the Grey Lady slammed the electric-car startup with a bad review of its Model S sedan, Tesla's stock dropped—and its market cap slid by more than $550 million. Musk disputed the facts of the review, even accusing the reporter of misleading readers about the car's performance, and a very public battle commenced between Musk and the Times.
Today, on stage at SXSW, Musk was asked about the debacle, and whether he handled it correctly in retrospect. When moderator Chris Anderson asked him to reflect on the fight, and to speak generally about the situation rather than rehash his fact-laden and meticulously crafted blog response to the Times, Musk interrupted, "How do I do a post-mortem without any facts?" Andersen pressed on, asking him if he'd do anything differently. Musk then paused for close to 20 seconds, thinking about his answer—and finally said that he regretted nothing about how he chose to respond to the Times's story.
"Well, the one thing I would do differently would be to put up the rebuttal to the rebuttal, because I withheld that," Musk said. Apparently, after the Times published its story, and Musk his response (along with many more rebuttals and counterpoints in the media), Musk wrote another post—a rebuttal of the rebuttal. But he chose to withhold it from the public until the Times's public editor gave her take on the story's reporting.
"She came down on the side of Tesla with the article being in error, but [she] disagreed on the motive," Musk said.
Musk has accused the reporter of an ethics violation—a claim he didn't scale back at SXSW. "I would call it a low-grade ethics violation—not like a big one," he said. "I don't think he thought he was doing anything particularly terrible, but I would call it a low-grade violation … not of the Jayson Blair crazy fabrication variety. [But] it was not in good faith. I probably should've posted that rebuttal to make that clear."
"Maybe I should," he teased.
When asked about whether he regretted any of the language he used in his post toward the Times's reporter, Musk said no. "I don't think the language was inaccurate—I really don't," Musk said.
The audience—packed full with hundreds and hundreds of people—broke out in applause.
[Image: Flickr user djevents]