NY Times Public Editor Throws John Broder Under the Electric Bus

If you haven’t been keeping up with the spat between the NY Times and Elon Musk of Tesla Motors, my initial post is here and a follow up is here. On Monday Margaret Sullivan, the Times’ public editor, weighed in on the story and seems to have decided John Broder’s bad experience is mostly down to his own failures.

After publishing a long email she received from a Model S owner who is critical of Broder, Sullivan concludes:

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. In particular, decisions he made at a crucial
juncture – when he recharged the Model S in Norwich, Conn., a stop
forced by the unexpected loss of charge overnight – were certainly
instrumental in this saga’s high-drama ending.

Beyond that, Sullivan isn’t interested in going over the details. She writes “I could recite chapter and verse of the test drive, the decisions made
along the way…I don’t think that’s useful here.” Sullivan does note that Musk’s use of logged data was “damaging (and
sometimes quite misleading)” but that’s the extent of her criticism of Tesla Motors. Her article is the journalistic equivalent of no-fault divorce in which Broder is left paying the alimony.

More interesting is this piece published by a blog called “Green Explored.” It turns out that heating a Model S–especially one with a glass roof–requires significant battery power on a cold day. It was 30 degrees Fahrenheit on the day Broder did his test drive. The author calculates it took an additional 2.6 kilowatts per hour to heat the car compared to making the same drive when the outside temperature is 20 degrees warmer. On a multi-hour drive with an 85 kilowatt battery, that energy cost becomes a factor.