Elon Musk is having a bad time. Sure, he’s rich in a way most of us will never begin to comprehend, and yes, he still has a sizable constituency of Rick and Morty fans to defend him to the death on Twitter. But his car company is struggling financially, he’s facing an SEC inquiry for announcing he wants to take that company private (he may or may not have been on acid on the time), and a media that used to love him is now treating him with a new skepticism. Oh, and there was that time he called a diver who saved the stranded Thailand children a “pedo” because the man wasn’t suitably impressed with his submarine. We are in peak Elon Musk Backlash.
It’s become clear someone in Musk’s orbit is trying to fix the ship. Late last week, we saw a New York Times interview where Elon talked about how hard this has all been for him. It‘s a remarkable bit of public relations maneuvering: inexplicably humanizing of a billionaire whose constant moments of crisis are almost entirely of his own creation. The interview also ignored a number of the other Tesla blemishes: the continued accusations of workplace horror, the whistleblower allegations against the company, and most of the erratic behavior Musk has been demonstrating for months. It’s unclear if Tesla took those subjects off the table prior to the interview, or if the reporter was just so overcome by the strangeness of one of the most powerful men in the world choking up during a story about spending his birthday sequestered away in his factory.
Today may bring us closer to an answer. Over the weekend, technology YouTube MKBHD posted an interview with Musk shot at the Tesla factory in California. It makes the New York Times interview look like tough shit; the seventeen-minute video feels plucked from an alternate reality where everything is still sunny at Camp Elon; ranging from light bantering about Elon’s work schedule and teases of future cars that the company may not be around to make.
I say this not to insult MKBHD, a Youtuber whose technology reviews are among the best. He’s just clearly out of his element conducting an interview with a man in crisis, which I suspect was the point from Tesla’s perspective. If nothing else, it’s very interesting to see a how a company responds to a CEO dangerously close to flaming out: by balancing traditional media hits with trips to friendly YouTube territory. Any bets on the next stop of the apology tour? My money is on a gushy People profile about how he’s handling his likely breakup with Grimes!