Shilling For Musk

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Font Size:

Elon Musk is a skilled and successful entrepreneur; certainly one of the best at finding ways to make taxpayers fund his business ventures, from Tesla electric cars to “green energy” solar panels.  Like many individuals who cultivate and maintain a high public profile, however, Musk benefits also from having a cadre of individuals in the media who like him, and will write glowing stories about him without regard to objective journalistic standards.  A recent article by Justin Bariso caught my eye as a perfect example of this sort of adulatory journalism.

Bariso is a prolific blogger, a sometimes writer for inc.com, and one of a growing group of “self-help” authors.  His signature phrase is “emotional intelligence,” and his preferred teaching method is to reveal to his readers the “two words” or “one sentence” uttered by a well-known (and, of course, “emotionally intelligent”) business leader that will transform one’s life or move a company to a higher level of excellence.

How and why Bariso has developed such an adoration of Musk is unclear from reviewing his material, but the conclusion that in Bariso’s mind the entrepreneur can do no wrong comes through loud and clear.

It will be interesting, for example, to see how Bariso spins the just-released figures showing that deliveries of Musk’s vaunted Tesla Model 3 are far below predictions.  If previous Bariso articles on are any guide, he will spin the disappointing production numbers into a huge success.

By way of further example, a single e-mail reportedly sent by Musk to buyers of his high-end electric cars on July 3, 2017 simply thanking them for their purchases, became for Bariso, fodder for an inc.com life lesson in how to display phenomenal “emotional intelligence” and rise to the extraordinary level of “America’s most valuable automaker.” That single e-mail reveals further to Bariso and his readers, how the “David” Elon Musk was able to beat the “Goliath” entire U.S. auto industry.  Left unsaid by Bariso, of course, are the massive taxpayer subsidies that enabled Musk to produce those vehicles.

In Bariso’s world, master Tweeter Donald Trump is a neophyte texter compared to Elon Musk.  In August, for example, Bariso marveled in his self-named blog how Musk responds to customers’ e-mails almost instantaneously and fixes massive problems with a few strokes of his electronic device.  He lauds Musk for not doing what many CEOs do — “making excuses [and] shifting blame or responsibility.”

This last compliment by Bariso becomes noteworthy in the context of his August 30, 2017 inc.com piece, “This Email From Elon Musk to Tesla Employees Describes What Great Communication Looks Like.” In this pedagogical missive, Bariso describes Musk’s “brilliant philosophy” of corporate governance; but in a way that deceives the reader by failing to include the context in which the e-mail was written.

Bariso’s August 30th article examines in some detail a 2014 e-mail that Musk sent to Tesla employees, encouraging them to take advantage of his corporate style of management; which is to ignore traditional chains of command and take suggestions or problems that employees uncover directly to upper management, including to Musk himself, without fear of retribution.  Yet, mysteriously, Bariso’s detailed and fawning description of the three-year old e-mail from Musk fails to include a highly relevant fact recently discovered by Huffpost contributor Paul Alexander – that the e-mail was evidence in a lawsuit against Musk by a former Tesla engineer alleging she was the victim of precisely the type of corporate retribution decried by Musk, and criticized by Bariso as an example of how not to practice “emotional intelligence.”

As noted further in Alexander’s piece, Tesla’s response to the still-active wrongful termination lawsuit filed by Cristina Balan, reflects the excuse-making and blame-shifting management style that Barisa claims Musk and Tesla do not practice.  Of course to admit, even by implication, that Elon Musk may not be the perfect CEO, would undercut one of the go-to examples of “emotional intelligence” as the intellectual elixir marketed by Bariso.

It is precisely this sort of contextual cleverness – “lying by omission” as some might put it – that accounts for much of the cynicism with which many Americans view the contemporary media.  We could all do with a little more true honesty in writing, and less of the clever and misleading wordsmithing of bloggers like Bariso who operate in that grey “twilight zone” rejected by truly successful business leaders like automotive pioneer John Francis Dodge.

It was Dodge who noted a century ago, that “[t]here is no twilight zone of honesty in business – a thing is right or it’s wrong – it’s black or it’s white.” This is a lesson Bariso would do well to incorporate into his “philosophy” of “emotional intelligence.”

Perspectives expressed in op-eds are not those of The Daily Caller.