N.Y. Times Public Editor: Reporter Used Poor Judgment in Tesla Review

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The New York Times' ombudswoman found flaws in reporter John M. Broder's contested Tesla review

The New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan said Monday that she found problems with reporter John M. Broder's note-taking and judgment after his negative review of the Tesla Model S sparked a tiff with the carmaker's CEO, Elon Musk.

The Feb. 8 story, paired with a photo of a red Model S hoisted onto the flatbed of a tow truck, claimed that the electric car's battery could not hold up over long distances, as advertised. Musk quickly challenged the account of the test drive, and released driving data that seemed to contest Broder's article.

But while Sullivan said Musk's vehement dismissal of the Times story as "faked" doesn't hold up, she criticized some of Broder's reporting.

"I do not believe Mr. Broder hoped the drive would end badly," Sullivan wrote. "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," she added. "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."

Broder's column, "Stalled Out on Tesla's Electric Highway," claimed the car's battery, with its estimated 256-mile-per-charge range, died during a journey up the East Coast. While Broder said he abided by Tesla's guidelines, data collected during the drive proved he did not drive at the exact speeds he had said, according to the statistics published in Musk's blog post.

The outspoken CEO wasn't the only one who doubted Broder's review.

A group of six Tesla owners are live-tweeting a road trip from Tesla's super-charging station in Maryland to the other in Connecticut to prove that Broder's reporting was "uncommitted."

Broder is a veteran reporter at the Times, who covers energy and environmental issues in its Washington bureau. He has covered a vast array of topics, including the 2008 presidential campaign. Before joining the Times in 1996, he was a reporter at the Los Angeles Times for 12 years.

Broder and Tesla did not immediately respond to requests from TheWrap for comment.