In a new interview on the podcast Sway, Elon Musk shared his thoughts about A.I. and several other things. Although the main topic was centered around A.I., Elon pointed out something all too familiar: the lack of media coverage of important events. It seems that when something is really important, the media, generally speaking, tends to ignore it or look away. This is not me bashing the media, but pointing out a flaw that should be corrected.
Elon Musk on media coverage of Battery Day:
"The press coverage of this event was sad. Their takeaway was a sad reflection of their understanding. The results will speak for themselves; The cells we are talking about, we’ve had cars driving with those cells since May.” pic.twitter.com/xeARWVbtwt
— Sawyer Merritt 📈🚀 (@SawyerMerritt) September 28, 2020
“The press coverage of this event was sad. Their takeaway was a sad reflection of their understanding. The results will speak for themselves. The cells we are talking about, we’ve had cars driving with those cells since May,” Elon said during the podcast.
His thoughts echo my own — not just about Battery Day. The way the media focuses on one topic for a moment, puts that spotlight of awareness on it, and then almost immediately forgets about it as something else happens is how the media typically works. Hurricane Laura was seen as “yesterday’s news” barely even a week after the storm devastated my state. This same issue applies to various “less important” but major topics that the media seems to disregard. No, media outlets don’t say “these topics are not important,” but through the common dismissal of these topics, the general public often perceives it this way.
Climate change is one of those topics. It’s something to talk about for 3 minutes during elections, or when natural disasters strike. Only then it’s important. Battery Day falls into this category due to Tesla’s core mission of accelerating the human race’s transition to sustainable energy. This is to fight climate change — something that average Americans going about their day-to-day lives sees not as a truly major threat, but an optional one.
When you have bigger things to worry about, fires on the other side of the continent may not touch your heart — unless you’re the one losing your home, or a loved one is. In general, these topics don’t really matter unless it happens to you — and suddenly you have no choice but to care.
This is typical and we’ve all been guilty of having this mindset. No, not everyone operates out of that mindset, but the majority of humans do. I’ve had friends tell me that I shouldn’t worry about something that’s going to happen 50 years from now because I won’t be alive then. This attitude is prevalent in common society. People think it’s not important enough for them to care about unless it’s happening to them or someone close to them.
Another example is Covid-19. While China was on lockdown, it seemed far away. Not many people seemed to worry about it. Suddenly, it was here, and today we have people arguing over wearing a mask and politicizing something that, yesterday, wasn’t even a concern.
Why Is It This Way?
I think that human nature has a huge role to play in this setup. Maybe conditioning is a better word — not nature. Human conditioning. We are conditioned not to care about things that we don’t relate to on emotional levels. Climate change is vague, imminent, and terrifying, yet still pretty far off — or that is how it’s marketed.
Sure, we have fires and natural disasters. Yes, we’ve had one of the hottest years on record. But we are becoming desensitized to that. Regarding Elon Musk and Tesla, many in the mainstream find it more financially beneficial to mock him instead of covering the revolutionizing technology that he spoke about during Battery Day. Or they just don’t get it.
The truth is, I think that propaganda is strong. It’s marketed subtlety and anyone who questions it is suddenly the enemy. When Elon Musk mentioned an idea that would help keep journalists more accurate, he was seen as attacking the media when he wasn’t — he was giving constructive criticism.
This is the core problem here — the fossil fuel industry has its DNA in almost every industry, including that of the communications industry. In an article by The Washington Post, this idea is explored.
“Late last year, the Trump administration released the latest national climate assessment on Black Friday in what many assumed was an attempt to bury the document. If that was the plan, it backfired, and the assessment wound up earning more coverage than it probably would have otherwise. But much of that coverage perpetuated a decades-old practice, one that has been weaponized by the fossil fuel industry: false equivalence.
“Although various business interests began pushing back against environmental action in general in the early 1970s as part of the conservative “war of ideas” launched in response to the social movements of the 1960s, when global warming first broke into the public sphere, it was a bipartisan issue and remained so for years. On the campaign trail in 1988, George H.W. Bush identified as an environmentalist and called for action on global warming, framing it as a technological challenge that American innovation could address. But fossil fuel interests were shifting as the industry and its allies began to push back against empirical evidence of climate change, taking many conservatives along with them.”
“The issue is then that the media started incorporating more and more ‘false equivalence’ into their coverage,” CleanTechnica Director Zach Shahan explained. “Here’s an extreme (although not totally) example to tease out the point:
“A TV host asks a climate scientist and a clown what they think about melting permafrost, but the host treats them as equals and doesn’t note that the clown gets $300,000 a year from Exxon.
“In other words, dirty ‘skeptics’ without true qualifications to comment on the topic or with a clear and strong bias are put on a platform for years that they don’t deserve to be on, with media outlets routinely asking them their opinions.
“Media outlets basically put hired clowns on the same level as someone like Michael Mann, which is a horrible disservice to society and leads people to think there are ‘2 sides to the story’ when there aren’t two sides scientifically.”
The Nation noted the fact that many news sources are actually “shilling for big oil.” Some media companies even create, rather than just running, misleading climate ads. One media outlet that was called out was The New York Times‘ T Brand Studio for producing ads for Chevron.
While many media outlets report on topics such as climate change, they also go out and promote the industry that is causing it. And when you have something that challenges it and challenges business as usual — such as Tesla’s Battery Day event — many in the media would rather ignore it and mock Elon Musk than share positive news about something that would threaten an entire industry — big oil. I believe this is also why the media didn’t cover the aftermath of Hurricane Laura — because it was a climate disaster, but in a city that wasn’t as important as New Orleans or Houston. In fact, I didn’t even find out about the flooding in Houston until I saw a video on TikTok about it.
Top photo by Kyle Field/CleanTechnica