After working as a journalist for over 20 years, much of it in the celebrity world, I have found that whatever age a person becomes famous is the age when his or her maturity (usually) stops.
But something a little different happens in the tech industry: Tech bros, it seems, develop a Jesus complex right after their first big deal — believing they (and only they) can save the world because, as their acolytes and mothers have told them, they are just that brilliant.
See: Uber’s Travis Kalanick, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and, most especially, Elon Musk.
The guy behind Tesla, The Boring Company and Space X — the one who is convinced he can make Mars inhabitable — has been showing off his arrogance to dangerous effect during the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.
Here’s a rundown of recent examples of him wildly throwing his opinions out there.
March 6: “the coronavirus panic is dumb,” Musk tweeted to his 32 million followers.
March 16: “maybe worth considering chloroquine for C19,” he tweeted. (In some cases, this treatment has produced frightening side effects, and a small study testing it as a cure was halted due to risk of fatal heart complications.)
March 16: Musk’s Tesla defied a California shelter-in-place order and kept its Silicon Valley factory open, with workers saying it was “business as usual.” Several Tesla workers have since tested positive for COVID-19. Alameda County, Calif., officials said on March 18 that the factory had reduced its workforce – but that 2,500 would still report to the factory.
March 17: According to the BBC, Musk proclaimed that “Kids are essentially immune” to the virus. This is demonstrably false: In an early April report the CDC confirmed coronavirus contagion in children in all 50 states.
March 28: “Many doctors are not treating patients due to fear of giving or receiving C19,” he claimed.
March 31: Musk tweeted that he was rushing to the rescue! “We have extra FDA approved ventilators. Will ship to hospitals worldwide within Tesla delivery regions. Device & shipping costs are free. Only requirement is that the vents are needed immediately for patients, not stored in [a] warehouse.” Turns, out, what he actually sent was five-year-old BiPAP sleep apnea machines that can’t be used to treat coronavirus victims in the ICU.
April 5: He retweets “engineering update on the Tesla ventilator” from Tesla — is Musk now making his own medical equipment?
April 16: Musk tweets out a “partial list of hospitals to which Tesla sent ventilators.” A day later, CNN contacts hospitals on the list who confirm they were not sent ventilators, but BiPAP apnea machines.
This is not the first time he’s promised to step in and be a hero, only to flail. Remember his bid to “save” the Thai soccer team trapped in a cave in 2018? Musk offered up a kid-sized submarine via his Boring Company, which experts said would not work — and which showed up after the actual rescue was in process.
When British diver Vern Unsworth, who actually was heroic in helping save the team, criticized Musk — claiming that the tech bro was using the opportunity for public relations — Musk accused Unsworth of being a “pedo guy.” Only after Unsworth threatened to sue did Musk issue a rare apology. A nasty libel lawsuit followed which Musk eventually won.
A year later, Vanity Fair published a piece titled “He’s Full of S–t: How Elon Musk Fooled Investors, Bilked Taxpayers, and Gambled Tesla to Save Solar City.”
It outlined how New York taxpayers funded almost a billion dollars for Musk’s dream of SolarCity — a solar factory that was part of Andrew Cuomo’s controversial “Buffalo Billion” program that was supposed to revive the upstate economy. In the end, just 750 jobs were created at the plant and the project was embroiled in a massive federal bid-rigging scandal that led to the downfall of top Cuomo advisers and donor contractors.
In November 2019, The Buffalo News reported that Tesla was getting an $854 million write-down on the plant: “New York State spent $958.6 million to build Tesla Inc.’s solar panel factory in South Buffalo and buy a big chunk of the equipment inside. Now, auditors are saying the building and all that equipment is worth just under $75 million — or just 8 percent of what the state put into the RiverBend factory.” As of mid-February, the plant, now called Gigafactory2, still needed to hire 360 people to meet its employment quota of 1460 by April 30, or face a “pay a $41.2 million penalty to the state for each year it falls short,” according to the Albany Business Review.
Elon, it’s time to take a breath and think — and possibly research work that may not have been done by you — before you speak. Take a page from the founder of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, and put your money where your big mouth is (without constantly crowing about it). Dorsey, who has teamed up with Rihanna and Jay-Z to donate $6.2 million to CoVID 19 relief funds, recently announced the creation of Start Small LLC, using $1 billion of his own equity to “disarm this pandemic.” After that, the fund will “shift to … health and education” for girls.
Now that is a hero.