Tesla, from the get-go, has sold itself as a green dream in our era of rapidly-worsening climate change. But there’s a lot about the electric car company that’s more nightmarish than many of its fans or even the California government, which heavily subsidizes its operations with hundreds of millions of dollars in tax exemptions and other incentives, would like to admit.
Will Evans, an award-winning journalist with the Center for Investigative Reporting, published a hard-hitting series about Tesla’s flagrant labor violations, exposing Elon Musk’s purportedly progressive business for what it truly is: a green mirage. In the series, Evans reports on the clash between the manufacturing elements of the company and the management that operates like a tech startup, and how this contradiction has created often dangerous conditions for Tesla factory workers. Rather than address these very real issues, however, Musk and his company have chosen to brush them off and hide reports of injuries in order to maintain the illusion its customers buy into when they purchase their luxurious Tesla cars.
“We started looking into Tesla because we were hearing that there was safety problems there, people getting hurt,” Evans tells Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer in the latest installment of “Scheer Intelligence.” “ It has this great reputation for being this futuristic, forward-thinking, world-saving company that’s going to bring sustainable energy to transportation and revolutionize how we do things. And a lot of people go there because of that.
“What we found was that, under pressure to meet its production goals, it was really leaving safety, worker safety, by the wayside, and had prioritized cranking out cars as fast as possible, and left its workers dealing with all kinds of serious injuries. And then was actually trying to hide those injuries in order to make its safety record look better.”
The revelations should have jolted Musk and California officials to take a deeper look into the company’s operations, but quite the opposite took place. While state officials did in fact grill Tesla after the investigative reports were published, according to Evans, are afraid regulating the company could push Tesla---with its factory and the jobs it creates---out of the state. As for the CEO, well, he had a response that anyone reading any news about the arrogant tech baron might expect.
“The company and its supporters, and Elon, sees this all as sort of an attack on him and on the company, that people want to see it fail,” Evans tells Scheer. “[Tesla] went as far as to say that [the Center for Investigative Reporting” is] an extremist organization … working on a disinformation campaign. [Musk] went on to attack journalists in general for being beholden to the fossil fuel industry because of advertisements, and that that’s why journalists are out to get Tesla.
“When someone pointed out that, hey, over here at the Center for Investigative Reporting we don’t even have advertisements, we’re a nonprofit, he went on Twitter and he called us just a bunch of rich kids from Berkeley who took their political science professor too seriously. That was his diss.”
Scheer points out how stories about Tesla aren’t so different from other troubling stories coming out of Silicon Valley.
“These companies have escaped serious regulation---antitrust, [accountability, occupational standards],” says the Truthdig Editor in Chief. “We’ve kind of anointed these new industrialists as somehow prophets of a future, whether it’s at Apple or Google or Tesla or Facebook. They’ve got the magic wand; they know where it’s all headed. What you have in Elon Musk is sort of the poster boy for that arrogance. He just shrugged it off. You could do investigative reporting, you had the facts, it’s solid as can be--and they just don’t have to care, because they’re the wave of the future, right?”
Listen to the full discussion between Scheer and Evans as they talk about the wider issue with Silicon Valley and greenwashing, as well as the hypocrisy behind tech barons’ libertarian approach to government.