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New York Times public editor defends Tesla reviewer's integrity, but questions his judgment

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Tesla Model S stock
Tesla Model S stock

The New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has responded to Elon Musk's criticism of the Times Tesla Model S review, saying that while the review was performed in good faith, reviewer John Broder did not use "good judgment" when making his now-notorious journey. Sullivan, who handles matters of journalistic integrity and acts as the "reader's representative," quotes a commenter who accuses Broder of either not reading or disregarding the Tesla user manual and suggests that he "didn’t seem to employ the least bit of care or responsibility in fuel management."

"Did he use good judgment along the way? Not especially."

While she disagrees with the commenter's conclusion that Broder ignored instructions to make a more dramatic story, Sullivan essentially concurs that his review was vague and potentially irresponsible: "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 also says that "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."

Sullivan has commented on the Tesla review furor before, but this is the strongest and most comprehensive statement so far. Despite her criticism of Broder — who has struck back at Musk in his own post — she asserts that Musk's use of data logs to undermine the review has ranged from "damaging" to "misleading," declining to go into detail about specific claims. Though as Sullivan says, it's unlikely any explanation would fully satisfy Tesla supporters, we're seeing more signs that the Times is backing down to some extent.