Recognition For Donating Ventilators Should Not Matter For Tesla And Musk


This is a text I wish I never had to write. Yet, here I am. Not because I wanted to do it, but because it was necessary. It has to do with the latest tweetstorm Elon Musk has started to prove he and Tesla have donated ventilators to hospitals. My point is that he shouldn’t, for multiple reasons.

Tesla proudly claims to be a company that sells its cars without spending a dime in advertising. Its clients would tell other clients how good Tesla cars are and that would make almost everyone want to buy those EVs. That has worked well until now.

Elon Musk also does not have to prove anything to anyone. He went from fixing a 1978 BMW 320i with junkyard parts in 1995 to become one of the wealthiest men in the world in 2020. He helped create the only American car manufacturer to produce 1 million vehicles in decades. What you think or don’t about him doesn’t make a difference in his accomplishments.

That said, why are both so worried about the ventilators? Why do they have to prove they have donated them? What is the goal: to have proper recognition or to help? In this situation, these objectives are almost mutually exclusive. You cannot have both. Not at the same time, at least.

The background could help explain Musk’s reaction, but not entirely. Initially, the Tesla CEO did not consider the COVID-19 pandemic to be so serious. When reality kicked in, he started recommending the use of chloroquine. Both he and Donald Trump did these things, which led us to write an article about how similar these two men were when it relates to this public health disaster.

Evidence that Musk downplayed the COVID-19 pandemic is still present. Tesla refused to respect the lockdown Alameda County issued. The company said it was obliged to continue to operate, but documents obtained by InsideEVs prove it used its condition as Critical Infrastructure to keep business as usual.

On March 19, it finally decided to suspend operations by the end of March 23, but only in Fremont. Lathrop, which was supposed to be a distribution center, also has manufacturing activities and is still active. Employees there contacted us to say there was a risk of COVID-19 infection in those facilities, but the local sheriff decided that is not the case.

The latest we heard about Lathrop was that an employee tested positive. That allegedly led this employee to be “transferred between two buildings until he was finally sent home with a fever, exposing around 30 people. Two departments” were shut down for two weeks, according to one of our sources there.

We have been trying to confirm this information with other sources. One of them told us that some workers have been moved to a new facility at 18601, Christopher Way, also in Lathrop. The employees there would also not be “wearing any face masks or gloves, they are not required to do so.” 

Would this move be motivated by the positive case? We have no idea. Was there really a COVID-19 infection in Lathrop? We are still trying to confirm or to deny that. If you know anything that could help us get these facts straight, get in touch.

The fact is that Tesla still thinks it is a good idea to put a lot of people together in the same space in COVID-19 times. If Lathrop is really so strategic, it could demand its employees there to wear masks and gloves, apart from keeping social distancing. Some of them have said they asked for masks and did not receive them.

There is a huge discussion nowadays that lockdowns will eventually kill the economy and businesses. At the same time, getting back to the world we had before COVID-19 is not possible without a vaccine or an effective treatment. 

Until we get any, governments have to “test, test, test” to control infection hot spots. On our side, we need to be extra careful not to get infected. Gloves, masks, washing hands, and taking extra care with everything are the best alternatives to lockdowns so far. But will they be enough? Nobody knows. Many health care professionals have been infected despite all protection measures. Many died.

It was in such a context that the California governor’s Office of Emergency Services told CNN no hospital had received any ventilators from Tesla until April 15. CNN got in touch with Tesla for a comment, but the company does not talk to the press. When the article was published, Musk started his tweetstorm. In one of his tweets, he attacked CNN.

That proves once again that Musk and Trump have more in common than their followers would like to admit. Eric Trump, Donald Trump’s third child, thanked the Tesla CEO for his remarks.

We do not doubt Trump himself has applauded Musk’s tweet.

Matt Dornic, CNN’s vice president for Communications and Digital Partnerships, also went to Twitter to tell Musk he only shot the messenger.

But the Tesla CEO knows that. So much so that he asked help from the California governor, Gavin Newsom. Again, the information came from his Office of Emergency Services. 

Did Musk react because he felt that was not fair? Why didn’t he contact CNN directly? Why didn’t he get in touch with the governor to get this sorted? Why go public against the press for official information provided by the California government? This is all an important discussion, but not the one we wanted to raise.

Our point is: Why is it important for Tesla and Elon Musk to make sure people know they have bought and donated BiPAPs, CPAPs, and intratracheal ventilators? Is it to make amends for keeping Lathrop open or refusing to suspend Fremont for so long? What is their goal?

Unfortunately, there are only two possible alternatives: either Tesla and Musk wanted to help or they wanted to promote themselves.

If the primary goal was to help, did they? If they did, all else is secondary. The hospitals and people they helped could probably step up and say that the governor’s office made a mistake. That they were thankful and that the BiPAPs and CPAPs, although not being proper ventilators, were also helpful. Instead, Musk also downplayed intubation, a measure that was taken not only to assist patients but also to lower the risk of COVID-19 infection.

The only situation in which Musk’s tweetstorm makes sense is under the second alternative. If you spend money on marketing, you want the campaign to be correctly understood. You want people to applaud it, to share it, to talk about it. You want to make your investment compensate. The donations help, for sure, but they seem to be made for the wrong reasons.

There is both a secular and a religious take on charity. According to Matthew, Jesus Christ said this:

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

The secular take is surprisingly similar to the religious one. William Hutton has summed it up in an exceptional way.

“The charity that hastens to proclaim its good deeds, ceases to be charity, and is only pride and ostentation.”

Elon Musk and Tesla should think about the message they are sending. They probably meant to send a very different one. Yet, here they are.

Gustavo Henrique Ruffo

I have been an automotive journalist since 1998 and have worked for many important Brazilian newspapers and magazines, such as the local edition of Car and Driver and Quatro Rodas, Brazilian's biggest car magazine. I have also worked for foreign websites, such as World Car Fans and won a few journalism prizes, among them three SAE Journalism Awards and the 2017 IAM RoadSmart Safety Award. I am the author of "The Traffic Cholesterol", a book about bad drivers that you can buy at Hotmart, Google Play, Amazon and Kobo.

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