A petty and small response could blow a non-story into a big problem.
Tesla is a 13-year-old company worth more than $30 billion that's sitting very squarely in the public eye. Unfortunately, they're handling criticism from the gutter about as well as a human 13-year-old would, and that's a problem.
News broke about the potential for an NHTSA investigation over suspension problems in the Model S sedan and allegations that Tesla was attempting to muzzle customers that had encountered issues with their cars.
A quick read of the agreement the customer signed backs up Tesla's defense that such force silence claims are "preposterous".
While it is possible that there could be an issue with Tesla's suspensions — recalls are not uncommon amongst even the largest car manufacturers — the company strenuously and categorically denies attempting to gag customers. And even a quick read of the goodwill agreement that Tesla had a customer sign backs up Tesla's defense that such claims are "preposterous".
Tesla's defense over the safety of their vehicles goes well from there, highlighting the 5-star safety ratings and even the horrifying wreck where all the passengers survived inside the demolished Model S.
But then it goes downhill hard and fast. Tesla claims that the issue of a faulty suspension was "fabricated" by Edward Niedermeyer, a long-time automotive journalist and current Bloomberg View contributor. Though Tesla is correct that Niedermeyer has been a long-time Tesla critic and previously wrote at The Truth About Cars and contributed to their Tesla Death Watch series, calling him out as being motivated "to set a world record for axe-grinding" crosses a line from appropriately defensive into personal and petty. It makes Tesla look small and undisciplined at a time when they've raised billions of dollars to deliver their first mass-market product: the Tesla Model 3 — a vehicle there are serious questions about how they'll be able to pull off on time, budget, and at a quality buyers expect.
Tesla's not wrong — Niedermeyer has a long history of being unduly harsh towards Tesla — and his reporting on his personal blog about the Tesla suspension failure incident is riddled with falsehoods, exaggerations, and overreaching speculation and assumption. Tesla could have very easily pointed out the errors in his arguments instead of opting to make it personal.
And lest you think that's bad enough, Tesla's blog post them commits the cardinal sin of any company that's under attack: blames it on short-sellers:
We don't know if Mr. Niedermeyer's motivation is simply to set a world record for axe-grinding or whether he or his associates have something financial to gain by negatively affecting Tesla's stock price, but it is important to highlight that there are several billion dollars in short sale bets against Tesla. This means that there is a strong financial incentive to greatly amplify minor issues and to create false issues from whole cloth.
As somebody who has had to write these kind of defensive blog posts before (on a much smaller stage, admittedly) and has read and dissected many such blog posts from other companies, it rarely pays off to accuse or imply that there's some sort of sinister ulterior motive to criticism you've received from the press.
Accusing a critical blogger of axe-grinding and having ulterior motives crosses a line from appropriately defensive into personal and petty. It makes Tesla look small and undisciplined.
Granted, 2016 has shown us a winning playbook for neutering the power of "the press". I'm not taking a political stance here (you can check my personal Twitter for random musings on that), but Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has shown quite easily how to circumvent and obviate the press. His Twitter account reaches millions every day without the filter of a press corps and his baldfaced denials of previous public statements and personal attacks on numerous journalists have robbed them and the entire media establishment of their credibility and dignity. (whether or not you believe they had that to begin with is your opinion)
Implying sinister ulterior motives is a classic tactic when we're talking about one person fighting an organization (e.g. Trump vs. the media). But it rarely works well in reverse — it just makes what's supposed to be a fine, upstanding company look paranoid and petty and shortsighted.