By Geoffrey Smith and Alan Murray
July 6, 2016

My never-quite-retired Fortune colleague Carol Loomis lit a fire yesterday by suggesting Elon Musk erred in not publicly revealing news of the fatal crash of a Tesla using autopilot before selling $2 billion worth of Tesla stock in a public offering. I posted the story on Twitter with a comment: “Seems pretty material to me.”


Musk exploded. “Yes it was material to you,” he countered on Twitter. “BS article increased your advertising revenue. Just wasn’t material to TSLA, as shown by the market.” In a separate tweet, Musk went on: “If you care about auto deaths as material to stock prices, why no articles about 1M+/year deaths from auto companies?”


Before unpacking this, let me say I’m a Musk fan. I think it’s great to have an entrepreneur in this country – and an immigrant, no less – who literally aims for the stars. I even like the fact that he wants to merge Tesla and Solar City to create the first 21st century integrated energy company (despite the dodgy governance implications of doing the deal with his cousin.)


But there is a sense that Musk, like many in Silicon Valley, believes he can play by different rules. Carol Loomis has been asking tough questions of business leaders for, well, 60 years. (Watch Warren Buffett serenade her here.) Should Musk be immune from her queries?


Is the first death of a driver using Tesla’s self-driving technology any different than the million deaths a year in other cars? Yes, it is. Is it a reason to sell Tesla’s shares? Some shareholders clearly thought so, which is why the share price initially dropped when the news was announced. Others disagreed, and the price later recovered; but the news clearly moved the market. Is it fair game for one of the nation’s most respected financial journalists to suggest Musk should have revealed the news before the stock sale? Of course it is.


Take a deep breath and count to ten before you tweet, Elon. You haven’t escaped gravity yet.


News below.

Alan Murray


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