Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Science & Tech
11 October 2018updated 21 Sep 2021 6:37am

James Murdoch could become Tesla chair – and it will make us miss Elon Musk

The simulation is broken, please let us out. 

By Sarah Manavis

Look, let’s get one thing straight: Elon Musk is bad. He’s a narcissist, a child who’s had too much sugar, a bad businessman, and a bad husband (comparing your wife to a “bad employee”? Nice).

He’s been in the news unrelentingly over the last nine months, for the most deeply Elon Musk things one could ever imagine. In February, his company, SpaceX, sent a model Tesla car (another company of his) into space. Another Musk company, The Boring Company, started building flamethrowers called “Not A Flamethrower.” A Twitter account parodying him as an Italian man, Italian Elon Musk, drove the real South African Elon Musk to get the account suspended after a matter of days. And this was before he really kicked off.

Upping the ante over the summer, Musk mercilessly inserted himself in the Thai boys cave rescue, showing up with a useless submarine that he built to get them out, which ultimately went unused, and eventually calling the actual rescuer of the boys a “pedo” [sic]. To top it off, one month later, he tweeted a joke, allegedly to impress his girlfriend, musician Grimes, that he was thinking of taking Tesla private for $420 per share (420 being the international number signifying marijuana usage). This ultimately led Musk to step down as chairman of Tesla last month, to settle a suit launched by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Lucky for us, though, he’ll still remain the CEO.

It’s 2018, and we’re living the most peak-Elon Musk year of our lives – and somehow the dreadful, cruel simulation we’re experiencing in the Western world is about to make us wish for it over our new reality.

The Financial Times reported on Wednesday that at the top of the list to replace Elon Musk as chairman of Tesla is James Murdoch, a name that may sound familiar because it is. James Murdoch is the son of cartoon villain Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul who currently owns 21st Century Fox, the Sun, and is CEO of the infamously right-wing American television network Fox News.  

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

From 2009 to 2011, James Murdoch was in charge of News International, the owner of the now defunct News of the World.  He was in charge when the Guardian broke the stories that came to be known as the phone hacking scandal – where, if you somehow missed it, celebrities, politicians, and members of the royal family’s phones were hacked, as well as 7/7 bombing victims’ phones and the phone of a dead schoolgirl. Murdoch, joined the company after the activity took place, and has never been implicated in any criminality, but his handling of the scandal has been widely criticised. He had to appear in front of the House of Commons Culture, Media, and Sport Committee after the activity was exposed, and was accused of giving “mistaken evidence”. A report from media regulator Ofcom later said Murdoch “repeatedly fell short of the conduct to be expected of him as a chief executive officer and chairman” and that his conduct was “both difficult to comprehend and ill-judged”.

“We consider that the events… raise questions regarding James Murdoch’s competence in the handling of these matters,” Ofcom went on to say, “and his attitude towards the possibility of wrongdoing in the companies for which he was responsible.”

Content from our partners
Railways must adapt to how we live now
“I learn something new on every trip"
How data can help revive our high streets in the age of online shopping

And herein lies the problem with Murdoch and Tesla. As thoughtless, reckless, and belligerent as Elon Musk is, Elon Musk is also, ultimately, kind of an idiot. Most of what he does only serves to irritate and annoy, and, for the most part, his behaviour is only to the detriment of his own personal success. In contrast, Murdoch has presided over a company that behaved atrociously even as it became clear that its reporters had been involved in breaking the law.

Musk replied to a tweet from the Financial Times reporting Murdoch’s potential appointment, saying that, “This is incorrect”. And for the first time ever, I imagine many people will want Elon Musk to be right.