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

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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.  

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.”

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.

Sarah Manavis is the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer.