By on September 29, 2017

fred

Imagine the following scenario: Your humble author buys an Accord Coupe, and loves it, and suggests that you do the same. Not so hard to imagine, insofar as that’s what actually happened.

Now let’s imagine I tell you that you, the TTAC reader, can get a discount on an Accord if you use my referral code. That’s kind of odd, right? After all, I’m here to report on the Accord, not to incentivize your purchase. Last but not least, let’s imagine that for every four Accords sold with my referral code, Honda gives me $6,200 worth of Honda products. A new CBR500, maybe, or an ATV for my son. And let’s say that there’s actually more to it than that — in fact, for every four Accords I sell, I can receive up to eleven thousand dollars’ worth of goodies.

Last but not least, let’s imagine that I hold a significant amount of Honda stock and that my posts are written with the knowledge that positive Honda stories might help that stock move in a direction that is profitable for me.

Sounds crazy, right? Welcome to the world of Fred Lambert and his site, electrek.co.


referrals

It’s apparently not unusual for Electrek writers to hold positions in Tesla stock, and although they periodically disclose that fact, it’s not usually disclosed in close proximity to stories like Tesla Model S Crushes All Competition. What you will find right beneath that article: an invitation to use the writer’s code for a Tesla referral. That’s where you’ll see that the writer has made twenty referrals for new Tesla purchases. And we can also see that Fred Lambert, the site’s editor-in-chief and the man responsible for setting the ethical compass of the site, has successfully referred six new owners.

What do they get? Let’s see:

benefits

Referrals one and two are worth at least $500 each. Referral three is worth between four and seven thousand dollars on the resale market. Referral four is worth $7,200. That’s if you refer new Tesla cars. Referring new Tesla solar will get you $400 in cash, or $750 in credit, per referral.

Electrek’s Jameson Dow has twenty referrals. Depending on when he made them, and the conditions of each program, we could be talking about more than sixty thousand dollars in items that can be easily resold for cash. Fred Lambert has six referrals, for a total of ten grand or more. This is all direct from Tesla. We’re not talking the kind of paid vacations against which this site has traditionally railed, nor are we talking about freebies like Jonny Lieberman’s no-cost year in a $65,000 Cadillac station wagon. We’re talking cold hard cash possibilities.

When notorious cross-country speeder Alex Roy and a few other autowriters called Lambert out, this was his response:

responses

He has a point. The breathless, fawning content written by Electrek regarding Tesla is regularly picked up by other outlets. Which helps boost Tesla’s stock price, making them money. And the links lead to referrals, which put highly valuable freebies in the hands of Fred and his editorial staff. It’s a pyramid of cash that just keeps growing.

Should you care? Only if you are interested in an electric car and want to know the truth about the products. Do you really think that new electric vehicles from Ford, Toyota, and other companies are going to get a fair shake on Electrek when there’s a five-or-six-figure incentive for them to keep pushing Tesla? Do you think that Electrek will report fairly and honestly on Tesla’s problems when they are holding the stock?

Our readers have often expressed a bit of ennui with TTAC’s occasional insistence on showing you how the autojourno sausage is made. But this should make you sit up and pay attention. What’s the right thing for Electrek to do? I suggest that they sell their “gifts” from Tesla and donate the money to charity. That would be a good start. And it would provide a strong counterpoint to the people who will say that electric auto journalism is nothing but advertorial content under another name. Is it gonna happen? Given that Mr. Lambert has blocked his critics on Twitter and refused to respond to my inquiries, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

[Images via Twitter]

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55 Comments on “The $65,000 Pyramid: Electric Autojournos Pump Tesla Stock, Receive Massive Gifts...”


  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Oh boy. Garbage bag sized serving of popcorn: deployed. More “unconventional” business practices from Tesla. I hope Paul DeLorenzo gets wind of this….

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      In fairness, any schmuck can use Tesla’s referral program. This particular schmuck just uses his blog to push it rather than trying to proselytize to his neighbors.

    • 0 avatar

      Peter DeLorenzo, and he’s made a cottage industry out of calling out “the Cult of Elon.”

      Example: “If Ford or GM pulled half the stunts Musk has pulled there would be Congressional investigations as to why those companies are allowed to even exist.”

      Read these…

      http://www.autoextremist.com/current/2017/8/1/the-greatest-pr-show-on-earth.html

      http://www.autoextremist.com/current/2017/8/8/tired-not-tired.html

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    It’s interesting when you tell us how the main stream motoring press is corrupt.

    When it’s that some nothing blog pushing electric cars is a giant homer for Tesla, it’s…obvious? Is there any expectation of, umm…”fair and balanced” reporting from electrik? I never would have any.

    • 0 avatar
      azmtbkr81

      This. Companies have been employing social media “influencers” for some time now. They are nothing more than thinly disguised pitchmen designed to appeal to millenials who are turned off by old school sales tactics. I don’t think many are fooled by this schtick in 2017, but I suppose just enough are to make it worth Tesla’s while.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    I guess the response has shown that “they” have won. It appears that there no longer is any expectation of ethics. Tesla stock is also an enigma, since it bears no connection of price to actual value. Cue the “value” arguments.

  • avatar
    phila_DLJ

    Not sure how they can calculate how many “lbs of CO2” Frederic “helped save”, or the total of all Tesla owners, for that matter, when they can’t be sure of the source of electricity charging those Teslas.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      They don’t know. They don’t care. They don’t know why their infinite superiors reckon they are supposed to care.

      We live in a late stage financialized dystopia. Hype, lies, nonsense and petty feelgood tripe, aimed at an ever uncritical and receptive army of sycophantic indoctrinati, is all that’s left. All the way down.

  • avatar
    civicjohn

    Ok, we need to ignore the source, but I don’t have a lot of faith in that being the norm across the potential buying demographic.

    It kind of seems as they might be looking for “other options” when the tax credits end.

  • avatar

    Uh, enjoy your life.

    *blocks*

  • avatar
    WalterRohrl

    Does Mr. Cain hold Honda Stock? :-) I’m sure some here would believe it. More likely he probably just loves his van more than most.

    Once you read a few of Mr. Lambert’s posts it becomes fairly evident that he is a big fan of the Tesla brand, which does color his writing but is pretty transparent. He does also report on other electric makes and I think does so fairly impartially. His yardstick happens to be a Tesla by which in his opinion many others suffer in comparison. One of your own yardsticks is often your Accord V6 as you do reference it relatively often. Everyone’s different and will have a different opinion.

    Other than the cars the site is a generally useful source of information about batteries and solar as well as states’ and countries’ adoption and economic/political positions related thereto. Tesla is a big part of it but not all of it.

    He does have a point though – if you are going to bag on him then maybe you (the greater you, not you personally per se) should stop using or referencing his site. There is so much content on the web that is clearly biased it’s not that hard for anyone to do basic research and find differing opinions. Better yet, people (writers) should do their own investigation and actually be journalistic (i.e. cultivate sources and industry contacts) instead of looking over and rewriting or flat out copying others’ work, even if it’s a press release designed to elicit that exact response.

    Heck, Derek works for Hyundai now. Mark (I think works for a manufacturer as well). They parlayed their positions here into something presumably much better. Anything they wrote here in regard to their current employer(s) is now a little bit suspect, who really knows how long they were trying to get those jobs. Yes that may be completely inaccurate and unfair, but that’s the way of the world. You yourself used to OFTEN rail against magazines and trips and cars for testing on tracks etc. However, now you write for R&T. Good for you and I enjoy a lot of the writings but it could be viewed as a little hypocritical too on the surface, couldn’t it?

    That does happen here fairly often too, for example the Hyundai i30N article the other day…If read carefully it is very evident that it’s a compendium of other actual tests and nobody at TTAC drove it. However this line towards the end that is not attributed to anyone whatsoever “One drive in the sixth-generation 2018 Hyundai Elantra Sport is enough to convince you that the Korean brand has certainly developed a knack for building a fun car.” certainly can give the impression that the author maybe HAS driven it and is now giving his direct opinion.

    The whole thing is a shell game. Readers really have NO idea if you or anyone else is a stockholder of any company or gets big bennies until someone else decides to call it out. TTAC did make a huge deal a couple of years back about drawing a line in the sand and saying henceforth you’d be disclosing everything, then that became a very hit or miss thing almost right away.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “Heck, Derek works for Hyundai now.”

      So? he’s no longer EIC nor does he write here as a journalist. Ditto Mark.

      “Anything they wrote here in regard to their current employer(s) is now a little bit suspect, who really knows how long they were trying to get those jobs.”

      nonsense. that’s getting into tinfoil-hat territory.

      “You yourself used to OFTEN rail against magazines and trips and cars for testing on tracks etc.”

      IIRC Jack reserved his ire for “journalists” who only do the job because they get free trips and free use of press cars, and whine when they don’t feel they get enough free stuff (or good enough stuff.)

      “Once you read a few of Mr. Lambert’s posts it becomes fairly evident that he is a big fan of the Tesla brand, which does color his writing but is pretty transparent. He does also report on other electric makes and I think does so fairly impartially. His yardstick happens to be a Tesla by which in his opinion many others suffer in comparison.”

      and that’s utter horse-pucky. He puts himself in the role of “journalist,” for a site supposedly geared towards EVs in general. Yet he writes relentlessly glowing articles about Tesla, and now we know he’s using that position as “journalist” to line his pockets with money from Tesla.

      If that doesn’t stink worse than a pig farm on a hot day, I don’t know what does.

      • 0 avatar
        WalterRohrl

        Mark is still on the masthead with a different title than before so I assume he can write here whenever he desires. The point was that a job was secured and could it perhaps be perceived by some as a result of what was written here? The perception, right or wrong, is always possible. My point was that Mr. Lambert is benefitting from his writings. We have no idea if anyone here is or has done the same. Nothing tinfoil hat about it.

        I read Jack’s railings as being against the process itself. Said journalists (autowriters, not mommybloggers, that’s different) that may have complained about their shrimp not being jumbo enough didn’t do so in public. His arguments were against the process (trips, track time etc). The impression given was that he wanted no part of such as system. Now he is part of that system. I am NOT saying he isn’t impartial but just pointing out the apparent contradiction over a period of time.

      • 0 avatar
        WalterRohrl

        I didn’t see the last part before, did you add it later?

        Anyway, Lambert site is free to view and read, it’s worth what you paid for it. I still believe after reading it just for a short while it is fairly obvious that he is not completely impartial.

        I’d be more concerned if I were paying for his supposed expertise and opinions. I’m not, so whatever.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        “If that doesn’t stink worse than a pig farm on a hot day, I don’t know what does.”

        Mushroom farm?

        White House?

        White Supremacy?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      “You yourself used to OFTEN rail against magazines and trips and cars for testing on tracks etc. However, now you write for R&T. Good for you and I enjoy a lot of the writings but it could be viewed as a little hypocritical too on the surface, couldn’t it? ”

      I’m glad you brought that up, because since I arrived at R&T the magazine has made massive strides towards a more customer-focused business model. They now frequently skip the five-star press previews in favor of local testing in Ann Arbor. The tone of the magazine has become far more balanced. And when one of our staffers damaged a car during last year’s PCOTY, we reported on it both in web *and* print. Compare that to another major magazine which according to some insiders has damaged more than a dozen cars in the past few years without reporting it once.

      When Larry brought me on at R&T he did so knowing that I would occasionally pose all sorts of problems for the way they do business. I remain grateful that he did so. It’s been five great years.

      To some degree, this was always the plan. Lieberman and I used to sit around and talk about how we’d reform the magazines from the inside out. Unfortunately, for one us that personal resolve collapsed the minute they saw a first-class plane ticket. It makes me sadder than I can say here.

      • 0 avatar
        WalterRohrl

        Interesting, thank you for the insight. I’m glad you are able to constructively answer instead of just accusing me of having a tinfoil hat :-)

        And for the record, no, I don’t think it’s right that Lambert profits without making it very clear to his readers but I wanted to point out some apparent parallels that are on the surface.

      • 0 avatar
        B.C.

        Tangent: I sometimes wonder how/why Lieberman ended up in my Netflix queue.

  • avatar
    Eggshen2013

    I will be right back. After reading this I have to go blow off some steam.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    They should run “paid advertising content” at the top of each story or face charges. That’s just me wishing though.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    Oh god, Electrek has the worst, most unhinged commenters. Some of them say such batsh*t loony things (like the guy who insisted that drunk guy who drove into people at a Tesla demonstration event in Detroit did so because GM paid him to kill Tesla fans) that I desperately cling to the hope that Poe’s Law is in play.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I once again find myself missing CJinSD, pch101, and BTS. The popcorn hasn’t been as salty since a few key posters have left.

    But once the Teslaratti find out about this story – the pitchforks will appear.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick_515

      pch101… always. CJinSD got really bitter towards the end, which is said because I learned a lot from his knowledge and experience… BTSR good riddance. Except we got Trumpito, so the joke’s on me.

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    This is not the first day you know this right? All journalists, all media, all industries do this. Why do you think the “Apple Car” fake news from two years ago were on every single day?

    Of course, it is a pump and dump. A month later the stock crashes 30%. Carl Icahn was selling, and so was I.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    I made it a rule in my life to have mercy on any male who calls himself Frederique

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Some things never change.
    I remember in the 1950s when the radio station “payola” scandal hit.
    Disc Jockeys (that’s a “radio personality” to you folks under 60 yrs old) were taking big bribes from promoters to pimp songs.

  • avatar
    orenwolf

    So Jack:

    Do you then believe auto journalists should have to disclose all current and former vehicles owned and all paid events they have attended? What about manufacturers who are local to them and may indirectly fund their communities? What about acquaintances or family members working for auto dealers or manufacturers?

    For the last decade my side gig has been to work with a very large blog who happens to refer and sell no small number of items. They often pimp products they like as well, and while sponsored posts or content are labeled as such, there’s no doubt that the personal biases of each of the authors affects the products they recommend, or the reviews they do.

    This is clear and obvious if you read the site for any length of time, but does a lack of disclosing what they own make the site, by extension, ethically corrupt as you infer here? I’m not sure that’s so simple.

    People have biases. Usually people have a single bad experience with a product or company and that’s it, even if their sample size is far too small to be representative. I don’t believe there’s a reviewer in the world who doesn’t actively have to work to suppress these biases in their reviews, or even their choices of what to review, and I don’t believe for a second that these biases don’t affect every site as a result.

    That being said, though – is the answer to make a journalists life transparent in order to allow readers to infer these biases upfront? Or should we instead rely on readers to be objective and, for example, assume that a site that is pro electric cars and pro Tesla is likely not going to be the most objective source for negative news in either field?

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “Do you then believe auto journalists should have to disclose all current and former vehicles owned and all paid events they have attended? ”

      if the manufacturers of all of those vehicles were giving them money to convince people to buy their products, yes.

      I mean, this isn’t quite Wayne Gerdes level of f**kery, but it’s still pretty stinky.

  • avatar
    Shockrave Flash Has Crashed

    Biased auto journalist are the reason for this site, well that and a smattering of misogyny.

  • avatar
    Steve Lynch

    Remember the old SNL skit:

    Fred Lambert, Male Prostitute!

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Q: “Do you think that Electrek will report fairly and honestly on Tesla’s problems when they are holding the stock?”

    A: No.

    As a former EV driver and Model 3 reservation holder, I’m biased to support the EV industry from a philosophical point of view, as well as with my money. But I don’t have the burden of being an auto journalist.

    You can shop elsewhere for EV news. insideevs has many Tesla fanboys as writers and posters, but also many critics who post (I’m one of them), who are then viciously attacked. greencarreports is a bit more balanced, but slower with updates.

    Even though Tesla dominates the EV industry in terms of market share, flash, customer interest, sales potential, and vehicle performance, the types of shenanigans Jack is describing here should not occur in journalism. Tesla has plenty of problems which should be discussed.

    But let’s face it: Since the dawn of time, with journalism it’s always been “buyer beware”. When you watch Fox news, you know what you’re going to get. When you read Electrek (which I don’t), you’ll know what to expect.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “You can shop elsewhere for EV news. insideevs has many Tesla fanboys as writers and posters, but also many critics who post (I’m one of them), who are then viciously attacked. ”

      stay away from Ars Technica, then. if you say *anything* less than complimentary (no matter how true it is) you get dogpiled for “hating Tesla.” I can’t imagine being so emotionally invested in a company like that. I’m not even that emotionally invested in the company signing my paycheck.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      “But let’s face it: Since the dawn of time, with journalism it’s always been “buyer beware”.”

      I think the problem is if you believe every chucklehead with a blog who calls himself a “journalist” is one, and try to hold him to that standard, you will be forever disappointed.

      The headline really oughta read “Tesla fan with electric car fan site leverages himself kickbacks from Tesla referral program.” But who cares?

      • 0 avatar

        It’s a blatant FTC violation, one that is punishable by a severe fine. But, yeah, who cares, amirite?

        • 0 avatar
          el scotto

          Bark, you and Jack have written some stuff that I considered incendiary. No one has ever questioned you or Jack’s ethics. Yeah, that’s quaint word for too may these days. Your and Jack’s opinions and sanity questioned? Yes. Same goes for the rest of the staff. The B&B usually run the shaky/skeevy off. This guy wouldn’t last two articles on here. Work fast and keep throwing strikes.

        • 0 avatar
          WalterRohrl

          How does the statute in question read? I’m curious, really.

          He’s giving away his information for free. No different than if someone is paying him or someone else to stand on a street corner and tell every passerby how great that someone’s product is. There’s no money involved from the reader, thus no implied contract regarding objectivity. The guy waving the paint company’s sign and touting how good a job they’ll do that I see on my way to work every morning doesn’t have a disclaimer saying he’s paid by anyone.

          In any case, I can’t believe he has ANYthing to worry about with the current administration running things. He’s promoting American-made products. Those products do seem to have a lot of happy buyers so I can’t even say for sure he’s lying about or misrepresenting anything He also recently reported on the findings that Tesla got some of the blame for the trailer decapitation incident a couple of years back. He’s just way too happy about the product in general that it’s obvious (too obvious to any halfway critical reader) he wants them to succeed much in the way that Ronnie used to be about Elio Motors.

          No way does the current FTC lift a finger, it’s laughable to consider it a danger to him. They’re probably too busy figuring out where to take their next trip for lunch on a chartered jet on the public’s dime anyway like the rest of the administration when they’re not writing their Russian pen-pals.

      • 0 avatar
        05lgt

        I car because if it is ever advantageous to him, he’ll claim protections under the law and constitution as a journalist, but he’s acting as an advertiser.

    • 0 avatar
      orenwolf

      “But let’s face it: Since the dawn of time, with journalism it’s always been “buyer beware”. When you watch Fox news, you know what you’re going to get. When you read Electrek, you know what to expect.”

      Exactly this. People who believe what they read on the internet without applying their own lens of objectivity are doomed to be consistently misinformed by bias (and end up with a lot of weight loss and penis enlargement pills).

      I don’t read the site in question, but if I did I doubt it would take more than a quick look at their main page to understand they are going to be biased towards EVs and Tesla, and would take any information from them with that knowledge in hand.

      Lets not continue to propagate this myth of the great objective unbiased auto journalist out there. I’d even wager that JB’s *own biases* have informed his decision on why he chose *this particular* issue with *this particular* autoblogger to elevate to “Friday Scorn” status. That doesn’t prevent me from both enjoying his work and being able to gain valuable insights from it I just don’t pretend that it is somehow “unbiased”, either. :)

    • 0 avatar
      Brett Woods

      Nice one.

  • avatar
    John

    Golly, Mr. Baruth is naive. This is 2017. Pay for play is here to stay – ask Bill, Hill, and Barry-O!

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Elon’s pimp hand is strong, apparently.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    This is why TTAC is so great. Those of us in the B&B don’t actually buy new cars, everyone knows that. Jack, we rely on you to buy/lease/rent a new car to tell us what we should or should not be looking to purchase 3 years from now. So, from that standpoint I have no worries that you are collecting cash or benefits from any purchase decision I may or may not have made based on the recommendation you or anyone else has made on this site.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    I like EVs and Teslas…and I agree it’s time somebody called out Fred Lambert and his site Elektrek. The site is useful for keeping up with Tesla, because nobody pays more attention to Tesla than Fred…after all, his stock value depends on it. But if the topic is other EV’s in general, and oh dear god the Chevy Bolt EV in particular, the editorial slant frequently resembles simple trolling.

    For example, Lambert insists on calling the Bolt a compliance car—a term universally understood to indicate an ultra-low-volume conversion of an existing fossil-fuel model, sold only in CARB states. (The Bolt EV is a distinct electric-only model, with range to rival Teslas costing twice the price, is sold in all 50 states and other countries, and has been moving at a clip of 2000 units a month.) In a recent piece, Fred slams GM in one paragraph for making a car that’s piling up unsold on dealer lots, and in the next paragraph slams GM for not making enough of them. The implication is always the same, as the site’s commenters helpfully point out for anyone who missed it: that GM SUX LOL.

    The tone of that coverage seems to have moderated lately since the site’s publisher, Seth Weintraub, bought a Bolt EV.


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