Elon Musk attacks AP journalist over coverage of recall notice for 54,000 Teslas

A Tesla showing software
The controversial billionaire called AP's Tom Krisher a "lobbyist, not a journalist". Photo credit: Getty Images

The world's richest person Elon Musk is being criticised for an astonishing attack he carried out on a journalist who wrote a story about a safety issue with Tesla's full self-driving software.

On Twitter the Tesla founder falsely labelled Associated Press (AP) writer Tom Krisher a "lobbyist, not a journalist".

"There are many who pose as the latter while behaving like the former. No integrity," Musk wrote.

Krisher wrote the story after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a recall notice for nearly 54,000 of Tesla's cars running the latest version of its beta self-driving software.

Newshub reported in January that the software - which added an 'assertive' driving mode - had the potential to induce illegal driving.

The driving mode meant Teslas were able to do rolling stops at stop signs, which is not allowed in any state in the US according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

It's also illegal in Aotearoa, where cars must come to a complete halt at stop signs.

In its official recall notice, the NHTSA said that "entering an all-way-stop intersection without coming to a complete stop may increase the risk of collision".

The safety agency noted that Tesla would disable the feature via an over-the-air software update, but Musk insisted on defending it on social media.

"There were no safety issues. The car simply slowed to ~2 mph and continued forward if clear view with no cars or pedestrians," he tweeted.

Tesla said that it had identified no collisions or fatalities caused by the software, but had agreed to the recall in order to obey the law anyway, despite Musk's comments.

Lauren Easton, AP's global director of media relations and corporate communications, replied to Musk's tweets confirming that Krisher is a "reporter who covers the auto industry".

"AP stands by his reporting," she added.

However that hasn't stopped fans of Musk flocking to his defence, with one branding Krisher a "moron" and another saying the NHTSA is "insane" for not allowing the feature.

"Instead of appreciating how many lives Tesla FSD can save, these guys are just living in there (sic) own cuckoo land. How many people die in America yearly in road traffic accidents and how many we lost using FSD?" one asked.

Others have called out Musk for his "bullying" and suggested he might not understand what the word "stop" means.

"'My cars only break the law at a low speed' is certainly a defense. Not a good one, but it's one," one replied.

The NHTSA is currently investigating issues with Tesla's Autopilot functionality which, despite its name, requires drivers to keep their hands on the wheel.

That investigation is happening because there have been a dozen incidents where Teslas have struck emergency vehicles while operating in that mode.

Tesla's full self-driving software costs an additional US$12,000 on top of the car purchase price and is currently only available in the US.