June 26, 2019

Toyota Plus One Year—A Sordid Tale

Lots of folks in the public arena must assume that we have no memories and that we are incapable of a simple search for reporters’ and politicians’ prior speeches, press releases, and comments—-that, despite the omni-presence of Google and other powerful search engines.

How else to explain that the past few weeks of news don’t evidence a slew of apologies from media types, elected officials and assorted other mavens who were convinced, and sought to convince the American public, that Toyota was all but intentionally killing Americans by putting unsafe cars on our roads?

Even though the Tunisia/Egypt/Bahrain crises have sucked up much of the media oxygen for the past few weeks, the wires are empty.

Recall that one year ago we were inundated with news stories that breathlessly described Priuses, Camrys and even Lexuses that were “unintentionally accelerating” (Google reports 1.49 million cites). Story after story recounted the tales of folks who swore that their cars were hitting 90 miles an hour while they “weren’t doing a thing.”

The apotheosis of creativity was the story of Rhonda and Eddie Smith who talked about their “” title=”let them kill our people” target=”_blank”>let them kill our people.”

The just released 10 month ” title=”facts came out” target=”_blank”>facts came out that the Prius’ brakes did not show “wear consistent with having been applied at full force at high speeds for a long period.” That glimmer of reason and light was ephemeral—the stories continued of countless other cases that strained credulity, but they all followed the same narrative and ended up leading the evening news.

Senators and congressmen (of both parties) ” title=”urged a total ban” target=”_blank”>urged a total ban on the importation of Japanese cars until their government could

guarantee that their vehicles had no defects

].

And what a target it was, a foreign corporation—competing with our down-and-out domestic car makers—which seemingly preferred profit over our safety. Virtually the only skeptics were the elected officials who had Toyota plants in their districts.

The “accelerating” Toyota story was the perfect storm of an issue that in its substance and timing served multiple intersecting agendas while revealing a nastier side of our society.

Politicians who could preen and posture and appear to be protecting Americans’ safety and best interests; TV “journalists” who lusted for a juicy story of a bad guy and buffeted innocents that could play out night after night and lead the eleven o’clock news (on occasion with lurid visuals); and media mavens who rarely ask tough questions or inject reasoned skepticism into their reportage when there is an appealing populist template at play.

It was a shameful incident in which Toyota and its representatives were pilloried and attacked by people who had no expertise or information on which to base their assault—just isolated stories that sounded like they might evidence a problem. Congressional hearings used to be for gathering evidence that could lead to legislation, not publicizing baseless conclusions for vanity’s sake.

Well, a year has passed and it has been conclusively determined that there is NO evidence, zero. It was all an embarrassing show that doesn’t speak well of our legislators or the Fourth Estate.

They owe Toyota and us an apology.

Mercifully, Toyota can take the abuse—with our without the apology—-we aren’t sure how many such manifestly wrong, vacuous side-shows our electeds’ reputations can endure.