Two powerful articles this past week on the plight of Toyota and the “sticking accelerator” farce.
In “Toyota: The Media Owe You an Apology,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek columnist Ed Wallace points out that CBS News gleefully launched the hysteria with a lead-story report featuring the frantic 911 call of Jim Sikes, whose Toyota Prius was traveling 94 miles per hour even though he swore he was standing on the brake pedal.
Fast forward 11 months later, when an extensive investigation led by the NHTSA and NASA concluded that the overwhelming majority of runaway Toyotas were a result of improperly installed floor mats or “operator error.” Or in the words of Transportation Secretary Roy LaHood, “pedal misapplication.”
Just the same, Wallace notes that CBS reporter Sandra Hughes used the term “Toyota deaths” in her Feb. 8 report on the NHTSA/NASA report.
Never let the facts stand in the way of a ratings-grabbing punchline.
Eric Dezenhall of The Daily Beast takes the issue a step further, labeling Toyota the victim of “crisis capitalists.”
“There are [not] only rewards in the form of media attention, extortionate legal settlements, Pulitzer Prizes, and the sociopathic euphoria of seeing a cultural caterpillar burned alive under a magnifying glass.
God forbid any successful business be left unmolested. The destruction of a for-profit enterprise is always noble; its defense always carries the whiff of mendacity.”
Dezenhall reaches back to the case involving the similar case that brought down Audi in the 1980s, noting that then as now, the truth was on the side of the manufacturers and not their accusers.
Which brings up a scary point.
In an age when the public views corporations as residing somewhere between pond scum and slug slime, what can you do to protect your reputation when the media feeding frenzy starts with the first drops of blood in the water?
I’d bet Toyota had a gag order once the government investigation began, so what were they to do but issue the recalls, pay the fines and pray for the nightmare to end?
I don’t know that I have a ready answer, other than to say that it pays to be paranoid.
Pretend for a minute that you’re a personal injury attorney and examine your business. Where are your weak spots? What steps can you take now to develop the messages and materials necessary to defend yourself should someone come after your livelihood?
Perhaps the best defense in time of crisis is a good offense.
But one thing is clear: when it all hits the fan, the media will not be on your side.