A baffling award for ABC’s Toyota scaremongering

by Walter Olson on June 19, 2011

John Cook at Gawker wants to know how a coveted Edward R. Murrow prize could just have been bestowed on the Toyota-panic reporting of ABC’s Brian Ross (“America’s Wrongest Reporter”), given that it showcased staged, fakey footage, relied heavily on the assertions of a safety consultant whose plaintiff’s-side involvement in the controversy went unmentioned, and omitted details that would have raised readers’ doubts on key themes, among many other sins. Later investigations, of course, decisively refuted the lawyer-stoked fears that Toyotas have some mysterious tendency to accelerate out of control. More: Ted Frank and Hans Bader, and my take on the sad history of media irresponsibility on car-safety scares.

{ 9 comments }

1 Ben Catoe 06.19.11 at 10:12 am

Maybe they gave him the award for what they expect him to do in the future?

I wonder if he bought stock in the Honda before doing that Toyota piece like Nadar did with the Corvair.

2 William nuesslein 06.19.11 at 11:22 am

A well respected reporter for CNN played an animation showing Iraqi drone airplanes blasting Kuwait with chemicals. If the animation was in scale, then the effect of a spits would be the contamination of at least 100 square miles. The drones turned out to be half way from a model airplane to a Piper Cub. The animation was laughably stupid, but the reporter never asked himself whether his story made any sense.

The Toyota story was a bit different than the drone story in that a possibility of software bugs is not absolutely stupid. But software bugs show up every time certain conditions hold. Computers are consistent, so a rate of fewer than one incident for every million exposure years makes no sense. I still do not understand how a floor mat can put pressure on an accelerator pedal AND prevent working of the brake pedal at the same time.

Germans are nuts too. Chernobyl was a point source of radioactive contamination, in terms of time and space. Germany is a large country and is buffered from Chernobyl by part of the Soviet Union and Poland. German officials banned milk for a time and some meat and vegetables. Venison remains forbidden. That was a laughably stupid reaction that scared the daylights out of the German people. Germany then spent a king’s ransom of solar panels and windmills that produced the power equivalent of two nuclear plants. The German officials now want to eliminate the possibility of a Japan experience in Germany, not realizing that none of their plants could ever be hit by a 120 foot wave of water.

3 Mannie 06.19.11 at 3:59 pm

It just goes to demonstrate that the Press can’t be trusted for anything more important than reporting local high school football scores. Perhaps they haven’t figured out how to grind axes on those.

4 Griffin3 06.19.11 at 7:28 pm

Maybe it was the Nobel Prize for journalism?

5 No Name Guy 06.19.11 at 11:57 pm

Journalists are stupid, plain and simple. They don’t understand what they report on. (seen first hand on my field – aerospace. The stuff they get wrong is laughable.). As a result, I figure their accuracy in other fields is about the same, in other words, crap. The folks handing out the awards are also journalists, and just as clueless as the schmuck getting critical details wrong on the local news.

6 Alan Gunn 06.20.11 at 7:14 am

What no name guy said. Except for some pieces in the Wall Street Journal, which specializes, I have never seen a newspaper account of anything I knew about that was accurate, and TV, which selects its “journalists” largely on the basis of good looks, is worse. Journalism majors have the lowest SAT scores of any group except education majors. Things seem to be getting worse, because nowadays most of these people have a political axe to grind, which leads to deliberate lying as well as the usual incompetence. The internet seems to be driving newspapers out of business. Good riddance.

7 wfjag 06.20.11 at 7:21 am

But, . . . but, . . .but, . . . he researched it on Google, so it must be true!

8 Anonymous Attorney 06.20.11 at 12:37 pm

The press and the plaintiff’s bar are one in the same greasy, la-la land of unthink. The press isn’t actually interested in the defense side of the story — read up on Don Hewitt of 60 Minutes admissions on this (our stories have a good guy and a bad guy, and that’s it…)

John Stossel is nice break from all that, but we could use a few more of him…

9 John Burgess 06.20.11 at 6:44 pm

No Name Guy’s experience is shared by anyone who has had a story reported about his field of expertise. The stories all look good unless you happen to know anything at all factual about them.

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