Uncritical Press May Be Taken In By Fake Prius Story

by Charles Feldman on March 14, 2010


Let’s face it. Toyota is just an easy target right now. Millions of its cars recalled because of rare cases of uncontrolled acceleration. The company says it can (and is) fixing the problem; critics claim it is missing the real problem: the complex, computer controlled electronic throttle system. None of this, however, should give the news media a free pass to stop critical thinking.

Earlier this past week, press reports were buzzing with news that a San Diego, California man had lost control of the Prius he was driving and needed the help of the California Highway Patrol to  safely slow the alleged runaway vehicle to a stop.

Now comes word via the Associated Press that Toyota investigators and the federal government have not been able to make the car, in tests, repeat the claimed unexpected performance, casting doubt, says the A.P. on the driver’s story.

The news agency bases its story on a draft memo it says it has obtained.

There was always something fishy about this particular San Diego story: Even the most critical government investigators have said the problem, whatever the cause, with the Toyota cars (Prius, of course, is the hybrid built by the company) is extremely rare. And yet, on the very same day Toyota was holding a news conference to announce how its planned fixes were going, along came this “new” episode that seemingly showed that the auto company was simply not on top of the situation.

Judging from the massive coverage this story got throughout all media platforms, apparently few news organizations bothered to, at least, cast a skeptical eye on this one story. Rather, most news accounts I saw, heard and read, seemed to accept what allegedly happened with this particular Prius as if it were an established fact.

It may, in the end, turn out that the driver was, indeed, telling the truth and his Prius did, without his input, reach speeds of 94 mph or greater. But there now also seems to be at least some evidence the entire experience may have been made up for reasons as yet unknown.

The next time there is a story about a runaway Prius or other Toyota, it would be nice if the news media were a bit more liberal with the use of the word—alleged!

For More Commentary, Please Visit www.notimetothinkbook.com, The Official Website For THE Media Book Of 2010, “No Time To Think-The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle,” Now Available In Paperback Edition.

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