We were the first to condemn these stories. We did so first, and often since. Thank God Forbes is now laying the story to rest. The Los Angeles Times, which began the slanderous meme against Toyota, was playing fast and loose with the facts, to the point of endangering one of LA's biggest employers of real human beings.The jig seems to be up on the runaway-Toyota scare. Mounting evidence indicates that those Toyotas truly accelerating suddenly can probably be explained by sliding floor mats (since fixed) and drivers hitting the gas instead of the brake. That is, the media have been chasing a will-o'-the-wisp for the better part of a year, whipping car buyers and Congress into a frenzy.Where are Woodward and Bernstein when you need them? Shouldn't the accounts of alleged unintended acceleration deaths have been subjected to a little checking?
Remember the tale of the runaway Prius on a freeway near San Diego? In Forbes.com in March I observed that much of what the driver told reporters was absurd. He insisted he was "afraid" to try to shift into neutral because he needed both hands on the steering wheel; nobody asked about that cellphone he'd been holding while driving.
Likewise, the media pack is so focused on the number of those deaths supposedly from sudden unintended acceleration, now put at 93 from 75 crashes, that it can't be bothered to properly investigate them--or indeed even look at them. Otherwise reporters could have told you what I found: that most of the claims are spurious, even to the point that some of the accidents never even occurred.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration uses the term "allegedly" in listing the number of deaths possibly related to unintended acceleration. Yet too many reporters ignore that caveat. Thus, a U.S. News & World Report blog-post headline proclaimed: "NHTSA: 89 Deaths Caused by Unintended Acceleration in Toyota Vehicles." The Los Angeles Times stated in a headline that sudden acceleration "led to" the deaths. A New York Post headline early on declared that faulty Toyotas ( TM - news - people ) "have killed" 52 people. A CBS News Web headline (over an Associated Press story) similarly said the acceleration car fault "has killed" 89. (USA Today has been more careful in emphasizing the tenuous connections.)
The NHTSA "complaint database," available on its website, amounts to a motley collection of anecdotes, many of them absurd. Anybody can enter anything. An entry filed by someone named Damnable Liar claimed his car accelerated to the moon because of a child seat problem. That was mine.
If the Los Angeles Times had been successful in causing it's readers to believe that Toyota had such a blatant disregard for human life, then an awful lot of Angelenos would have lost their jobs.
It should have been obvious to anyone reading the Media's stories that they were b.s.
If the Media really had facts that showed that Toyota's cars were dangerously accelerating, in the manner portrayed, then the first thing the Media would have cared about would have been informing the public of how to deal with sudden accleration;
PUT THE CAR IN NEUTRAL AND APPLY THE BRAKE.
The fact that the media did not bother to inform the public proved the media was not truly concerned about the problem it was reporting. In other words, they did not believe the things they were writing.
Let us suppose we were living back in the days that fire was invented (hell, the media still seems to be living in those days, so why cant we?). If you were a reporter and you suddenly got a story that fire is hot and it burns skin and can kill you, wouldn't you also report to people,
IF YOU PUT YOUR HAND IN FIRE, TAKE IT OUT?
I mean, seriously, any decent human being would do that, right?
But, the media didn't do it, because they had not, actually, discovered a truly dangerous problem.