Japan from the inside out

Doubling down on the Toyota dumbness

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, March 14, 2010

WHAT ELSE TO SAY? The American news media seems to be bound and determined to hack away at the yellow peril of Toyota, even when everyone else knows they’re just making it up as they go along.

CBS News was the latest to fall into the gutter of journalism, though to be sure, that’s one of the organization’s favorite haunts. Writes Michael Fumento in a Forbes article titled Toyota Hybrid Horror Hoax:

“On the very day Toyota was making a high-profile defense of its cars, one of them was speeding out of control,” said CBS News–and a vast number of other media outlets worldwide.

Except that it wasn’t:

In fact, almost none of this was true. Virtually every aspect of Sikes’s story as told to reporters makes no sense. His claim that he’d tried to yank up the accelerator could be falsified, with his help, in half a minute. And now we even have an explanation for why he’d pull such a stunt, beyond the all-American desire to have 15 minutes of fame (recall the “Balloon Boy Hoax” from October) and the aching need to be perceived as a victim.

Perhaps this had something to do with it:

Sleuth work at the Web sites and reveals that Sikes and his wife Patty in 2008 filed for bankruptcy and are over $700,000 in debt. Among their creditors is Toyota Financial Services for a lease on a 2008 Toyota Prius, with value at time of bankruptcy of $20,494. The Jalopnik Web site shows a copy of Toyota’s secured claims form, though when Jalopnik questioned Sikes by e-mail he denied being behind on his Prius payments.

There are even more reasons, but CBS didn’t bother to look into any of them. The press club bar must be an inviting place.

(T)he press conference alone makes it clear Sikes’ story didn’t wash. Journalism schools are supposed to teach that skepticism is paramount….They have been as determined to not investigate Sikes’ claims as Sikes was to not stop his car. It’s a Toyota media feeding frenzy and the media aren’t about to let little things like incredible stories and readily-refutable claims get in the way.

If anyone wants to make the argument that the dying old media of the United States isn’t trying to buy a few more minutes on life support by resorting to nativism and anti-Nipponism, I’m willing to read it. I wouldn’t want to be the one to have to write it, however.

Megan McArdle at The Atlantic makes a point worth noting:

(W)hen you look at these incidents all together, it’s pretty clear why Toyota didn’t investigate this “overwhelming evidence” of a problem: they look a lot like typical cases of driver error. I don’t know that all of them are. But I do know that however advanced Toyota’s electronics are, they’re not yet clever enough to be able to pick on senior citizens.

3 Responses to “Doubling down on the Toyota dumbness”

  1. GI Korea said

    When I saw the run away Prius on the news the first thing I thought was that this was a hoax. I’m not surprised the US media which is pretty much of tabloid quality now a days didn’t question the possible motives of this guy.

  2. kushibo said

    I was thinking the same thing, though it wasn’t the money angle exactly. From this article I’d read, it seemed to me like a disgruntled person was doing an “I’ll show them!” kinda thing:

    Sikes said that he recently received a recall notice from Toyota, so he took it and his Prius to Toyota of El Cajon.

    “They handed it back and said I’m not on the recall list,” said Sikes. “I’m not very pleased at the moment. I’ll be back there tomorrow.”

    Of course, now I’m beginning to see that even going to the dealership to get rejected may have been part of a wider plan.

    And I agree with you that the stateside media has dropped the ball on this story, but I don’t think the overall harsh spotlight currently on Toyota is so undeserved. They screwed the pooch on some serious matters and people died. Early in the just-now-past decade, Ford and Firestone also endured a sustained $hitstorm of bad publicity that, at the time, seemed nearly this level, with the big difference being that Ford didn’t have Toyota’s stellar reputation.

    I don’t think all the sentiment against Toyota lies in it being a foreign company, a Japanese company. In California, where people are very keenly aware of the importance of trans-Pacific trade such that Toyota’s bad fortune become their own, the Orange County DA is suing Toyota for defects and deception, something which provides them no real net economic gain. (Sure, Hyundai is located in OC, but in the long run bad vibes toward Toyota — or Honda or Nissan — could be bad vibes toward Hyundai and Kia, which are increasingly lumped together as Kopanese cars.)

  3. kushibo said

    The LAT has a story this morning on official doubts of the recent “runaway Prius”:

    But when investigators from the federal government and Toyota Motor Corp. who tested Sikes’ car late last week pressed hard on the brake pedal and the accelerator at the same time, the Prius’ gasoline engine shut down, according to a draft of a congressional memo obtained by The Times.

    The draft memo was prepared by a staff member for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) who accompanied the investigators last week.

    The tests of Sikes’ Prius create concerns about “the veracity of the sequence of events that has been reported by Mr. Sikes,” said Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Issa.

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