Smug Hybrid Drivers: NBC and CNN Imitate South Park

On Comedy Central's South Park cartoon Wednesday, the world's environment is threatened by the impossible smugness of those driving hybrid cars. (The smug clouds are biggest over San Francisco, naturally.) The danger passes only when the people of South Park mash their hybrid cars into little aluminum cubes. And, just for fun, the animators named their hybrid the "Pious," a knock on Toyota's "Prius."

Funny enough, but the very next morning on NBC's Today, reporter Tom Costello was lauding the wonders of efficient, low emission hybrid cars (as opposed to those awful SUVs) when he showcased a smug driver who sounded like a South Park gag. MRC's Geoff Dickens caught this part of NBC's report:

Tom Costello: "Betsy Rosenberg didn't always drive a hybrid car but after getting fed up with 15 mpg in her SUVs she traded them both in for a Toyota Prius and 50 mpg."

Betsy Rosenberg: "I decided this was something that I would do to protect my kid, my country, my planet and be patriotic. I think that's the patriotic thing to do is to use less gas and not more."

And over on CNN's American Morning, as MRC's Megan McCormack caught, co-host Miles O'Brien and business reporter Andy Serwer smugly touted the benefits of hybrids:

Miles O'Brien: "I'd like an SUV that gets 50 miles to the gallon. Why can't we do that? We sent a man to the moon."

Andy Serwer: "Well, we probably can, I mean, you have to buy a hybrid then. I mean, you do it on your own. Right?"

O'Brien: "Well, fine. Let's make ‘em."

Serwer: "Yep. Yep."

O'Brien: "Do it on my own."

Serwer: "Yep."

O'Brien: "We can do it in a garage, we'll put one together. Let's do that. I don't have a garage anymore, I forgot about that."

Sounds like the media are getting carried away with their smugness. As Iain Murray describes at CEI's "Open Markets" blog, the South Park episode "did a great service in pricking this particular bubble of pomposity."

For those who didn't see it, it was all about hybrid cars and the life-endangering cloud of smug they produce. When the population of South Park all started driving hybrids like the "Pious," having been morally chided to do so, their cloud of smug joined with the permanent smug cloud over San Francisco and the one produced by George Clooney's Oscar acceptance speech to produce a perfect storm. The South Parkers junked their hybrids, but it was too late. After being told that hybrids were probably important, but people didn't have to be smug about it, the citizenry said they just weren't ready for that step and went back to gas guzzling SUVs, the bigger the better…

Oh, and San Francisco disappeared up its own backside.

The important point was that the moral argument for reduced emissions (and therefore hybrids) ignores equally important moral arguments for affordable, safe, reliable transportation. It is important that the poor, mostly minorities and immigrants, be able to purchase individual transportation to enable them to be more flexible in the labor market...Hybrids are certainly an exciting technology and probably the way of the future as they can be made more affordable and powerful enough to power larger vehicles without reducing fuel economy too much, but at the moment a large part of their appeal seems to be motivated by a feeling of moral superiority.

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