NBC Feeds Toyota Fears; Ignores Government's Conflict of Interest

February 5th, 2010 10:42 AM

There have been just over a hundred complaints about brake problems on the Toyota Prius. And according to Sylvia Marino of consumer car Web site Edmunds.com, “maybe as few as 1 in 12,000 or 1 in 13,000 of the cars in the recall even has the problematic pedal” that causes unwanted acceleration on other models.

But the media and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration are doing their best to sew widespread fear and damage the car maker’s reputation. Case in point: NBC’s Feb. 4 “Today.”

Car giant Toyota has been forced to recall over 4 million vehicles in North America, and as reporter Phil LeBeau put itr, recent revelations that there may be problems with the acceleration and electronic systems in other models have made Toyota’s problems “from bad to worse” and “growing.”

Although it contained a six-second clip of Toyota dealer Dennis Lauzon saying “We've got people fearful, but in the end, I believe Toyota did the right thing,” and a few sentences of a statement from the company itself, LeBeau’s mostly one-sided report, centered on Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s controversial and confusing advice to Toyota owners. 

But important in this report is not what LaHood did say, but what LeBeau didn’t. As member of the Obama cabinet and an employee of the federal government, LaHood works for the owner of a Toyota competitor. Toyota rivals GM and (to a lesser degree) Chrysler, are owned by the government, presenting at the very least, a potentially a serious conflict of interest for LaHood’s agency.

Back in the “Today” studio, the senior director of Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center, David Champion, downplayed  unwarranted panic stoked by media news stories. The Prius brakes don't actually fail, he explained, the sticking throttle issue is very rare and occurs gradually, with plenty of warning. Champion said he believed Toyota has fixed the problem for the few cars that are susceptible to momentary lapses.

Still, host Meredith Viera insisted, “But meanwhile our own government is saying” that there are more problems.

“The federal government has done a lot of testing,” Champion responded. They couldn't find anything.”

Toyota's been working to see if they can find if there's any other electrical issue in there. It's trying to find a needle in a haystack in some ways,” Champion said. And despite Viera’s repeated prompting, he said he “would not hesitate to recommend buying a Toyota.”