D.R.: Toyota flak threatens reporter | VailDaily.com

D.R.: Toyota flak threatens reporter

Don Rogers

One of our reporters received an interesting call from a Toyota corporate flak today. He didn’t like that the little Daily would dare quote anyone who didn’t express anything short of gushing praise for the green sainted Prius in a story about Eagle County buying up 20 of them all at once.

The guy told staff writer Alison Miller that he’d heard that we might cover the rather harrowing story of a local couple who reported that their Prius last August wrecked near Idaho Springs when the car suddenly accelerated and kept going despite all attempts to stop it. Similar stories can be found in the Internet. So while rare, there does seem to be something to the report that perhaps can’t be entirely brushed off as simple driver error.

So far, though, nothing unusual here. Flaks, like flies, follow their nature. We understand that. PR people look out for the interests of their organization. Their enthusiasm and passion for their “message” translates routinely to spin when heard. And you’ve heard it often, especially if you follow politics or watch a newscast or read a paper.

It’s the next part in the conversation that irks me. Mike Walker, out of Scottsdale, Ariz., then made a deal about the reporter needing to be “very careful” about covering events that might cast his car in a bad light.

Well, sure. But what an interesting reaction to hearing about someone nearly getting killed in an accident that the family certainly believes came from a mechanical flaw in the vehicle, and a type of accident that others have reported.

No “Gosh, I hope they’re all right. … Have they reported this to Toyota? … Please have them contact us if not. … We certainly would want to check this out and see what might have happened. …” Then, maybe, a careful, “Are they sure this wasn’t a floor mat somehow keeping the pedal depressed? Or, “Maybe this happened so quickly they weren’t able to shift to neutral. …” You know, that ever-so-subtle suggestion of questions that might be worth asking.

None of that. Just a rather clumsy onimous warning along the lines of “you’d better be awfully careful” about reporting the story. What’s this, the Sopranos took over Toyota?

Somebody needs to go back to PR school here, don’t you think? Or is that really how Toyota deals with anyone who fails to kiss the ground they drive on?

Then it gets more interesting. Seems the guy has gone searching for information about the reporter. He mentions something that would take a fair amount of time and effort to find on google.

He asks her if she’s running for office. Huh? He “stumbled” upon her My Space page where she once riffed about running for governor.

Then he makes the leap to conclude that she’s just out to get Toyota because she’d like to be governor someday. Hey, I’d like to play for the Lakers someday. Maybe that’s why I’m mentioning this.

If he was ignorant about similar reports, he could have spent a lot less time googling that than checking out personal information about a reporter at a dinky little daily in the middle of Colorado.

This uptight about a little story in a tiny paper? What lies beneath that? You can’t help but wonder.

Toyota makes fine cars. The Prius has a nice safety rating. Why not tout those strengths rather than search for private information about the writer, make vague statements that we take as threats, and apparently try to creep out the reporter by revealing some personal knowledge?

Dumb stuff if you’re a PR flak. What does he think he accomplished? We’ll get scared of him? All he’s done is irk the writer’s editor.

Pursue a story carefully? Of course. Back off or go easy? Not a chance.

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