Congratulations to Brian Ross, America's Wrongest Reporter, for winning a coveted Edward R. Murrow Award honoring his coverage of the Toyota unintended acceleration story. The award, oddly, is for "Video Continuing Coverage" rather than "Fostering Global Panic Based on Bullshit Story." Still, a Murrow is a Murrow, right? Let's go to tape.
Ross, you will recall, was one of the driving forces behind the Runaway Toyota Panic of '10, which was later determined by NASA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to have been largely the result of idiots stepping on the accelerator when they intended to step on the brake, and of other idiots talking about it on TV. Ross was one of those idiots. For some reason, ABC News submitted four of Ross' Toyota reports to the Radio Television Digital News Association for award consideration.
One report they didn't submit was the one where Gawker caught Ross staging footage to make it seem like a Toyota was accelerating out of control when it was in fact parked with the emergency brake on, doors open, and someone stepping on the gas. We're told by an ABC News insider that, even though it didn't nominate that segment, the network "acknowledged and owned that mistake" in its awards submission. Good for them! Now let's see them acknowledge and own these mistakes from the segments it did submit. For instance:
In two of the winning reports, Ross quoted safety expert Sean Kane criticizing Toyota and insisting that there were cases of unintended acceleration that "couldn't be explained by floormats," which Toyota had recalled in 2009 after some mats became stuck under gas pedals. What he didn't report was that Kane was being paid by plaintiff's attorneys who were suing Toyota over unintended acceleration cases, and so had a financial incentive to argue that there was more to the Runaway Toyota scare than just floormats. Indeed, in other ABC News segments that the network didn't nominate, Ross showed Kane saying—again without disclosing his relationship to plaintiff's attorneys—"We clearly think that Toyota has a larger problem on their hands that involves the electronics with these vehicles." That position—that electronics were involved—was later eviscerated by the NASA/NHTSA report, which found "no electronic flaws in Toyota vehicles capable of producing the large throttle openings required to create dangerous high-speed unintended acceleration incidents."
Another of the winning pieces involved a 2006 accident in Minnesota where the driver of a Toyota was convicted of vehicular homicide after plowing into a family at high speed. He claimed the car was accelerating, and that the brakes weren't working. It's a good story, and the driver was eventually freed after his lawyers introduced evidence that other drivers had complained about unintended acceleration in that model. But what Ross didn't mention was that the model in question had a mechanical throttle, not an electronic one, and so had absolutely nothing to do with the then-current hysteria over robot Toyotas terrorizing our streets. But it had good scary pictures of smashed-up cars.
Anyway, that's how you win awards in journalism now. These are largely sins of omission—failures to provide crucial information that might lead viewers to a conclusion other than "your Toyota will kill you, now"—rather than outright errors. But taken together with the unending string of cooked stories Ross has foisted on the viewing public for years, they serve as a reminder never to believe anything Brian Ross reports until you see it reported elsewhere.
An ABC spokesperson said only, "we were honored to receive the award."