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Re: Unintended acceleration (long)
- To: firstname.lastname@example.org (Audi Mailing List)
- Subject: Re: Unintended acceleration (long)
- From: email@example.com (Ti Kan)
- Date: Wed, 24 Aug 1994 23:40:17 -0700 (PDT)
- Reply-To: quattro
- Sender: quattro-owner
For those of you who are interested, the following is a net article
from rec.autos about a year ago that offered some interesting
behind-the-scenes look into the CBS 60-Minutes episode about suddenly
accelerating Audi and the CJ Jeep rollovers, the NBC Dateline episode
about the exploding GM truck, the ABC 20/20 episode about the burning
Also attached is another similarly revealing article from
"Automotive Industries", posted to the quattro list last October
by Chris Ice. I am reposting that portion to benefit those
who are new members and/or who may have missed it the first time.
Pretty disgusting news journalism, designed to stimulate viewer
ratings via fabricated, shocking sensationalism; rather than the
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (email@example.com)
Subject: Audi 5000 et al journalism (long)
Date: 6 Jul 93 15:06:32 GMT
Sender: firstname.lastname@example.org (News)
Organization: Rice University
I am cross-posting this to rec.autos since the article deals mainly
with automobiles, not motorcycles (where the discussion of Consumer
Reports, Joan Claybrook, et al) came up.
As promised, here are several excerpts from an eye-opening article. This
article appeared the June 21, 1993, edition of the National Review. This
particular issue had a special section on 'The Decline of American
Journalism'. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in reading
a different perspective on what is presented as 'news'. The article was
written by Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and
author of 'The Litigation Explosion (Plume)'. Excerpts are reprinted
without permission (but with proper citation ;-)
The article starts out asking whether other news organizations would
ever pull a stunt like NBC's Dateline did with the hidden explosives,
over-filled tank, and loose gas cap. It also asks the question whether
news groups would trust the judgment of 'experts' who just happened to
be involved in litigation against the target of the report. Well, as
the article clearly points out, a hearty yes to both.
The first example involved ABC's 20/20 show, aired in June of 1978.
'...ABC's 20/20 reported 'startling new developments': evidence
that full-size Fords, not just the subcompact Pinto, could explode
when hit from behind. The show's visual highlight was dramatic.
Newly aired film from tests done at UCLA in 1967 by researchers
under contract with the automaker showed a Ford sedan being rear-
ended at 55 mph and bursting into a fireball. 'ABC News has
analyzed a great many of Ford's secret rear-end crash tests,'
confided correspondent Sylvia Chase. And they showed that if
you owned a Ford-not just a Pinto, but many other models--what
happened to the car in the film could happen to you. The tone
was unrelentingly damning, and by the show's end popular anchorman
Hugh Downs felt constrained to add his own personal confession.
'You know, I've advertised Ford products a few years back, Sylvia,
and at the time, of course, I didn't know and I don't think that
anybody else did that this kind of ruckus was going to unfold.'
But of course, they didn't bother to read (or report) that those tests
done by UCLA were to 'study how a crash fire affected the passenger
compartment of a car'. Unable to produce an explosion in several earlier
attempts, the researchers put an incendiary device under the car, a fact
clearly stated in the write-up of the research report. As Mr. Olson
pointed out, 'Dateline committed many journalistic sins. But not least
was that it couldn't even manage to be original'.
The person who acted as an 'expert' on this report was the same person
who was the 'expert' in the Dateline report, Byron Bloch. He also was
responsible for bringing 'seven different exposes on auto safety, two of
which won Emmys'. When asked about the GM truck explosion set-up, he
replied 'There was nothing wrong with what happened in Indianapolis.
The so-called devices underneath the pickup truck are really a lot of
smoke that GM is blowing to divert you away from the punitive damages
in the Moseley case.' (The Moseley case was the lawsuit filed by the
family of the guy who was killed when his GM truck was hit on the side
and exploded into flames, regardless of the fact that the person who hit
him was driving at an incredible speed.)
Byron Bloch wears two hats, 'one was as paid or unpaid network consultant,
advisor, and on-screen explainer. The other was as the single best-known
expert witness hired by trial lawyers in high-stakes injury lawsuits
against automakers'. Hmmm, that's no conflict of interest.
The next incident was by the 'no we've never done anything like that' crew
over at 60 Minutes. That report, in December 1980, was about the
army-style 'CJ' Jeep and its over-tendency to roll-over, even in so-called
'normal driving' situations.
'[the report] shows Jeeps going through what appear from a
distance to be standard maneuvers. Safer describes the first.
'It is something called a J-turn: a fairly gentle right-hand turn
that a driver might make if he was going into a parking lot.'
The Jeep flips over. Safer concedes that 'it does not happen
every time,' and a good thing too, since if it did the nation's
parking lots would be cluttered with overturned Jeeps spinning
their wheels helplessly like so many ladybugs. The camera then
shows a second test run, 'an evasive maneuver, as if the driver
is trying to avoid something on the road.' An unwanted object
is shown obstructing a roadway, lending a you-are-there touch.
'The driver would pull out of his lane to the left, go around the
obstacle, then pull back to the right into his lane,' explains
Safer. The Jeep flips over again. Dummy occupants, outfitted
in plaid shirts and farmer caps, tumble out to their doom.
But of course, the audience isn't given the entire story. 'The Jeeps
[were put] through 435 runs to get 8 rollovers. A single vehicle was put
through 201 runs and accounted for 4 of the rollovers. Make a car skid
repeatedly, Chrysler says, and you predictably degrade tire tread and
other key safety margins.'
The other untold part, was what I mentioned in my last posting, that the
robot drivers were turning the steering wheel during the J-turn more than
580 degrees, and 'at a rate in excess of five full turns a second'. An
unrelated study by GM showed that normal turn rates are about 520
degrees/second (experts up to 800) and even in panic situations, rates were
just over 1000 degrees/second. The robots rate? 1100 to 1805
degree/second. Okay, you argue, maybe in a really panicky situation,
someone could reach such rates. Fair enough. But during this maneuver,
the robots were also gunning the accelerator. Yep, that's what I do when
in a panic situation. Oh, but the fun doesn't stop there.
'An investigative engineer at the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration later wrote that the tests' validity was
'questionable' given their apparently 'abnormal test conditions
and unrealistic maneuvers,' and also found signs that the
vehicles' loading had been 'manipulated in combination with other
vehicle conditions to generate worst-case conditions' for
stability. The 'vehicle loading' issue was clarified by the testers'
own internal report, which was not disclosed at the time but emerged
later in litigation. In their report, the testers say that at the
request of Insurance Institute personnel, they had taken the step
of hanging weights in the vehicle's corners--inside the body, where
they were not apparent to the camera.
Example number three. A March 1981 report on 60 Minutes told viewers that
they could be maimed and killed by exploding tire rims used on large
'Again CBS relied on film from the Insurance Institute, this time
showing an exploding rim shredding two luckless dummies, an adult
and a child [nice touch, huh?]. Such footage, said Mike Wallace,
'shows graphically what can happen when a wheel rim explodes.'
Insurance Institute spokesman Ben Kelley (who had also appeared
on the Jeep segment) explains that a truck tire is under enormous
pressure. 'And if that metal, for any reason, dislodges, it fires
off like a shell out of a cannon.' Again, 60 Minutes did not see
fit to tell viewers exactly why the metal happened to dislodge in
the film clip. It turned out, the Insurance Institute conceded,
that the rims had been 'modified' to get them to explode for the
demonstration. Well, actually, the rims' locking mechanism had
been deliberately shaved off for the test. Under questioning in
a later deposition, an Insurance Institute employee acknowledged
that the testers had to go back and shave off more and more of
the metal in stages before finally getting off enough of it--an
estimated 70 percent--that the rims would explode.'
Ben Kelley, like Bloch, worked as a hired plaintiff's expert and he was
also present in the Dateline report as he 'recommended to NBC that it
hire its crash tests out to Bruce Enz--yet another frequent plaintiff's
testifier.' Kelley was working as 'a hired courtroom expert for Jeep
rollover plaintiffs' during the 20/20 Jeep story. More recently, 'CBS
Evening News got flayed in a cover story in TV Guide for running a report
on allegedly defective seat belts without doing enough to inform viewers
that its source was a 'video news release' from Kelley's Institute for
Injury Reduction (IIR).'
Example number four, and probably the best known, was 60 Minutes' coverage
of the Audi 5000. We all know the familiar lines--car suddenly accelerates
while hapless driver pushes on the brake with all their might; garage,
person, other car is taken out; brakes check out in perfect working
condition after accident. The possibility of driver error? None, according
to 60 Minutes.
'It [60 Minutes] found, and interviewed on camera, some
experienced drivers who reported the problem. And it showed a
filmed demonstration of how an Audi, as fixed up by, yes, an
expert witness testifying against the carmaker, could take off
from rest at mounting speed. The expert, William Rosenbluth,
was quoted as saying that 'unusually high transmission pressure'
could build up and cause problems. 'Again, watch the pedal go
down by itself,' said Ed Bradley. Bradley did not, however,
tell viewers why that remarkable thing was happening. As Audi
lawyers finally managed to establish, Rosenbluth had drilled a
hole in the poor car's transmission and attached a hose leading
to a tank of compressed air or fluid. The tank with its attached
hose was apparently sitting right on the front passenger seat of
the doctored Audi, but the 60 Minutes cameras managed not to pick
it up. It might have been for the same reason the Jeep weights
were tucked away in the wheel wells, rather than being placed
visibly on top. Or why the Dateline rockets were strapped out
of sight underneath the truck rather than conspicuously on its
side, and were detonated by remote control rather than by a
visible wire. Doing it otherwise would only have gotten viewers
The article concludes with some final points about litigation and
disclosing all the facts when reporting a story. But interestingly,
the reporters seems to believe the story even after such details have come
'Ed Bradley was a guest on Larry King recently when a caller
praised 60 Minutes in general but politely suggested it might
want to apologize for faulty or mistaken stories like those on
the Audi and on Alar, the apple spray. 'First of all, they're not
mistaken. Secondly, they are true,' Bradley replied with some
heat and more redundancy.'
Interestingly, another good point was brought out which tried to be
supportive of the 60 Minutes segment, but in fact, actually defended Audi.
'Hewitt, on Crossfire, defended the Audi show in a different and,
if truth be known, contradictory way. If there was really nothing
wrong with the cars, he asked, then why had Audi recalled them
after the 60 Minutes episode? But the point of the main recall
was to add an 'idiot-proof' device that kept drivers from shifting
into gear unless their foot was on the brake. If you accept Ed
Bradley's theory that their feet were on the brake all along, that
fix should have been useless.'
Well, there you have it. Long, but eye-opening to say the least. I highly
recommend reading the article completely, as well as other articles about
journalism in America which appear in this issue.
It's a dog-eat-dog world out there and I'm
wearing milk-bone underwear.--Norm
Burned by the Media
by: Christopher A. Saywer
"Automotive Industries", September 1993
Welcome to the world of network news magazines, the single most powerful
judge in the auto safety lottery. Should a vehicle you designed ever become a
target of advocates and attorneys alike, this will become your own special hell.
You will be seated slightly off center from the on-air talent under the bright lights
necessary for crisp pictures. With your back to the wallQliterally and figuratively
every move you make will be caught by the camera sitting just to one side of
and behind the interviewer. He, or she, will be captured on tape by another
camera placed just behind and to one side of your position.
Unless you happen to have been a prisoner of war, no amount of preparation
will ready you for the constant grilling you will receive. No matter how many
times you may answer a question (and there will be one they keep coming back
to), they will ask it againQand again. Your every expression and annoyance
will be captured, so remain calm.
You can also expect the producer or researcher to interrupt, throwing out
questions which will be repeated by the interviewer. This person may also
coach them to ask the question in a particular manner, in order to heighten the
drama. However, he will never end up on film. Only the interviewer is invited to
that party. On TV, appearance is everything.
And prepare yourself for other frequent interruptions. Videotape canisters must
be changed, disturbances quieted and technical problems fixed. Just don't
expect the feeling of isolation to be broken. You are very much on your own.
60 Minutes invented the news magazine genre in 1968, and hasn't slowed
since. According to Executive Producer Don Hewitt, in its 25-year run the
program has made more than $1.0 billion profit for CBS; $70 million in the last
year alone. "We're the biggest money-maker in the history of broadcasting,'' he
boasts. "No broadcast has ever made more.'' And this healthy bottom line,
along with higher prices for normal TV fare, has created a rash of imitators.
>From CBS's Street Stories to Fox's Front Page to the syndicated show Inside
Edition, television has seen its share of news magazinesQand more are on the
way. Michael Moore, the man behind the movie Roger and Me, reportedly
developing a news magazine for NBC. And ABC, already home to 20/20 and
Primetime Live added Day One to its lineup this past season. Almost as many
new shows are in development as lay on the reject pile. The reason is simple.
Just ask Don Hewitt.
He says, "(When) I made the first William S. Paley speech at the Museum of
Television and Radio I said, 'These broadcasts are less about giving the news
to America than they are about giving the word to Hollywood: Anything you can
do we can do cheaper.'"
With growing competition from independents and cable, networks have cut their
news staffs, while at the same time adding more 'news' programs to the fold.
This has created a pressure to cut costs and boost profits even higher.
One way is to use Video News Releases (VNRs) which are produced by outside
firms, and delivered free of charge to news organizations. Most go out over the
airwaves unidentified, and many have shown up on network news broadcasts.
And with more entries into an already crowded news-field, it becomes easier for
those with an ax to grind to get their point of view broadcast. All that's needed is
a controversyQpreferably of the 'David and Goliath' varietyQtearful victims, a
faceless corporation andQyou guessed itQa videotape to drive the point home.
Walter Olson, author of The Litigation Explosion and a senior fellow at the
Manhattan Institute, investigated news magazine automotive footage, and
uncovered reams of faked film. In addition to the now famous rigged test used
in 60 Minutes coverage of Audi's unintended acceleration problem, Olson found
evidence spanning the years:
June 1978: ABC's 20/20 shows a 1967 film of rear-end tests performed by
UCLA. The cars, hit at 55 mph, burst into flames, 'proof' of secret Ford crash
tests illustrating the danger these cars pose.
Unfortunately the viewer is never told UCLA had to use incendiary devices to
get the fuel to ignite, because earlier tests without these devices did not
produce a fire. Byron Bloch, the on-screen 'expert' who helped rig the crash
test on NBC's Dateline expose, did his first work for ABC on this segment. He
assisted ABC on seven auto safety stories, of which two won Emmys.
December 1980: 60 Minutes airs a report on the tendency for Jeep CJs to roll
over, even at low speed. A film provided by the Insurance Institute for Highway
Safety (IIHS) dramatizes the event.
Again viewers were never told it took 435 runs to get eight rollovers. Or that one
vehicle was tested 201 times for four of the eight. Also, the Jeep's robot drivers
spun the wheel 580 degrees, at a rate of 1100 - 1805 degrees/second, while
adding throttle. In addition, weights were hung at the rear wheel centerlineQ
under the body workQat the request of IIHS personnel. Many of the tests were
run instrumented, and the IIHS didn't want to sacrifice its testing equipment to a
rollover. However, the use of a device to keep the throttle wide open and
control speed by modulating the ignition (when side loads increased, power
was restored to keep overall vehicle speed constant), plus the possible
degradation of the tires in the previous runs, make this a less than scientific
March 1981: A 60 Minutes segment on multi-piece truck rims shows graphic
footage, again supplied by the IIHS, of what exploding rims can do to innocent
bystanders (in this case dummies). As with the previous year's Jeep episode.
Ben Kelley, then the Senior Public Relations VP at IIHS, acted as on-air expert.
Left unsaid is the fact that the rims had been modified to get them to explode.
According to Olson, an estimated 70% of the rim's locking tabs were shaved off
for the test, and the suggestion made that subtle forces could dislodge the
wheel rim assembly.
The problem with films like these is not, as Kelley told AI for this report, "...that
they permit people to understand the nature of the defect." Rather, it is that they
often misrepresent the statistical probability of such incidents, leaving the
viewer with the impression that these things happen all the time.
"The most interesting thing about all the dialogue surrounding the GM/NBC
Dateline story was that the only thing anybody focused on was the phony
explosion," says Steven Brill, Chairman and Editor-In-Chief of The American
Lawyer. "If you take that little piece of camera footage away, you still have a
news report that I can't believe any self-respecting journalist would ever
broadcast or print. We certainly would never publish a piece of crap like that
around here. It was totally one-sided Q almost comically so. And NBC was just
the tool of a bunch of plaintiffs' lawyers.
"(With) technical cases," he says, "it's a lot easier because you find a, plaintiffs'
lawyer who has an 'expert' with lots of bells and whistles, then you have your
story. And if you're in the realm of television, if you can be led to an expert who
can do something like demonstrate a crash for you, then you've got video,
which is even better. Then you've got a 'real' story."
Again we come to the role of the safety 'experts' and plaintiffs' attorneys, and
television's reliance on their input. How seriously would the networks take a
spokesman who said "Although I am not an engineer in the formal sense, I hold
out to be an engineer. I have been doing this kind of work for up to a quarter of
a century or more, both at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and
somewhat in the government before that Q as well as in my own company. And
I am very, very capable of knowing what the issues are, and how to design to
answer questions, about them. I've done an awful lot of research, and an awful
lot of crash testing." Actually, they'd take him very
We're not here to single out Benjamin Kelley, whose quote graces the above
paragraph. However, the group's degree-laden Technical Advisory Committee
is overshadowed by its trial lawyer funding and four-person staff. So much so
that Kelley's "I'm not an engineer, but I play one on TV" defense calls into
question the Institute for Injury Reduction's qualifications as professional,
impartial, scientific observers of the automotive safety scene. Yet television
news magazines rely on groups like the trial lawyer-supported IIR as their
impartial sources of choice. And, unlike the IIR, most do not reveal the sources
of their backing, or that they sell kits designed to help attorneys sue car
companies. TV news programs, and journalists in general, demand full
disclosure from the subjects of their reportsQwhy not their sources s well?
"You do an awful lot of research before you go on a story so that you are
prepared to ask the right questions of the right people," says Don Hewitt,
Executive Producer at 60 Minutes. "And it is verboten to make up your mind
before you go." That doesn't mean, however, that snappy visuals don't matter.
A centerpiece of that show's unintended acceleration segment was a film clip
showing an Audi 5000, damaged in two previous incidents, accelerating on its
own, the throttle pedal moving toward the floor. What the audience didn't see,
however, was that the on-air 'expert,' William Rosenbluth, had disabled the
check valves in the car's automatic transmission, and pumped fluid under
pressure into the gearbox to cause the occurrence. Rosenbluth was also
involved in litigation against Audi.
CBS defends the use of the video. "My recollection of the Audi piece is that
viewers understood the basic situation," says CBS General Attorney Richard
Altabeth. "Rosenbluth was a courtroom expert performing a certain
demonstration, in the context of litigation, for the purpose of refuting Audi's claim
that there were no circumstances under which it (was) physically possible for
something to occur."
"What I kept saying," says Hewitt, "was, 'You mean the drivers of the Audi 5000
aren't as good drivers as the drivers of other Audis?'"
To help make its case, VW's luxury car division cooperated fully, giving the 60
Minutes crew a technical overview of both the car and the phenomenon,
followed by a demonstration of how the brakes could bring even a full-throttle
Audi 5000 to a halt. And company officials agreed to on-air interviews.
"We were very offended by some of the things that they put in and didn't
explain,'' says Hill and Knowlton Senior VP Tom MacDonald, former head of
public relations for VW's US operations. This included testimony from a New
York City policeman and a minister's wife involved in unintended acceleration
CBS says the policeman, "was thought to be very sophisticated in the use of
cars...was a very good driver.'' MacDonald says, "We found out, and they knew,
this guy had one of the worst driving records of probably any cop in New York
City. Also we told them, but it was conveniently left outQthat the guy had gotten
the car a day or two before (the accident). And one of our contentions was that
people were not familiar with the cars."
Kristi Bradosky was the nurse and minister's wife who accidentally ran over her
son. Her televised testimony told how her Audi went out of controlQher foot
firmly on the brakeQ pushing her young son through the back wall of the
garage. Unfortunately, viewers never saw the Bradosky police report. In it, Mrs.
Bradosky told officers her foot had slipped off the brake and onto the
accelerator. 60 Minutes knew, as did the jury that acquitted Audi, but never told.
Dateline took the unintended acceleration template and ran with it, relying
almost totally on litigants and their lawyers to tell the story. The family of young
Shannon Moseley, killed in a 68-mph side impact, recounted the reasons
behind the purchase of their son's '85 GMC SierraQthose being its perceived
safety and their loyalty to GM. The Moseley's lawyers, various safety advocates
and the rigged crash test filled in the blanks.
Almost hidden was Bob Sinke, a GM engineer called upon to defend the C/K
trucks, and play sacrificial lamb. His more than three-hour defense of the trucks
was edited down to 47-second segment. The editing kept viewers from seeing
the constant barrage of leading and repetitive questions from Dateline reporter
Michele Gillen and Producer Bob Read, both in search of the 'right' sound bite.
Without the cuts, viewers might have come away with a totally different
impression of the truck's safety.
In that three-hour interview Sinke made many relevant points. Among them
o The government's oft-quoted Fatal Accident Reporting System does not tell
where a fire started, its severity, and cannot give a conclusive answer as to its
o In the 1 1960's, long before the government established its 20-mph side
impact standard, GM tested the pickups at 30 mph (with a moving side barrier),
and at 35 mph (using a full-size Chevy
o Later testing was conducted to ensure the vehicle would pass a 50 mph car-
to-car side impact.
o GM went to a perimeter frame on the present C/K because of ride and NVH
concerns, not in order to correct a defect as has been charged.
Instead the viewers saw Ronald Elwell, a former GM engineer who had
defended the pickups in court many times before, but who was now involved in
a dispute with his former employer. Not surprisingly, Sinke's refutation of
Elwell's points never reached the air.
Which begs the question: Why do companies continue to support these
programs? The networks would have you believe the corporations' advertising
budgets hold the key. To the video vanguards, the continued advertising is
proof enough their reports are neither anti-business, nor one-sided.
"(Continued advertising) is in no way a sign of whether or not (a company) was
guilty," says Olson. "That is determined by the facts. It's not determined by their
later advertising history."
Also, using the economic card to punish perceived transgressors not only
presents image problems for the company in question; it can potentially be used
to slant the news in the other direction as well. "The networks should
acknowledge that it-s a policy that protects them when they're wrong as well as
when they're right," says Olson.
So, should auto companies steer clear of cooperating with news magazines?
Let's ask Tom MacDonald.
"You can't ignore them. Let's put it that way," he says. "It's better to try and stop
the needle from going to empty by getting on there, than having them make you
look like a total ass by not being there." MacDonald recommends companies
offer untaped background briefings "until they're satisfied they have all the
information we have. Then send them home." The next day, he suggests a no
holds-barred interview, no longer than 10 minutes. "That way you don't expose
yourself to the constant barrage of repetitive questions," and time-outs.
Even this will not guarantee a balanced report. That is up to the reporters,
editors and viewers of television's news magazines. If they're doing their jobs
properly, they must demand that all the information presented is verified,
documented and supported. They must recognize that each side has a vested
interest in the outcome of their story, and enlist the help of independent sources
Stories should be placed in their proper context, especially in terms of statistical
occurrence, so that viewers can decide whether or not the alleged problem
presents an unreasonable risk. And corrections, retractions and rebuttals
should be given a weight in proportion to the original story, not buried or
Finally, videos should be identified as to their origin, and include a complete
accounting of the technical aspects of the test so as to prevent rigged
demonstrations from swaying public opinion and policy.
Until that happens, some of the mediaQthrough trial lawyers and public interest
groups'Qwill apply retroactive standards to product safety that chills the
innovation and creative engineering they claim to encourage. While doing
damage to the truth.
/// Ti Kan vorsprung durch technik
/// AMB Research Laboratories, Sunnyvale, CA. USA