Who’s Lying – An Anonymous NHTSA Employee or The WSJ?

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Last week, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that the early results of the NHTSA investigation into “runaway” Toyotas found that the problem was driver error. This wasn’t shocking information – we’ve been saying that driver error is the cause of these incidents for months.

However, this story has taken an interesting turn. An anonymous source at the Department of Transportation (the branch of the government that oversees NHSTA) told Just-Auto.com last week that the story in the WSJ was planted by Toyota.

Mike Ramsey, the reporter at the WSJ, has denied this allegation and said that he viewed NHTSA data when making his report. Toyota has denied these allegations as well.

The facts are that either:

  1. An anonymous NHTSA employee incorrectly claimed that Toyota planted a story, or
  2. A reporter at The Wall Street Journal did someone at Toyota a favor and ran a story that was completely false

The question is, who’s lying?

Congress Gets Involved

Planting a story is a pretty serious allegation – especially when the story is about a pending federal investigation – and congressman Joe Barton (R-TX)* has gotten involved. He had his staff contact NHTSA regarding this issue as soon as these allegations were made. According to Barton’s office, his staff was told by NHTSA that, contrary to the WSJ report, NHTSA did not have any accident data to share.

Representative Joe Barton of Texas

Texas Republican Representative Joe Barton

*Joe Barton is recently famous for accusing the White House of “shaking down” British Petroluem, and seems like a friend to big business.

To be clear: Last week, someone at NHTSA told a congressional aide that they didn’t have any Toyota black-box crash data. This is shocking considering that NHTSA has had the necessary tools to recover Toyota vehicle crash data since April, 2010, and that they have been tasked with this investigation since that time.

Barton – concerned by either a lack of progress at NHTSA or a Toyota’s effort to subvert a federal investigation – has sent a letter to NHTSA asking (in so many words) the following questions:

  1. Have you or have you not gathered accident data from crashed Toyota vehicles?
  2. If not, why didn’t you request an immediate retraction from The Wall Street Journal when they made a report about your data?
  3. If you have gathered data, why did you lie to my staff?
  4. When are you going to finish this investigation?

Hopefully, we’ll hear answers to these questions in the next few days. Either way, NHTSA is on the hot seat:

  • If NHTSA doesn’t have data, they may be accused of negligence. After all, NHSTA has had the tools to gather data for nearly 4 months – what’s the hold up?
  • If NHTSA does have data, why lie about it to a congressman, and why accuse the WSJ of false reporting?

Who Benefits From A Lie

Let’s assume for a moment that an anonymous NHTSA employee wrongly accused Toyota of planting a story – why would they do so? How could NHTSA benefit from discrediting this story? A possible answer might be that, after all the hysteria, allegations, and blustering talk of “holding Toyota’s feet to the fire,” NHTSA is concerned about looking politically influenced.

NHTSA might also have tried to undermine the WSJ story in order to avoid looking incompetent. If NHTSA’s investigation ultimately concluded there were no problems with Toyota throttles, it would make many of their actions over the last year look misguided and inappropriate.

On the other hand, while it’s easy to see why Toyota would want to plant this story, why would The Wall Street Journal allow themselves to be manipulated? Ad revenue is a possibility of course, but it’s hard to imagine the Journal risking their reputation for a few extra bucks.

In any case, someone is lying – either at NHTSA or the WSJ.

Who do you think it is?

Filed Under: Auto News


RSSComments (15)

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  1. Joe says:

    Let’s see WSJ or this administration?? Huh… I take this administration as the liar every time. And oh by the way, my Tundra has not run away yet, but I had a dog one time that used to do some of that.

  2. Mickey says:

    I think NHTSA has more to lose now because of the leaked story. I do believe that NHTSA found out through the black box data that they have been barking up the wrong tree and made Toyota a scapegoat. You remember Lahood’s famous words anyone owning a Toyota should park it. Well I think Mr. Lahood is fixing to park it too.

  3. rich says:

    Let’s look at some facts. The data is there and the data has to be made available to NHTSA upon their request. That’s law which is available for your reading pleasure in the appropriate CFR. At this point, NHTSA has to explain why they didn’t request the info or why they lied about the info. NHTSA is in a bad position and this could be the beginning of the end for the boss. Another thing, if any of the data from toyota proved the system malfunctioned you can bet NHTSA would be all over it.

  4. Winghunter says:

    I believe when the government has already proven it lost money trying to run a whorehouse in Nevada, it would be no surprise they couldn’t complete an investigation with data just waiting to be compiled.

    Therefore, your guess is as good as mine as to who is lying but, I hope whoever is lying gets roasted on a spit.

  5. Danny says:

    while both options are possible we also have to consider (in addition to your 2 facts) that someone at nhtsa is covering their own arse for letting the cat out of the bag or someone at the WSJ seriously misinterpreted (un-intentionally) some information.
    My take is that the WSJ had good sources. The WSJ has never been known for “breaking” news or “shock” headlines. Come on’, the WSJ is the boringest media outlet ever, next to Barron’s. Furthermore with their reputation in the financial world, i feel that “sensationalism” journalism is beneath them. Most of their writers are more geared toward accounting, finance, merger/aqusition law and so forth and you don’t start writing for them without paying your dues. I can’t see a seasoned journalist who has busted their butt to work for the creme of the crop financial publication risk everything to purposely write a ficticious article. He or she still could have been dupped but why would Toyota risk anything when we all know that sooner or later, the report will be made publicly known. Why risk it only to be dusted off again when the real report comes (if the report is negative). What’s really bad is, when the real report comes out, if negative, the toyota loyalist will say that there was a political conspiricy and if it was positive, the Toyota haters will say that Toyota cheated or something stupid like that.
    Now, lets be real. If nhtsa had found anything, we would have already been chastised. They would have said that X amount SUA have been verified and that their investigation was continueing to determine the true scope of the defect.
    But in the end, whether or not a true defect is found, the nhtsa will find something they can use to save face. This is almost universally true for every company, agency or human.
    Just my 2 cent.

  6. Jason says:

    Joe – Good one about the dog.

    Mickey – I’m with you – to me this seems incredibly political. Of course, that could be my own personal bias.

    rich – What you’ve said is why I tend to think NHTSA hasn’t found anything. It’s been entirely too easy for congress and NHTSA to bash Toyota – if they had any data at all, they would keep bashing.

    Winghunter – I suppose it IS possible that NHTSA simply hasn’t done anything for four months…but I don’t want to believe they’re that incompetent.

    danny – As always, you make some great points. There are more than two possibilities, and it could be that the WSJ was tricked somehow. However, I think it’s more than fair to say that the likelihood of the WSJ falsifying a report is incredibly low.

    I agree that NHTSA would have already leaked anti-Toyota data if they had it, and I agree that they would try and keep things quiet if it turned out that Toyota was vindicated.

    To all – It seems that, as far as this website goes, we’re all in agreement: NHTSA is lying. Here’s to hoping that someone corrects that quickly.

  7. Mickey says:

    Hexmate you have an issue? Go 20 yards to your left. Yes that dent in the earth. It’s your hole so go back and crawl in it. You wasn’t suppose to come out until Xmas.

  8. TXTee says:

    LOL Good one, Mickey. All corporations lie just like all people lie. End of story. I just think it’s atrocious that they can slander Toyota without proof and then when the conclusion comes back it’s not a problem, nobody, I mean NOBODY, hears anything about it.

  9. Jason says:

    Mickey – Zing!

    TXTee – Agreed. It’s a rotten reality of the media cycle.

  10. bob beswick says:

    why would wall street journal lie

    why would wall street journal lie? nhsta has 85 billion reason to lie….sad fact is most news outlets fell for false info…at end of day the news awards will be given to the ones breaking the true stories….over time true facts come out and the brian jones of the world properly end in discrase….and organizations giving him awards are questioned

  11. Jason says:

    bob – Very true. The LA Times “reporters” who claimed that Toyota’s throttles were broken were nominated for an award, yet this report (if true) would seem to show they were completely and totally wrong.

    It sucks that NHTSA can’t just tell us if the data exists or not…seems like our government’s safety organization should be above all this political crap.

    Thanks for commenting.

  12. Anonymous says:

    A) NHTSA
    B) WSJ
    C) Toyota

    I’ll take C, Toyota for $500 Alex.


    Textee – Proof? Looks like Toyota’s own techs had proof, but weren’t taken seriously.

  13. Mickey says:

    I’ll take “I” Alex for Anonymous being an “IDIOT”. Anonymous your hole is 20 yards to the right. You need not reply.

  14. Justin says:

    And the evidence of a cover up and failure to notify the NHTSA continues.

    “New court filings accuse Toyota of secretly repurchasing vehicles whose owners reported unintended acceleration and forcing owners to sign confidentiality agreements promising not to discuss their complaints.”

    “In addition, attorneys representing thousands of Toyota owners charged that the automaker’s technicians were able to replicate the sudden acceleration and failed to notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the problem.”


    • Jason says:

      Justin – Toyota’s reply was that they purchased those vehicles for study.

      I suppose it’s possible they tried to hide the fact that the mentioned vehicles had problems, but the cat is out of the bag. If they could actually find a software problem, I think they might be relieved. Right now, there’s no “proof” that anything has been fixed…all they can do is point to dozens of studies and investigations that haven’t found a thing. They might be better off in the long run if they could actually produce a replicable problem.

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