Toyota Under Fire for Planned Smear of Sticky Gas Pedal Critics
May 15, 2010
(ChattahBox)—Congressional lawmakers are howling over the news that Toyota had plans in the works to publicly discredit critics of the company testifying before a House panel. Although Toyota says it never made use of the negative material created by a pollster and PR firm, lawmakers are demanding the beleaguered automaker turn over all documents relating to the campaign.
The negative media campaign was created primarily to debunk congressional testimony given by Sean Kane, a Massachusetts safety consultant and David Gilbert, an auto technology professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
Toyota accelerator problems were attributed to faulty electronics by the two experts; a conclusion Toyota furiously tried to debunk leading up to the safety-related recall of millions of its vehicles.
Toyota retained the services of Washington pollster Joel Benenson, who also provides polling numbers for the White House. And the automaker also hired New York public relations firm Robinson, Lerer & Montgomery.
Toyota insists it did nothing out of the ordinary, as major corporations and politicians frequently hire pollsters:
“In a statement Friday, Toyota said Gilbert and Kane had made “assertions” that had “created unwarranted consumer concern.” “Toyota, like most organizations, conducts regular public opinion research,” the company said, adding that Benenson had “tested for the widest range of potential messages to measure effectiveness.”‘
Still, Congressional lawmakers on the investigatory panel are taking issue with a possible campaign to discredit witnesses testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives. A committee spokesman, said lawmakers “would take very seriously any effort to malign or intimidate witnesses who cooperate with our investigations.”
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House panel, sent a letter to Toyota’s president demanding “all documents” about the polling conducted.