If the goal of whoever leaked the contents of a presentation originally made internally at Toyota’s Washington, DC offices and turned over to congressional investigators was to drum up an intense level of negative press coverage against the company, they can sit back and say, “Mission accomplished.”
It seems to have started Sunday with David Shepardson of the Detroit News, who reported that the company had “bragged” about avoiding recall costs. Though he appears to have erroneously believed that he had the whole thing, Shepardson’s “evidence” consisted of only ten of that presentation’s sixteen (or possibly more) pages with a couple of references to “wins.” His report was picked and spread widely by the Associated Press’s Ken Thomas, who turned “bragged” into “boasted.”
Shepardson and Thomas don’t understand that the presence of (Toyota North American President Yoshi) Inaba as the most senior person at the meeting means that it was conducted under Japanese cultural and behavioral norms. That’s important, because in Japanese culture a person simply does not “brag” or “boast” about anything — ever. In fact, what a person regularly does in talking about himself or herself is generally expected to be self-deprecating, lest there be any conceivable inference of what others might perceive as unforgivably rude bragging.
Pursuant to the norms of such a meeting, a “win” in Japanese culture is not what Americans would think it is. It most assuredly does not mean “a victory over the government,” or “a successful evasion of regulations, safety be damned” or whatever Shepardson’s and Thomas’s fevered minds think they are seeing in the word. It simply means “favorable development” — nothing more, nothing less. The supporting facts that are included are thus emotion-free observations. There are no “brags” or “boasts” emanating from anywhere in these documents, which is to be expected, because anyone doing so would be taking on a substantial career risk.
That truth hasn’t stopped the bogus “brag” and “win” memes from spreading, with additional twists, as this small sample of a large universe of articles will demonstrate:
- CNNMoney.com — “Toyota exec. boasts of saving $100M avoiding recall”
- Freep.com — “Toyota boasted it saved $100 M with limited recall”
- Financial Times — “Toyota considers earlier recalls a ‘win’”
- St. Paul Pioneer Press — “Briefing: Toyota boasted about winning limited recall”
- Reuters via the Washington Post (“Toyota memo raises stakes for chief’s hearings”) — “A document claiming Toyota Motor Corp saved over $100 million by getting U.S. regulators to agree a cheap fix for unintended acceleration problems raised pressure on the company’s president as he arrived in Washington to prepare for a grilling from congress.”
- Los Angeles Times (“Toyota tried to cut costs on recalls”) — “Toyota Motor Corp. officials took credit for saving hundreds of millions of dollars by persuading federal regulators to limit or avoid safety recalls and rules, a company document released Sunday shows.”
- New York Post — “Toyota document hailed dodging ’07 recall fiasco”
In a separate post early this morning (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), I noted that Politico, working from a slightly different set of pages from the presentation, worked over the company for “deriding” the Obama administration’s for its “activism” and being “not industry-friendly.” First, there were no “derisive” terms in the portion of the presentation Politico cited, and second, anyone with a pulse knows that the company’s assertions are completely and obviously accurate.
Another developing meme is that the company had the nerve to “negotiate” with the government. How dare they? I guess it’s okay by establishment media standards to expect this administration to “negotiate” with any and every foreign government, no matter how implacable or hostile; but the idea of negotiating with an evil corporation cannot be abided.
Speaking of the government, wait until you see some of the background of the person who was the Transportation Department’s go-to spokesperson on Sunday.
Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.