Media: Media Watch - Media looks for who’s to blame in tire-recall fallout

Bridgestone/Firestone’s recall on August 9 prompted an explosion of media attention into the causes and liabilities for the tire failures, which were cited in nearly 50 accidents this year. Tire underinflation was the cause suggested by most Firestone spokespeople, which shifted the blame onto the consumer.

Bridgestone/Firestone’s recall on August 9 prompted an explosion of media attention into the causes and liabilities for the tire failures, which were cited in nearly 50 accidents this year. Tire underinflation was the cause suggested by most Firestone spokespeople, which shifted the blame onto the consumer.

Bridgestone/Firestone’s recall on August 9 prompted an explosion of

media attention into the causes and liabilities for the tire failures,

which were cited in nearly 50 accidents this year. Tire underinflation

was the cause suggested by most Firestone spokespeople, which shifted

the blame onto the consumer.



CARMA International’s research of media coverage just prior to and

following the recall found most media reporting Firestone’s claim that

the tires were safe, blaming underinflation and heat for the blowouts.

’We believe that these tires, when properly inflated and maintained, are

among the safest on the road,’ said Bridgestone/Firestone EVP Gary

Crigger (The Washington Post, August 10).



Coral Gables attorney Ralph Patino, representing several families in

lawsuits involving the tires, lambasted Firestone: ’To... recall, but

not admit there’s a problem, that is a farce. Let’s not admit there’s a

defect. Let’s blame it on the consumer’ (Sun-Sentinel, August 10).



Reports of Ford’s removal of Firestone tires from Explorers in many

countries outside the US increased criticism from consumer safety groups

that the companies knew of the problem long ago. Ford said the tire

problems in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Venezuela were due to

off-road driving and underinflation.



Journalists did recognize that the companies are now doing everything

possible to replace recalled tires. Firestone spokespeople were often

quoted on their commitment to replace the tires, even if it meant going

to the competition. ’No matter how many tires, no matter how many miles,

we will replace them with new tires,’ said Crigger (Newsday, August

10).



Many reports focused on pending legal difficulties and regulatory

challenges facing Firestone and Ford, possibly explaining their

reluctance to accept liability for the tire failures. Many journalists

interviewed families who had been involved in crashes, and their lawyers

see the recall as an admission of guilt. ’Any time a manufacturer

initiates a recall, it becomes an admission of liability,’ said Sean

Kane, president of Strategic Safety (Los Angeles Times, August 10).



Reports also noted that Sears and others were taking Firestone lines off

shelves, usually in the context of discussing consumer dissatisfaction

with execution of the recall and reluctance to accept the brand as a

whole.



Consumers described waiting in long lines for appointments, and

Firestone retailers were quoted as being uninformed as to how to handle

the demand.



Said one customer, ’I checked my tires, and you can see the lines around

them where they’re beginning to separate. They said the earliest they

could give me was August 29’ (Orlando Sentinel, August 10).



While Firestone was certainly in the middle of media frenzy, the high

percentage of Ford Explorers donning the tires also pulled the automaker

into the fray. ’This recall damages two brands at the same time,’ said

image consultant Clive Chajet (Wall Street Journal, August 10). As

officials tried to find the cause of the blowouts, the media seemed to

search for a place to lay blame, leaving both companies little recourse

but to defend past decisions and announce plans to solve the

problem.





Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found

at www.carma.com.



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