The obituary of a former journalist with an unusual name yesterday tickled my memory.
This image from the Truck Safety Coalition website is an example of the type of message in Gavzer's controversial article.
But I didn't remember Bernard Gavzer, a former Associated Press features writer and Emmy-award-winning TV producer, for his in-depth stories covering the Kennedy or Martin Luther King assassinations. I remembered him for a hatchet job he did on the trucking industry back in 1997.
In his later years, Gavzer, who died this week at age 90, was a columnist for Parade
magazine, the weekly tabloid-style magazine, which is inserted in many major Sunday newspapers. As then-HDT
Editorial Director Doug Condra tells the story in an August 1997 editorial, Gavzer spent several days mingling with attendees at the Truckload Carriers Association annual meeting. When the resulting story, "Feel Safe?" Came out in July, mouths dropped.
As Doug wrote, "With TCA's blessing, Gavzer spoke at length with drivers who were being honored for safe performances, and with fleet executives. All were led to believe the resulting story would be a straightforward, unbiased story on trucking.
"As it turned out, they wasted their time, and Gavzer wasted Parade's
"His story broke in late July, and not one of those drivers or executives was even mentioned. Instead, top billing went to our old friend Joan Claybrook of Citizens for Reliable And Safe Highways (CRASH), and other anti-truck spokespeople.
"Gavzer fell hook, line and sinker for Claybrook, who blamed 13 deaths a day on trucks and said, 'If this were the airline industry, it would be grounded.'...
"The bottom line: Highway funding is coming up in Congress, and CRASH and its friends were able to manipulate another journalist into bashing trucks."
The whole industry was up in arms over the article. Our competitors over at Fleet Owner
magazine wrote, "The piece was so filled with distortions, half truths, and innuendoes that it amounted to character assassination for the 9 million people employed by trucking companies who work hard every day to deliver freight -- in some cases even the very Parade
magazine that smeared their reputation."
There was a letter-writing campaign, with letters to the editor published in papers around the country that carried the Sunday Parade.
The trucking industry disagrees on many things, but this is one on which we were pretty united.
Fast forward, today we don't have the enmity we did then between truck and rail; intermodal transportation greatly enhances the bottom line of many trucking companies, and CSX has even advertised in HDT for carrier partners. (Although there still are some hard feelings; some readers felt we should have refused CSX's advertising.)
CRASH is still around, these days partnered up with Parents Against Tired Truckers to form The Truck Safety Coalition; they lobby for mandatory electronic logs and against bigger trucks, keep hours of service regulations tied up in court, and last year amazed many in the industry by honoring Schneider safety guru Don Osterberg.
As for Gavzer, he was still writing about trucks for Parade
as late as 2005. The article, titled "Do Trucks Make You Nervous?" appeared in the Oct. 30 edition. The story - which was limited to a single page, with an infographic in a column on a second page devoted to "How to Share the Road" - didn't include the mistruths and fact-bending its predecessor did. One can hope he learned something about the industry in the intervening years and did not die believing he was unsafe sharing the road with trucks.