A strategically timed front page feature in the Dec. 3 edition of the New York Times pointed a finger at the trucking industry, the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress for causing unnecessary deaths on our highways.
To say this piece is slanted would be an understatement. It could have been ghost-written by Joan Claybrook, head of Public Citizen. Both, as most people know, are harsh critics of the industry.
The story followed the standard truck-bashing formula: Start with a tragic truck-at-fault crash (this one involved the death of a 62-year-old woman and a rookie truck driver). Bring in the contention that it might not have happened if safety regulations were stronger. Then blame someone (guess who?) for not making them stronger.
In this case, the reporter said regulators have rejected stricter truck driver hours rules "after intense lobbying" by trucking, that the Bush administration has loosened safety standards, and that its actions have gone unchecked by Congress.
The reporter described trucking as "America's most treacherous industry, as measured by overall deaths and injuries from truck accidents." But he failed to present supporting data.
Adding insult to injury, the Times followed up a few days later with an editorial attacking trucks entitled "Making the Highways Less Safe."
Several trucking groups and individuals wrote the Times in rebuttal. American Trucking Associations President Bill Graves said: "The Times' fundamental premise that trucking rules have been 'eased' is wrong. The safety rules governing trucking were toughened and strengthened under the Bush administration, as they have been under Republicans and Democrats alike since economic deregulation in 1980."
ATA officials supplied the Times reporter, Stephen Labaton, with its safety agenda and goals, but none of them appeared in the story. Instead, Labaton wrote of ATA's power in the White House, insinuating that it has a chokehold on safety progress.
The paper also drew the ire of the Department of Transportation. "In their frenzy to find fault, the New York Times has cherry-picked data, rewritten history, and incorrectly reported the most basic facts," wrote Brian Turmail, DOT director of communications. "The New York Times needs to admit its errors and set the record straight."
We agree, but as of this writing, it hasn't. Don't hold your breath.
The story and editorial ran just as the courts were due to review truck driver hours of service rules. Considering that timing, and the writer's generous use of materials and claims from the anti-truck crowd, we wonder if this has become an agenda for the esteemed Times. Or maybe it was just a lousy job by a naïve reporter.
We truly hope it was the latter. The Times should be above publishing diatribes that facts don't support.
Item of interest: Late last month, Canada introduced its new hours of service rules. They are nearly identical to ours, and in the few instances where different, are less restrictive.
Do you suppose the Times will blame Bush, ATA and Republicans everywhere for that, too.
E-mail Deb Whistler at email@example.com