Is It Wise For Toyota PR To Attack ABC News Segment?

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As TVNewser reports, Toyota yesterday launched a PR blitz aimed squarely at ABC News.

“ABC News and investigative reporter Brian Ross have been delivering the most prominent television reports on Toyota’s recent electronic acceleration system issues,” writes TVNewser’s Kevin Allocca.

Toyota issued a press release titled, “Comprehensive Analysis Raises Concerns About Gilbert Congressional Testimony, ABC News Segment.”

Professor David Gilbert of Southern Illinois University appeared in the ABC News segment on Feb. 22 that led to widespread awareness of issues with Toyota cars.

In addition, the company held a news conference at their Torrance, Calif., U.S. headquarters, where company officials, an independent consultant and a Stanford University engineer analyzed Gilbert’s experiment and concluded: “No way, no how could this happen in the real world on its own,” reports The Washington Post.

We asked several crisis PR professionals what they thought of the strategy.

“The company has a right and an obligation to defend itself against irresponsible, inaccurate and unfair reporting,” said said Chris Gidez, US Director of Risk Management and Crisis Communication at Hill & Knowlton.

“…this isn’t a broad sweep at all media; simply one reporter…one segment where the network has acknowledged it manipulated its video; and a so-called expert who is affiliated with an organization funded by lawyers with a vested interest in securing financial settlements from the company. Not only is Toyota within its rights to do this, it would be a shame if it did not challenge this reporting.”

Drew Kerr, President of Four Corners Communications, said that while Toyota has been “humble and apologetic regarding its recalls,” the ABC News report from Brian Ross, “seems to have employed questionable and misleading journalistic tactics, and he certainly has a stained history full of them.”

Another PR executive we spoke with, who declined to be named, said, “They [Toyota] have a villain, which they didn’t have before.”

That being said, Toyota obviously faces a multitude of other issues besides the ABC News segment. Just this morning, the “Today” show and many other media outlets featured footage of a Toyota Prius that accelerated “out of control” in Los Angeles, and had to be stopped with the help of a California Highway Patrol officer.