Monday, February 22, 2010


It used to be that, if your company screwed up big time and had a serious image problem, your crisis management consultant would recommend a PR campaign that was somber, earnest, remorseful -- and resolutely apolitical. Toyota, we now learn, has a different strategy, which has two prongs: run the typical mea-culpa media campaign ... and also work the Glenn Beck crowd in order to discredit auto safety regulators:

Internal Toyota documents derided the Obama administration and Democratic Congress as "activist" and "not industry friendly," a revelation that comes days before the giant automaker's top executives testify on Capitol Hill amid a giant recall.

According to a presentation obtained under subpoena by the House Oversight and Government Relations committee, Toyota referred to the "changing political environment" as one of its main challenges and anticipated a "more challenging regulatory" environment under the Obama administration's purview....

Toyota has launched an image rehabilitation campaign on Capitol Hill, and its top lobbyist has sent e-mails to congressional aides in an attempt to shape its image amid this crisis.

Committee aides say the presentation, which was obtained by POLITICO, gives the clearest view into the minds of Toyota executives....

The “Activist Administration & Congress – increasing laws & regulations” is listed as one of “Toyota Challenges,” as is “Massive government support for Detroit automakers.” ...

The excerpt above is from a Politico story. The story presents this as a leak of documents that were not intended to be made public -- but it sure looks to me as if this is a deliberate "accidental" exposure of Toyota's strategy; the Drudge Report led with this story first thing this morning, and wingnut bloggers are acting in sync to spread the meme, writing posts with titles such as "Just How Radically Anti-business is the Obama Administration? Toyota May Have the Answer."

Maybe this is the work of an inept PR consultant who watches too much Fox News and is really misreading the national mood; maybe, in other words, dissatisfaction with the Obama White House and Democrats in general doesn't extend to skepticism about the regulation of products that can kill you and your kids. On the other hand, the size and monomaniacal bias of the Fox/tea party crowd, plus the clear effectiveness of the GOP noise machine, may mean that this can be an effective strategy in helping to get Toyota out of this mess.

We've already heard this line from Bush administration veteran Mitch Daniels, who's now the governor of Indiana, where Toyota has a couple of plants. Expect to hear it more and more on talk radio and Fox.

It will be a sign of the diseased nature of our political culture if these guys actually succeed in persuading a significant segment of the American population that efforts to hold Toyota accountable are a sinister plot by the socialist/fascists in the White House to help "their" auto companies. But Glenn Beck et al. may really have made us that paranoid and that stupid.

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