Thursday, January 20, 2011


A ridiculous story from the Web site of D.C. talk radio station WMAL:

Michelle Obama's 'Get Moving' Program Linked to Pedestrian Deaths

The Governors Highway Safety Association says pedestrian deaths increased in the first half of 2010 and the First Lady's program to get Americans to be more active could be partly responsible.

Governors Highway Safety Administration spokesman Jonathan Adkins told 630 WMAL that Michelle Obama is "trying to get us to walk to work and exercise a little bit more. While that's good, it also increases our exposure to risk."

After four straight years of steady declines, pedestrian deaths were up during the first six months of 2010, the latest figures available to be studied.

Other factors include distracted drivers, distracted pedestrians and what Adkins calls "aggressive pedestrians." ...

OK, let's take a deep breath.

The increase? A straight news story describes it as slight:

A slight increase in pedestrian traffic deaths in the first six months of 2010 has raised concerns among safety advocates, who fear reversal of a four-year decline in such fatalities.

The Governors Highway Safety Association reported today that pedestrian fatalities increased by 0.4 percent in the first half of last year, compared with the same period in 2009. This follows a 4-year stretch during which fatalities fell from 4,892 to 4,091, an average decrease of 200 per year....

If I'm doing the math right, we're talking about 16 more deaths a year -- presumably about 8 in the six-month period studied. (UPDATE: Actually 7.)

So why is this being (partly) blamed on Michelle? Well, right-wingers appear to be taking advantage of spin from the Governors Highway Safety Association -- spin that the apparently apolitical association seems to have cooked up to make the story intriguing in a non-partisan way, but that any idiot who pays attention to the news should have recognized as red meat for the gotcha!-addicts of the right. According to the D.C. news site, another spokesperson for the association was also feeding this spin to a right-leaning news source:

This morning reporter Scott McCabe had a story in the [Washington] Examiner about the nationwide uptick in pedestrian traffic fatalities during the first half of last year. ... the story's lede lobs a stunning and ... specific allegation: "First lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to get people to exercise outdoors might be a factor" in the increase in deaths, it reads.

That's a rather provocative charge right there. And to whom is it attributed? To the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), a nonprofit that represents state highway safety offices, and more specifically to the group's executive director, Barbara Harsha: “the 'get moving' movement, led by Obama's 'Let's Move' campaign to eliminate childhood obesity, could be to blame, Harsha told The Washington Examiner."

Well, the folks at GHSA were awfully surprised when they read this morning's paper. In fact, Harsha tells us, she didn't tell the
Examiner that at all. "It's ridiculous," she says. According to Harsha, the First Lady's fitness campaign never even came up in her discussion with McCabe....

But as McCabe points out to us, the Obama nugget came from the GHSA's pitch to him for the story, which he passed along: "Why the increase? We don't really know but speculate that it could be a couple factors. One is the possible increase in distracted pedestrians and distracted drivers. We've been focusing on the drivers, but perhaps we need to focus some attention on distracted walkers! Additionally, Mrs. Obama and others have been bringing attention to 'get moving' programs, so perhaps pedestrian exposure has increased." ...

I suppose McCabe, the Examiner reporter, could have passed along a fake pitch from the GHSA -- but it seems unlikely when two GHSA-ites are quoted in two separate stories mentioning Michelle.

Either the GHSA is deliberately trying to help the right-wing media find one more little item for its daily demonization campaign or the folks at the GHSA are really, really naive about the willingness of the right-wing media to make propaganda out of anything. Either way, GHSA, please just stop it.

My theories about the uptick in pedestrian fatalities? Maybe the problem is our ever-increasing obsession with using our portable devices whenever humanly possible. And, well, I blame the recession: And maybe more people are out walking when they used to be working, literally pounding the pavement because they're unemployed. And perhaps a lot of people who aren't used to walking are doing a lot more of it because they need to get to the bus stop now that they can't afford the car payments anymore. Just some guesses.

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