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Toy Auto Recall: Stop the Spin

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When we first heard about the "Toy Auto Recall" we couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. Every major media outlet in the world had made it a lead story, and we surmised a toxic melamine style toy car disaster had been uncovered. Once we paid closer attention didn't we feel a bit silly. Oh, it was about a Toyota recall. Then we forgot all about it -- hey, our car wasn't being recalled.

We got all riled up yesterday when we heard that Yoda (of Star Wars fame) was appearing before a House Committee. Is there nothing sacred in a Congressperson's quest for a re-election sound bite? Will Big Bird be next? We're proud to report that this time it didn't take us long to recognize our error. We spent the day anxiously waiting Mr. Toyoda's hearing before Congress.

All this got us prepared for a lot of spin... these days, any controversy sets the spin machine working overtime. In our era of 24-hour news cycles, it's increasingly difficult to tell the difference between what's spin and what's real. "Real" is the word itself soon going to feel like some relic of quaint, long-ago age? Can something be both a manufactured sound bite and have substance?

In any case, Mr. Toyoda came to fall on his sword and apologize. We think an apology works if it is meant and sincere, if there is true empathy for the harm done to those hurt. (We must admit Tiger's drive to atonement this week left us feeling a little cold.) An apology works if it is -- here we go again -- real.

Big companies, athletes, movie stars, product marketers, glossy magazines, designers, politicians, all twist their pitches and manipulate the truths to sell themselves. We're all for free enterprise, getting a story out, making a product tempting -- but what happens when there's damage, deception, even injury involved? What of the more subtle "crazy making" little un-truths, like air-brushed photos of already too thin models, or fear-mongering stories of proposed "death panels"?

A personal anecdote may shed more light (or darkness?) on the issue:

Friends told us about an email message from their airline at 11PM the night before a 6AM flight: GREAT NEWS! screamed the subject line. They opened the email and saw the first line: "your flight has been cancelled." Wait. What's the great news about a flight being cancelled?

Scrolling down, they found some gibberish about how lucky they were not to be flying on a cancelled flight (that would have been truly a miracle) and to discover the "great news" that the airline had rebooked them three days later to their destination. How is it great news to learn hours before departure that your fully paid, not-refundable, week-long vacation is screwed up by three days?

We'll save our rage about airplane travel for another day. Let's just say with the perky jingles, the hidden costs, the announcements about how they're there to help (anyone assisted you putting your bag in the overhead lately?), the squashed in, squeezed tight, packed-in-sweat sardine you become, it's no wonder every passenger on every plane is mad. (Sorry -- guess we didn't do such a good job saving our rage for another day.)

The point is this; what we all want is REAL. What we want is civil. We are adults, and we need to hear the truth. We want people who make promises to be responsible for those promises. We want people to politely converse for the common good, not to cut corners to the last possible inch. We want to be treated humanely (not like a fish in a can).

The airline. The auto maker. The regulatory body protecting consumers. The advertisers who trade on a perceived image to sell their products. The politicians arguing along party lines instead of in pursuit of the public good. It's maddening for all of us.

How about a "due to mechanical difficulties your flight has been cancelled we are so sorry. Please call us and we will work with you to accommodate you in every way possible." (It was possible with a little creative thinking and aggressive telephoning for our friends to make the vacation.) Imagine if instead of trying to spin everything to some particular advantage people in Congress actually told the truth, and the people listening actually heard them, behaved like adults, and didn't punish them by voting them out of office?

How about more fashion shows like the ones in Madrid (Bravo! Elena Miro), where women with a dangerous Body Mass Index under 18 are prohibited from appearing? Imagine magazines showing images of women with real shapes, like we called for in our Velveteen Revolution article?

Imagine if, when the problems with Toyota surfaced, someone in Europe sounded the alarm bell to Toyota worldwide -- people are getting hurt!, if instead of chortling about the cost savings of a recall, someone acted with an abundance of caution and told consumers about the problem. How radical.

Well, given all this spin, given our culture in which everyone says one thing and means another, it's no wonder we believed that there was a massive Toy Auto Recall and Yoda was appearing before Congress. So, in the words of great Yoda himself, we ask:

Speak the truth anybody can?

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