crash tests showed that the alleged safety problems with
sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) may have been exaggerated. For the
tests, a pickup truck, a minivan, an SUV, and a large sedan each
crashed into the side of a Honda Accord.
As reporter Warren Brown
noted in the June 3 Washington Post, the tests "indicated
that the injury rate for occupants of a mid-size car was not
significantly different whether a light truck - sport-utility
vehicle, pickup truck or minivan - or a large sedan crashed into it.
But the tests did show that dummies in the light trucks and the
large car fared better than the dummies in the smaller mid-size car,
reflecting real-world experience."
According to USA Today's
Jayne O'Donnell and James R. Healy, "All the vehicles caused serious
chest injuries to the Accord driver, but none caused the severe or
critical injuries most likely to be life-threatening."
Most of their network
counterparts didn't see it this way, though. Only NBC Nightly
News reported the story in the same terms as the Post and
USA Today did. NBC's Robert Hager reported that "when the
dust settles, and the glass and metal too, [it's] hard to prove what
the government says statistics show - that when a big pickup, sport
utility, or van hits a car it's much more dangerous than getting hit
by a car."
But ABC, CBS, and CNN took
the tests as another opportunity to bash SUVs. (For a look at
previous anti-SUV reporting, see the February 1998 MediaNomics.)
According to ABC
correspondent Lisa Stark, on the June 2 World News Tonight,
"The government crash test confirmed what many drivers have long
suspected: when hit from the side, cars are no match for
sport-utility vehicles." Dan Rather, on that night's CBS Evening
News, called the tests "new evidence of how dangerous SUVs can
be." And CNN's Joie Chen, on The World Today, ominously
warned that "new government crash test results confirm what many had
already feared: passengers in cars risk injury or death when they
are hit on the side by light trucks and sport-utility vehicles."
None of these networks
noted the obvious: that being on the receiving end of a side-impact
crash is just not a good place to be, whether one is hit by a car or
an SUV. And the networks are still omitting from their stories the
argument that the bigger safety problem on the road is unsafe small
cars, not SUVs or light trucks, and that federal fuel-economy
standards exacerbate this problem by forcing smaller cars onto the
Apparently, the networks
will be satisfied only when those in SUVs and light trucks die in
the same numbers as those in small cars, even in side-impact