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Ford & Detroit News Still Look Inept After White House Incident
Apr 11, 2007 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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One of the more puzzling news stories (see our previous April 8 posting­calcars-news/­739.html) -- that Pres Bush and Vice Pres. Cheney were saved from a hydrogen explosion -- is now explained: CEO Alan Mulally thought the media would understand he was having fun. See the sheepish Detroit News story below.

No one got the joke. At this late date, the Washington Post just reported seriously (it seems) that Mulally merited his much-criticized $28M in four months salary by his quick thinking­wp-dyn/­content/­article/­2007/­04/­10/­AR2007041001716.html.

Why a seasoned business leader (Boeing's former CEO) would have dug himself into this hole remains a mystery. To appreciate the scope of this debacle: searching at Google for "Bush Mulally Hydrogen" returns 477 news stories, 416 blog links and 33,400 web links.

On balance, it looks like the buzz focused on hydrogen hazards -- and may have helped plug-in hybrids gain a bit more awareness. But at no stage in this story did Ford look good! Nor did all those who didn't check out the video before spreading the story.....

Mulally's Bush tale ignites blog mania David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau Wednesday, April 11, 2007­apps/­pbcs.dll/­article?AID=/­20070411/­AUTO01/­704110406/­1013/­BIZ04

CAPTION: Alan Mulally jokingly said he prevented the president from plugging an electrical cord into the hydrogen tank of a hybrid. See full image

  • Video of the Bush/Mulally plug-in, from MSNBC [Keith Olbermann report]­watch?v=hrz5YV9CoDE
  • WASHINGTON -- In the age of YouTube, the Drudge Report and the blogosphere, even a story told for laughs can spin out of control.

    No one knows that better than Ford Motor Co. President and CEO Alan Mulally.

    Mulally told a crowd of journalists at the New York auto show last Wednesday that he stepped in to prevent President Bush from possibly plugging an electrical cord into the hydrogen tank of Ford's hydrogen-electric plug-in hybrid at the White House on March 28.

    "I just thought, 'Oh my goodness!' So, I started walking faster, and the president walked faster and he got to the cord before I did. I violated all the protocols. I touched the president. I grabbed his arm and I moved him up to the front," Mulally said. "I wanted the president to make sure he plugged into the electricity, not into the hydrogen," he said to roars of laughter.

    Within hours, the anecdote was picked up by

    The Detroit News ran a three-paragraph account of Mulally's comments Saturday in the Business Insider column, a weekly compilation of humorous items about the business world. "Credit Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally with saving the leader of the free world from self-immolation," The News item began.

    Soon afterward, hundreds of blogs wrote about the incident, many linking to the item on The News Web site, which has received more than 250,000 hits.

    In the blogosphere, the story became fodder for humorists, conspiracy theorists, hydrogen haters and liberals who like to portray Bush as a bumbling buffoon.

    Ford said Tuesday that all the hubbub was started by what was intended as a joke.

    Bush never in any danger

    Mulally had seen a parody of the White House event on ABC-TV's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" that showed Bush plugging the cord into the vehicle and blowing up.

    Ford spokesman Tom Hoyt said Mulally thought it was funny and showed it a couple of times in internal meetings before the auto show appearance.

    So when Mulally told the story in New York, he picked up on the humor of Kimmel's parody and embellished the story a bit. While Mulally did lead Bush over to the vehicle, the president was never in danger and Mulally didn't mean to imply otherwise, Hoyt said. "He did not think it would be taken seriously," Hoyt said.

    But bloggers and others had a field day with the item.

    The partisan Web site reported the incident under the headline "Bush Nearly Turned a Hydrogen Car into the Hindenberg."

    The popular gossip blog Wonkette posted this headline: "George W. Bush Makes His Own Car Bomb." The Huffington Post declared: "Bush Almost Blows Himself Up."

    Some cracked that Mulally should not have intervened to save the president. Others focused on more technical discussions of whether inserting a live power cord into a hydrogen fuel tank would, in fact, result in an explosion. (Not likely, experts say. The electrical plug would not have fit into the hydrogen fuel port.)

    Seemingly, no one was spared in the media maelstrom.

    On Monday night, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, host of Countdown, showed the videotape of the event and concluded Mulally's account bore little resemblance to what occurred.

    "As you can see from this video, almost nothing from that account seems to be correct," Olbermann said in a tongue-in-cheek segment. "Any drama in the moment appears to have been squarely in Mr. Mulally's mind."

    The Olbermann segment can be viewed on MSNBC's Web site and­watch?v=hrz5YV9CoDE

    The White House, which has seen its share of blog-fueled imbroglios, had little to say Tuesday. "My understanding is the Ford Motor Company has clarified this and there is no need to say anything else," White House spokesman Alex Conant said Tuesday.

    Ford apologizes

    Ford officials spoke with White House officials Tuesday and apologized for the brouhaha. They emphasized that Mulally wasn't trying to make fun of the president.

    Other mainstream outlets weighed in this week, including radio stations. The London-based Financial Times newspaper wrote a straightforward account. "U.S. President George W. Bush's critics should count their blessings. Dick Cheney, vice president, might have taken up residence in the White House by now were it not for some quick thinking by Alan Mulally," the paper wrote.

    Motor Trend Detroit Editor Todd Lassa chided The Detroit News and bloggers in a Tuesday online editorial for not checking the videotape against Mulally's account before publishing stories.

    "The fact is that anyone who has stayed awake through a college journalism class knows something about looking at evidence, reporting, and weeding out what is not fact," he wrote.

    In an e-mail to The News, Lassa said: "He said what he said, and I have the recording to prove it But I think we all need to back off this blogmania a bit, and take the time to double-check the facts."

    Richard Hanley, assistant professor of interactive communication and graduate director of journalism at Quinnipiac University, said once news proliferates through the Internet, "It's like a joke that goes around the world. It shows the absurdity and self-inflated importance of blogs that often undermines serious discussion of issues."

    You can reach David Shepardson at (202) 662-8735 or dshepardson@....

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