Thursday, April 3, 2014
After appearing before a House panel on Tuesday, General Motors CEO Mary Barra appeared before a Senate Commerce Committee subcommittee Wednesday to discuss GM’s handling of a faulty ignition switch in some of its vehicles which has been linked to the deaths of 13 people. Coverage of Barra’s Senate testimony is much lighter than that of her House testimony. Only two of the three networks covered it Wednesday evening and there is less print coverage this morning. Generally, the coverage portrays the Senate hearing as more harsh than the House hearing, with many reports noting that senators accused GM of covering up the defect and were skeptical of Barra’s claims that GM’s culture has changed from that of the “old GM.”The CBS Evening News (4/2, story 4, 3:15, Pelley, 5.58M) reported that senators accused GM “of covering up a defect that has killed at least 13 people.” CBS (Glor) added that Barra faced “many questions,” including why “no one has been dismissed over the delayed recall.” CBS also noted that while Barra “says the recalled vehicles are still safe to drive as long as drivers use the key only,” on Friday, a Federal judge in Texas “will hear a request that all the recalled vehicles be parked immediately.”
NBC Nightly News (4/2, story 4, 2:35, Williams, 7.86M) reported that Barra “came under withering attack for the company’s failure to order a recall over a decade ago.” In addition, GM was “accused of criminal behavior by US senators, many of them former prosecutors.” NBC (Costello) added that Barra “still could not answer basic questions about GM policies and a decade delay in ordering an ignition switch recall.” NBC added that a “smoking gun” may be an “internal GM document obtained by NBC News authorizing a redesign to the defective part of the ignition switch for new cars in 2006.” In addition, “a House investigation has turned up more internal GM documents that cited high costs as a reason for not ordering fixes way back in 2005.” According to NBC, the Justice Department “has launched its own criminal investigation” into the matter.
The New York Times (4/3, Vlasic, Wald, Subscription Publication, 9.65M) reports that the tone of the Senate hearing was “much harsher” as “senators more aggressively questioned Ms. Barra’s contention that the cars are safe to drive and doubted her statement that the company had moved from a culture of cost-cutting to one of safety and a focus on the consumer.” Barra “frequently simply sat and listened as the senators scolded her and the company.” She “frequently drew the ire of the senators when she repeatedly did not answer questions, saying either that she did not know or noting that an internal investigation was underway.” The panel also heard testimony from acting NHTSA administrator David J. Friedman and the Transportation Department’s inspector general, Calvin L. Scovel III.
The Wall Street Journal (4/3, Hughes, Bennett, Subscription Publication, 5.51M) reports that as Barra sought to distance GM from the “old GM,” she was met with harsh attacks from senators who were clearly skeptical about how different the current company is from the one that developed the faulty cars. The Journal notes that Sen. Richard Blumenthal told Barra that if she were serious about breaking with the “culture” of the old GM, she would agree to compensate those victims whose claims came before GM’s bankruptcy and warn owners of cars with potential faulty ignition switches that “they should not drive them until they are fixed – because they are unsafe.”
McClatchy (4/3, Gordon, Subscription Publication, 23K) reports that Barra “withstood a barrage of questions and accusations” from senators “demanding to know how the automaker could have failed to fix the ignition switch for more than a decade.” Some “voiced skepticism about Barra’s candor in denying that she knew about the problem until Jan. 31 and in promising that the new GM, the one bailed out by taxpayers in 2009, ‘will do what’s right.’”
Reuters (4/3, Klayman, Beech) also describes Barra as under attack during the hearing in which senators accused GM of “criminal” behavior and “a culture of cover-up.”
A separate story in the New York Times (4/3, Abrams, Ivory, Subscription Publication, 9.65M) reports that for the families of people killed in accidents involving the recalled GM cars, what is “most upsetting” is “the fact that G.M. won’t tell them what they most want to know.” GM has “refused to disclose publicly the list of the confirmed victims,” and the “enduring mystery has left scores of grieving families playing a guessing game.” The families and their attorneys “are running up against a technological reality beyond G.M.’s narrow definition of victims: Because many of the cars and their so-called black boxes were damaged or destroyed, there may not be enough evidence left from the crashes to prove what happened.”Customers suing for “park-it” order on GM cars. Bloomberg News (4/3, Sandler, Calkins, 2.76M) reports that US District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos will “consider forcing the company to adopt what the customers call a ‘fail-safe solution’ to prevent further accidents while the switches are replaced.” Bloomberg reports that the “park-it” order was submitted along with a class-action lawsuit seeking $10 billion from GM, claiming that the cars are “too dangerous to drive.”