COMMENTS: Rollovers, Skids & Crashes

A very slow news day saw no unanimity among the networks as to what should make headlines. So CBS and NBC both opted for unshared military-minded Exclusive scoops: NBC on the Pentagon's plans to put 12,000 National Guardsmen on alert for call-up to active duty; CBS on NATO's spring offensive against Taliban guerrillas in central Afghanistan. There was only one story that warranted coverage by a reporter on all three newscasts. Federal regulators gave a publicity boost to the New York International Automobile Show by picking it as the site to announce new car safety rules. The mandate for Electronic Stability Controls was ABC's lead and the Story of the Day.

The ECS system is a "step-up" from anti-lock brake technology, as CBS' Nancy Cordes put it, applying stopping power to each wheel individually. This prevents rollover crashes and out-of-control skids, which kill between 5,000 and 10,000 people nationwide each year. But as a news development, the ESC regulations were quite trivial. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will require ESC to be installed in all new cars five years from now, in 2012. This is no big deal since automakers voluntarily install ESC in almost all Sports Utility Vehicles already and the system adds only an extra $115 or so to the cost of manufacturing a vehicle. "American and Korean manufacturers have lagged behind the Germans and the Japanese," CBS' Cordes added.

So why make it headline news? The only plausible explanation is that it provided the opportunity to edit clips of crash footage into soundbites from the regulators. NBC's Bob Faw showed an SUV plummet down a snow-covered embankment. ABC's David Muir (subscription required) showed an SUV somersault across a highway. All three networks showed out-of-control skids knock over traffic cones on test tracks.


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