GM Speak

By Mark Esposito, Weekend Contributor

gmrecallLoose lips sink ships and auto manufacturers, too, it seems. Lost amid much of the commotion on Friday surrounding GM’s agreement to pay the largest possible fine ($35 million) for failing to recall defective ignition switches in its Cobalt car line which are linked to 13 deaths already, was a 2008 presentation GM made to its employees.  Made during the public bailout of GM by American taxpayers, the presentation obviously was designed to thwart plaintiff’s discovery in similar product liability law suits. The mandatory video outlaws certain words from GM’s internal correspondence which are routinely used to demonstrate exactly what the auto giant knew and when it knew it in court. These internal memos are crucial to determining  the then prevailing sentiment about auto safety issues by the people who knew it best — the engineers and scientists who design and test the cars.

Burned already by damaging emails, GM directed its employees to refrain from words like, “Hindenburg,” “powder keg,” “Titanic,” “apocalyptic,” “You’re toast,” and “Kevorkianesque.” They weren’t too keen on certain phrases either, like “This is a lawsuit waiting to happen,” and “Unbelievable engineering screw-up.” The masters at GM found such language to be “examples of comments that do not help identify and solve problems.”

Worry not about your safety, of course, because GM also reminded its employees that  “… there really aren’t any secrets in this company”.  It’s just that words like this (conveying the truthful sentiments of the people who design, build, and engineer these cars) are really “vague and non-descriptive”  accounts. GM does have some recommendations for its workers though.  First, “(f)or anything you say or do, ask yourself how you would react if it was reported in a major newspaper or on television.”

Second, use words that convey no judgments at all. You know like automatons do. Don’t say the windshield wipers abruptly stop  in a rainstorm as you’re cruising 70 miles an hour on the interstate. Rather just give ’em the Joe Friday version, “Windshield wipers did not work properly. Would run for 3-4 seconds and then quit for the next 7-8 minutes… repeatedly.” That’s accurate, you know — and conveys not one iota of useful information for drivers.

Finally, dear employees (and users of our vehicles, too), do not mention inflammatory words like “safety,” or “defect.” Rather for “safety” use the more lawyerly … er, accurate, ” “Has potential safety implications.” For defect use the litigation-safe … er, more truthful “Does not perform to design.” As for the greatest taboo of all, that pesky word “Problem,” no,no, no the new paradigm is  “Issue, [or]condition, [or just simply] matter.”

From personal experience, I can attest that the rules for speech contained in this presentation are already S.O.P. in many American corporations seeking to sanitize its internal correspondence and thereby insulate it from discovery by lawyers representing consumers in product safety lawsuits. Policies like this obviously hide the truth, but they also have another invidious consequence — co-opting honest scientists, engineers, and other auto workers into lying or obfuscating  to defend the company. Words like those suggested by GM take the cutting edge off the truth and jeopardize the public’s safety and right to know. They also undermine the single most important factor in getting at the truth in product liability lawsuits — an insider with proof of knowledge of the defects.

There is certainly a valid concern that hyperbole and off-the-cuff remarks in an email might be misconstrued, but GM has legions of lawyers to present its version of the truth and thus to check that kind of misinterpretation. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Acting Administrator David Friedman criticized GM for  cowling its employees saying telling employees to avoid certain language when writing about safety issues was discouraging open and free discussion of potential problems.

Not so said GM. “We encourage employees to be factual in their statements and will continue to work with NHTSA to improve our safety processes,” GM said in a written statement responding to questions about the presentation. “Today’s GM encourages employees to discuss safety issues, which is re-enforced through GM’s recently announced Speak Up for Safety Program.”

“Speak Up for Safety”? Somewhere, that little bit of doublespeak surely made George Orwell smile.

Source: CNN

~Mark Esposito. Weekend Contributor


40 thoughts on “GM Speak”

  1. Bush and Paulsen are SHEEP IN WOLVES’ CLOTHING. Do you know what a RINO is? For crying out loud are you paying attention? Bush and Paulsen promote wars for Israel wherein there exists no benefit or rationale.

    There is NO constitutional mandate for CENTRAL PLANNNIG or REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH. The government inflates the bubble then frets over its impending collapse. If the government blows a bigger bubble, there will be a bigger collapse. Barring government interference, there will be normal economic cycles and dynamics. It’s kinda like after a sunny day there’s a rainy day and after a storm the sun comes out. You get that, right? You get that people buy umbrellas in preparation for rainy days? You get that, right? Or do you need someone to take care of you? For Christ’s sake. I don’t believe you.

    Read the Preamble wherein the Founders set the American context and limited government to security and infrastructure. FREEDOM. Read what the Founders wrote then take a close look at their lives. They admonished against “foreign entanglements.” They fully understood that success and failure existed in every aspect of life. They were completely free in their social, political and business lives. They enjoyed “the blessings of liberty” which are our endeavors, businesses and industries conducted in the free markets of the private sector without governmental interference. With freedom came the imperative of self-reliance. Economic cycles peak and trough and the individual is responsible for being ready for both. Oh yeah, sure. That’s the tough part, huh? You’re free but you have to take care of yourself. Holy geez. What a nation full of parasitic idiots. Just be free and go take care of yourself. The Preamble and Constitution were not written to coddle people who refused to live their own lives and take care of themselves. Preposterous. It was freedom, period. Now go enjoy it and take care of yourself. Did you notice the reality? The government doesn’t actually pay for anything, the taxpayers do. It’s a great big Ponzi scheme. You know, Bernie Ponzi? He’s in prison.

    Read the history sometime. The Founders expected and intended that government would be small and manned by an temporary volunteer force that would be voted in, serve a term or two then return to their lucrative private endeavors. The military/industrial complex which defines modern professional politicians their staffs, lobbyists, consultants, etc., is a corrupt perversion of the concept of American freedom.

    Is having the entire economy designed and engineered by the government a blessing of liberty? Is paying for the welfare state a blessing of liberty? Is being compelled to send your child to be indoctrinated in a public school a blessing of liberty? Is there a constitutional mandate for the government to compel you to love someone or some group or is that free speech and thought? Do you think the Founders expected the government to tell businessmen whom to hire and landlords to whom to rent and how much to charge? Is it conceivable that the Founders would have governmental workers (i.e. public servants) go on strike and set their own ridiculous level of pay through violence?

    Where the hell are “the blessings of liberty?”

    Republicans are democrats and democrats are republicans and both have nullified the Constitution and replaced it with the central planning and redistribution of wealth mandated by the Communist Manifesto.

  2. “The progressives/liberal/socialists deceive us into believing it is constitutional for the government to bail out insolvent private companies.”

    Oh, really? Does that make Bush and Paulsen progressive/liberal/socialists who bailed out the insolvent private (financial) companies or Obama a pragmatic/conservative for staving off rapidly deepening recession/depression caused by the abject failure of conservative policies and the near global financial collapse. We don’t need 20/20 hindsight from the folks who caused the economic troubles that required the bailouts. Conservatives and conservatism were wrong on tax policy. Wrong on economic policies. Wrong on wars. Wrong on everything. We know better than to listen to conservatives any longer.

  3. i’m not saying that gm should have owned their problem earlier but it’s not that unusual for any auto to have recalls.
    just for comparison the 2005-2014 ford escape has 14 possibles. if you go back to the 2001 model year the number goes up to 25.
    the reason i say possibles is that most are specific to engine, transmission or body type (2 door, 4 door, hatchback). some even concern paint or seat type.

    1. side marks – I think the problem here is more serious than peeling paint. 🙂

    1. Did you guys see that someone is suing Lamborghini for making a car that goes too fast? The reason you buy the damn thing is because it goes fast.

  4. G.M. has been screwing the car buyer ever since the corvair hit the market, the Cadillac gas engine to diesel conversion, the 8-6-4-cylender engine, when Volkswagen hit our shores GM panicked trying to compete.

  5. Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.

    The progressives/liberal/socialists deceive us into believing it is constitutional for the government to bail out insolvent private companies. These collectivists believe they know everything better than Mr. Market. GM should have been liquidated long ago with the remnants available for pennies on the dollar. Can you say book value. Those of us with cash would have profited handsomely but for illegal governmental interference in free markets (not so free, eh?).

    There is a thing called Capitalism which is synonymous with Naturalism. You grow corn; your neighbor raises pigs; you take them to market and trade them or use the gold-backed currency printed by the Treasury (Oops, it’s not gold-backed and that pesky Fed prints “notes” with a vengeance). If there’s another farmer with corn, the price goes down. It you’re the only corn seller, the price goes up. Now we all understand Naturalism or Capitalism, right? Not so bad, huh? So we make some money and we put it in a bank. We put it in a good bank because the bad banks go out of business and the bankers who run them badly go to jail, right? Not so much. Why? Cuz they’re too big to jail. That’s not Capitalism, that’s crime.

    The government has no legal basis for interference with the economy as a whole or individual industries or businesses. Failure is part of Capitalism and part of nature. The Founders were private businessmen functioning in the Capitalist (i.e. natural) form of economics and they intended for business to be conducted in the free markets of the private sector. They wrote laws for criminals, be they bakers or bankers, to be sent to jail. It is natural for entities to be born, mature and die. GM was trying its best to die a natural death and the liberal/democrat/collectivist/socialist/unionists wouldn’t let it, illegally and arbitrarily precluding the natural process of liquidation, sale and redeployment of assets which would have provided the opportunity for many private investors to become wealthy.

    GM is now a perpetrator of criminal fraud, dereliction and negligence which resulted in injury and death. GM is a criminal enterprise.

    Obama is an enabler. Feckless Obama showered GM with billions and billions of not his money but taxpayer’s dollars. Obama aided and abetted a criminal and perverted nature or Naturalism, AKA Capitalism.

    Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.

  6. I saw a Corvair convertible a couple weeks ago. Always reminds me of Nader, “Unsafe @ Any Speed.” He was a hero for taking on the auto industry.

  7. There was a profit margin to protect…
    … Consumer? Protection?

    “A Culture of Timidity”: Ralph Nader on How Regulators Ignored a GM Safety Defect Tied to 13 Deaths

  8. RCampbell, You seem to forget there was one auto company, Ford, that did not need a bailout. They had a positive and cooperative relationship w/ the UAW. They had innovative execs and engineers who produced a superior product than the 2 loser companies, who just pandered to unions because it was easier, and fell behind the demands of consumers because of that same laziness.

  9. Seems some folks have forgotten the shape of the overall economy at the time of the GM bailout. The troubles that GM and other companies, large and small, we’re having was not a cyclical business downturn or the direct result of internal conditions or decisions. There was no money in the system. There were no financial markets. No money was available to get companies from one invoice period to the next. There were no Bain Capitals with enough money to proceed with a buyout. There was only the federal government and the abyss of losing not only GM, but the entire corporate and employment roster in the US auto industry. The government saved the corporation, the industry and more importantly the JOBS within. In doing so many other companies and many more jobs, homes and businesses were saved that just letting GM die would have caused. Not a smart choice.

    But, this story isn’t about the bailout or what the union did, it’s about what MANAGEMENT did with their second life, with their renewed opportunity. The UAW didn’t cause those deaths and cover up the causes. The union didn’t instruct management what to say and not to say. Put the blame for this failure of corporate management and malfeasance squarely where it belongs and leave the working people out of it.

    1. Rcampbell – but corporate goes all the way to the top. Barack Obama.

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