Electric Currents

Playing Hardball: The Curious Case of the Intercepted E-mail

Feb 02, 2006

So, I am surfing the Daily Kos blog site last weekend where I also occasionally post my Insider commentaries from EV World. In the process, I came across a banner asking me to boycott companies who advertise on Chris Matthew’s television interview program, Hardball.

Matthew’s offenses are alleged  to include "fag jokes" presumably aimed at the gay and lesbian community, as well as comparing people who criticize the war in Iraq to Osama bin Laden.

The list of advertisers included Toyota.

Now, I don’t watch Chris Matthews -- I detest his confrontational style -- so I have no way of knowing whether or not he had, in fact, committed the offenses with which he was being charged, but I was curious about the boycott. So, I followed the link because I seem to recall that the GLBT community, as it defines itself , is favorably disposed to buying gasoline-electric hybrids like the Prius. A link from the Open Letter to Chris Matthews blog led me to a disconcerting comment purportedly made be a "Toyota executive" in Atlanta named Greg who wrote:

Just happened upon the kos, and this issue, I am an exec for Ty. It’s clear that the truth hurts, learn from your pain and stop being silly. Chris [Matthews] was correct in his comparison. I have an intern drafting statements for the dealers so they can sidestep the issue. If you come into buy a car and mention this dribble, the dealer will tack on a fee for the environment, i.e. for being an idiot !


Puzzled by all this and concerned that someone was either posing as a Toyota representative or who,as a Toyota employee, had certainly overstepped the bounds of what I think Toyota would consider appropriate behavior in their name, I decided to contact Cindy Knight and Mary Nickerson at Toyota’s North American headquarters in Torrance, both of whom I know personally.

It was the weekend, so I didn’t expect a reply until Monday, but oddly, I got two automated messages addressed from Ask Toyota within 24 hours. I’ve reproduced both below.

Message 1:

Thank you for contacting Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. We appreciate your consideration and hope to have your email addressed as quickly as possible. Our current office hours are Monday thru Friday from 5AM to 6PM PDT. If you need immediate assistance, we recommend you contact the Customer Relations Manager at your local Toyota dealership.

Message 2 was from a Brent Marrero in Toyota Customer Experience :

Thank you for contacting Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

Toyota is sensitive to the opinions of our customers, and we respect your position on this issue. We have documented your comments accordingly.

Like most advertisers, Toyota’s television spots air across a broad range of programming, including network and cable news, talk shows, sporting events, prime-time shows, late-night television and morning shows. Toyota’s ads should not be interpreted as tacit endorsement of the views of any show or the views espoused by the hosts, guests or callers to any show.

Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to receive your feedback such that we may improve our advertising and marketing efforts.

If we can be of further assistance, please feel free to contact us.

Monday came and I hadn’t heard from either Cindy or Mary. Suspicious that neither had gotten my note, and little perturbed that my e-mail appeared to have been intercepted, I changed the subject line and altered the message enough to avoid getting caught by the filter that I presume Toyota’s IT department had implemented to trap any emails that referenced the Chris Matthews controversy.

It worked. Both Cindy and Mary immediately responded and expressed their surprise at having an email that had been directed to them personally short-stopped by the company’s e-mail server. Both indicated that they’d never had this happen before.

With respect to the original message and this "Greg" fellow, both expressed their doubt that he was an actual Toyota employee. Cindy categorically stated "the post is bogus" and added, "You can quote me on that if you need to. I think if you look at the responses to that post, every reader thought it was a troll and dismissed it as such." She was also a little offended that I would even ask such a question.

I can understand why Toyota might be sensitive to this issue. No company likes to find itself unwittingly caught in the crossfire of a fight it has no part in and little chance of coming out of unscathed. But I question the wisdom of filtering their employees’ electronic mail, even for the best of intentions. It isn’t enough that we have the NSA conducting what many, including former-President Carter, believes are illegal wiretaps on American citizens. Now we also appear to have even fairly enlightened and environmentally-responsible companies like Toyota surveilling their own employees.

As for Chris Matthews and "Hardball", like Jimmy Carter, I can switch over to Jon Stewart’s Daily Show where it occupies the same time slot on Comedy Central. There I am pretty much assured to getting some real insight into how our increasingly crazy world works.

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