Given the company’s public statements at the time, it’s not surprising that Toyota had developed a PR program to discredit two major witnesses in relation to the automaker’s massive recall earlier this year: Sean Kane, a Massachusetts safety consultant, and David Gilbert, an auto technology professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
Gilbert appeared in an ABC News segment that was key in making the “unintended acceleration” issue, and subsequent recalls a national story.
Toyota at the time asked ABC News for a retraction and apology for the story, in which they said reporter Brian Ross, “singularly failed in his basic duty as a journalist to disclose material information about Professor Gilbert that would have directly influenced his credibility with the audience.”
According to The Washington Post:
Toyota received advice about how to respond to Kane and Gilbert from [President Obama's Chief Pollster Joel] Benenson and New York public relations firm Robinson, Lerer & Montgomery. The documents show that Benenson’s firm, Benenson Strategy Group, has conducted 25 surveys about Toyota’s reputation since December 2009.