‘Don’t quote me on that’

By Reed Black, "Land Line Now" news anchor

When NHTSA recently announced its underride guard initiative, it provided the name of a man to contact for details. So I called him. But he said my request for an interview would have to go through their public relations people.

Over the course of three days I got bounced around to three different people, the last of whom said he’d get right back, but never did.

It reminds me of the Joseph Heller book (it also was a movie) “Catch-22” in which a group of misfits are in a fictitious bomber squadron in World War II. One character, Major Major, shirks all responsibility as squadron leader and climbs out the window of his office to escape people who want to see him.

Maj. Major: Tell them I’m in and ask them to wait.
First Sgt. Towser: For how long?
Maj. Major: Until I’ve left.
First Sgt. Towser: And then what do I do with them?
Maj. Major: I don’t care.
First Sgt. Towser: May I send them in to see you after you’ve left?
Maj. Major: Yes.
First Sgt. Towser: You won’t be here then, will you?
Maj. Major: No.

Reporters who cover trucking are used to being stonewalled by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which treats every piece of information as if it were a national security secret.

And the secrecy isn’t limited to the DOT.

In fact, the Society of Professional Journalists and 37 other journalism groups recently sent a letter to President Obama accusing the administration of deliberately and systematically suppressing news in every government department.

As for NHTSA and the underride guard story, I tried again to get information on when a rule might come out, whether they’re looking at the tougher Canadian standard – stuff like that.

When I finally got in touch with the guy who was supposed to be able to speak on this, I got a double catch-22. First, he sent me a bland, uninformative statement from NHTSA that didn’t answer a single one of my questions – and then he added, “Don’t quote me on that.” LL