Editorial: A tempest in a Prius
THE TRUISM holds that when
someone else slips on a banana peel, it’s comedy, but when you
do, it’s tragedy.
A corollary to the principle, we have now learned, is that
when you slip on a banana peel and someone else laughs, you
may feel that their response is not only an unforgivable
insult to you, but to bananas and to all mankind.
How else to explain the hysterical reaction to our front-page
joke two weeks ago, “Tree smashes Prius on Highway 68 — but at
least it wasn’t a Bentley”? The woman whose car was hit, her
husband, people who listen to her radio show and even people
who are just miscellaneous Prius owners reacted with the kind
of obscenity-laden vitriol you’d expect them to reserve for
something that actually mattered.
According to them, by printing that headline, and making
light of the whole episode, we were acting insensitively,
offensively, repugnantly, obnoxiously, reprehensibly, etc.,
That’s the essence of numerous emails and letters to the
editor we received, and some of which we printed last week.
One letter writer, who occupies a responsible position with a
respected Monterey Peninsula institution and should,
therefore, know better, even compared us to Sen. Joseph
McCarthy, whose campaign of smears against alleged Communists
in the 1950s has made him one of the most hated figures of
20th century American history. Our joke was that bad?
Come on, people. Have a brain.
First of all, the woman driving the car wasn’t hurt. If she
had been, we wouldn’t have made light of her misfortune. The
proof of this is that we have covered hundreds of incidents
where people were injured over the years and never made fun of
any of them.
Of course, the woman was scared out of her wits and upset
about the damage to her car, but those things are not that
serious. Furthermore, journalists do not write their stories,
headlines or captions to suit the people who are involved in
newsworthy events; they write them for the general public.
Thus, by longstanding principles of journalism, the fact that
the driver of the Prius and her family and friends may have
objected to our headline is not relevant to whether it should
have run. We apologize for offending them, but we don’t regret
printing the story.
We were also attacked for not reporting more details about
the driver, as though we ignored her out of callousness.
However, at the time our Aug. 16 edition was finished, we had
no idea who the driver of the Prius was — not even whether she
was a man or woman, much less her name or how she reacted and
felt. For all we knew, she might have been paralyzed with
shock, or perhaps she was thrilled with her narrow escape and
gratefully looking forward to the rest of her life. Of course,
we would have loved to interview her to find out, but there
was no way we could. The police hadn’t released her name, and
we were unable to learn it any other way, and that is the only
reason our story didn’t include more information about her.
Several random owners of Prius cars also contacted us to let
us know about their outrage. We happen to think that the idea
of a tree taking aim at a super-eco-friendly Prius is funny,
and our joke would have been perfectly good if that had been
our intent, but it wasn’t. Here at The Pine Cone, we have long
been fans of the Prius; we were one of the first owners of the
car in Monterey County way back in 2003, and we trumpeted its
virtues in a big, front-page story headlined, “Hybrids make it
cool to get 45 mpg.” So while our joke might very well have
been directed at the Prius and Prius owners, it wasn’t.
What we were thinking when we saw the photo of the tree
leaning on the Prius was that it was really ironic for such a
thing to happen during Concours Week. Around here, as locals
well know, old Monterey pines fall regularly — karate chopping
houses, flattening parked cars, ripping out power lines and
sometimes even hurting people. But they almost always do so
during winter storms, when they’re pushed over by strong
winds. While all trees succumb to gravity sooner or later, and
the Monterey Peninsula’s are no exception, it is unusual for
one to suddenly teeter over on a summer day. And for a tree to
fall right across a busy local highway just at the time when
that highway and other local roads are crawling with thousands
of rare cars was truly remarkable. That is one of the things
our joke meant.
And the other was to indirectly poke fun at the people who
drive such unusual and valuable cars. We love Concours Week,
of course, but its excesses are something anybody might
legitimately joke about. Mother Nature, you see, can drop a
tree on a Bugatti or a Pierce Arrow whenever she wants. Since
ancient times, poets have mocked humans for their arrogance
and vanity in the face of divine will — therefore, it’s
perfectly acceptable for The Carmel Pine Cone, which, after
all, is named for the very type of tree that landed on the
Prius, to join the chorus. (Carmel Pine Cone — get
That is our explanation for our Aug. 16 front page. You may find it acceptable or you may not. But the entire situation was indisputably trivial and will soon be forgotten, so you may as well stop cussing over it.