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CNN Today

Ford, Firestone Reluctant to Take Responsibility for Faulty Tires

Aired September 12, 2000 - 1:06 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: There was another Congressional hearing on the tire recall today, this time before the Senate Commerce Committee.

CNN's Carl Rochelle is covering that from Washington -- Carl.

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, the commerce committee, as you noted, taking a shot at the Firestone/Ford problem today, hearing from a number of witnesses on the panel.

The panel that is going on right now is a couple of consumer groups who are talking before the Senate committee; but just a few moments ago they finished up hearing from Jacques Nasser, the president of Ford and CEO of Ford, and also Firestone.

And there was a bit of accusatory rhetoric going on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACQUES NASSER, FORD CEO: Firestone failed to share critical claims data with Ford that might have prompted the recall of these bad tires sooner.

JOHN LAMPE, BRIDGESTONE/FIRESTONE EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT: We take full responsibility, senators, when a tire fails because of a defect.

We firmly believe, however, that the tire is only part of the overall safety problem shown by these tragic accidents. If we are really concerned, and we are, about consumer safety, we will leave no stone unturned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROCHELLE: Now, Lampe's comments come very interestingly, because last week, at the House hearings, Firestone was not pointing the finger at Ford. Ford did, deliberately, point a finger at Firestone, saying they had to pry the data from them.

Today Firestone is saying the responsibility for the problems of the tires should be shared with the people who make the vehicles and set the tire pressure that goes on them. Earlier, in the first panel, the Senate lawmakers heard from the secretary of transportation and the new administrator of NHTSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Sue Bailey, new on the job and here's a look at Sue Bailey.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All rise, and raise your right hand I will swear you in.

ROCHELLE (voice-over): NHTSA Administrator Sue Bailey, on the job less than a month, walked into a firestorm of criticism on Capitol Hill over the problem with Firestone tires and Ford vehicles.

REP. FRED UPTON (R), MICHIGAN: We need to know why NHTSA, which has officials who are paid to do nothing else but monitor accidents, have been asleep at the wheel when it had information served up to it on a silver platter.

ROCHELLE: But some acknowledged she had little time to dig up answers.

UNIDENTIFIED REPRESENTATIVE: I realize you've only been there for three weeks, but I...

SUE BAILEY, NHTSA ADMINISTRATOR: It seems longer.

ROCHELLE: This is not her first brush with tough issues.

In her previous position as deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, Bailey was called on to defend the Pentagon's controversial plan to vaccinate troops against anthrax.

She says working with the military, that included trips to the Persian Gulf, helped prepare her for this job.

BAILEY: I never thought I would find a job that I could feel as good about as taking care of the men and women in uniform, but taking care of American lives here certainly fills the bill.

ROCHELLE: Bailey, who is a doctor, brings several skills to the post.

BAILEY: It's helpful, I think, as well, to have a science background. Mine is in medicine, but when we're dealing with the biomechanics of injuries and fatalities, that's very helpful.

ROCHELLE: The consumer's union has high expectations for the new administrator.

SALLY GREENBURG, CONSUMERS UNION: She has the potential to be a zealous protector of the interests of consumers.

ROCHELLE: Sue Bailey's concern with safety predates this job. She says her 31-year-old son, now an emergency room physician, hasn't forgotten the time mom had seat belts installed on his school bus. BAILEY: My son still remembers going out, practically at dark, with a mechanic to bolt these seat belts in so that he could have a seat belt.

Fortunately, he was only four so it wasn't that embarrassing for him.

ROCHELLE: Dr. Sue Bailey will face Congress again as the Senate Commerce Committee grills her about the Ford/Firestone problem.

She doesn't take the criticism personally, she says they're just doing their job.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROCHELLE: Now, Bailey was asked this morning, of course, why NHTSA didn't know more and do more quicker than that. She said they didn't have the information.

But both she and Secretary Slater asked for more funding and more authority so that they could deal with the problem; and Slater said the Department of Transportation plans to move over $9 million in funds to help it with the investigation of a Ford/Firestone problem -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, Carl Rochelle in Washington.

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