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"GM CEO Shoves Environmental Protester"

What? I was there, not more than a ring toss away from the stage when two environmental activists hijacked the podium where General Motors CEO and chairman Rick Wagoner was finishing the keynote address to open the Los Angeles Auto Show. After one of the activists urged Wagoner to sign a pledge to lead the nation in fuel economy, Wagoner said his speech "spoke for itself." Wagoner moved in to reclaim his rightful spot in front of the microphone, directing the person to the side while saying, "I appreciate your support and I'm sorry you'll have to leave now."

Wagoner handled the rude interruption with dignity and poise, and at the end of the day I went home to deconstruct Wagoner's speech and also write about the confrontation between a journalist friend and one of the protesters. That verbal match was posted by our brothers at Autoblog. I checked the Internet for any references to the incident and find the ridiculous headline from above. Apparently there's a headline writer at ABC News with a fetish for exaggeration. Even the reporter, Brian Rooney, presented a distorted view of the event when he said Wagoner "gave a shove to a protester." You can judge for yourself as the link offers a video of the perceived aggression, but I'll tell you now there was absolutely no push, shove or even elbow. Wagoner simply showed the man, who has been identified by numerous sources as Mike Leonard of the Rainforest Action Network, how to exit stage right. Leonard kept moving and was followed by a show security person who then escorted Mike Hudema of Global Exchange off the stage. Hudema had unfurled a large pledge card that Leonard asked Wagoner to sign.

Moments later Hudema was confronted by Don Fuller, a freelance automotive journalist I've known for many years. The action was caught by a camera from Winding Road, and Autoblog posted the YouTube video while I was in the press room working an another story. At the last press conference of the day I saw Fuller and asked him what started the heated exchange. He said he thought the protest was uncalled for and decided to "get into someone's face." Fuller is no stranger to confrontation. The Winding Road story said Fuller was from MAWG. What the writer didn't know is that MAWG stands for Middle Aged White Guy. It's the opening line when Fuller moonlights as a stand-up comic, so he's quite used to hecklers, drunks and other abusive types trying to get into his face. Also, Fuller is often called on to testify in legal actions against auto manufacturers or dealers, usually involving Lemon Laws. He is one of the best product-knowledge facilitators in the country and not only has a sharp background in specific automotive technologies but has an uncanny ability to present the big picture. In other words, Fuller can handle an obnoxious plaintiff's attorney who also tries to get into his face. Enjoy the video.

I certainly have more respect for Wagoner although I'll never completely agree with all his choices. I've always found Wagoner a little too programmed when interviewing him in mob situations at auto shows. I've never had a one-on-one talk with him but have interviewed many other division managers at GM. Wagoner isn't a "car guy" so it's tough to find a groove in the interview. Division bosses like Jim Perkins, the former boss at Chevy whom I interviewed at a street rod shop, and John Rock, the former head of Oldsmobile who is a "good 'ol boy" from my home state of South Dakota, were engaging personalities who could handle tough questions with smile while promoting the company with a passion. Make no mistake, Wagoner is an excellent communicator; he is not a bully who has to shove away those who disagree with him. I have no respect for the two protesters even though I may agree with many of their causes. Apparently the two simply wanted to make a spectacle of themselves, not to offer facts in a balanced format to a large gathering of automotive journalists who could have elevated a properly presented message.

[Source: Winding Road via Autoblog.com]


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  • 5 Comments
      • 8 Years Ago
      I wonder if GMs a little embarrassed. I don't think the problem is they burn too much fossil fuel as much as too many fossils are running the company. They could have been the leader in the EV, HEV & PHEV market http://www.autoworld.com/news/GMC/Series_Hybrid.htm but they screwed-up and now they have lost that lead to Toyota forever. What a shame.

      Greenies, I know you're frustrated, but you need to get a grip on yourselves or you'll end up looking like idiots. Ethics aside, every company’s first LEGAL responsibility is to their stockholders. http://www.ev1.org/gmoil.htm They are not here to “save the planet.” They exist only to make money.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I find it quite surprising that you have a screen capture of the video from ABC but you have not included the link so we can see for ourselves.

      Ok, I'll help you out here. Here's the link to the video:
      http://abcnews.go.com/Video/playerIndex?id=2689033
      • 8 Years Ago
      Mike Magda thanks for the Op-Ed; it's to bad you couldn't report both sides of the story. Like why environmentalist might have a problem with GM (see for instance "Who Killed the Electric Car"). The following quotes just a examples of Magda's skewed reporting:

      "two environmental activists hijacked the podium";
      "Wagoner moved in to reclaim his rightful spot in front of the microphone";
      "Wagoner handled the rude interruption with dignity and poise";

      Hey Mike, write about cars; why they are cool, novel, or crap. GM has it's own PR department you don't need to shill for them.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Mike - Excellent piece. Having been present during the spectacle you've described, I'm glad that there is now an accurate account of the interaction available.
      • 8 Years Ago
      The environmentalist made the wrong decision to be confrontational. Even I, sympathetic to his view, found his approach repugnant. This course of action always fuels to opposite effect. The young man acted foolish and hurt his cause, portraying environmentalists as being whacked-out hippies. It is hard enough trying to kill that stereotype, no one needs to set it in stone.