L.A. Weekly Claims the Mantle of Defender of Dangerous Drivers

There was a decent amount of outrage aimed at Hillel Aron at L.A. Weekly for his web-exclusive op/ed boasting about his driving prowess and defending his habit of texting-while-driving. I’ve considered myself something of a Hillel fan since his “Bikeroots” piece in 2011, so I was both surprised and a little dismayed while reading a piece that seemed so wildly tone-deaf.

A sample:

And so when we get a call, we’re forced to go digging through our glove compartments like desperate raccoons, looking for our filthy ear buds, an act infinitely more dangerous than simply holding something up to our ear.

Well I say: nuts to that.

I started a draft criticizing the piece, then scrapped it. I thought I should email him first. We had talked several times before. I’ve been quoted in some of his articles. So, I started an email last night I was going to send to him this morning.

Then, I saw the piece in Media Bistro, a web site that does little more than critique other media, and I realized the problem is bigger than Aron (whom I never emailed). Media Bistro corresponded with Sarah Fenske, the Weekly’s Editor in Chief. Fenske’s defense of the editorial decision to run the piece was even more bizarre than just reading Aron’s piece. From Fenske’s email response published at Media Bistro:

“When Hillel pitched this idea at our news blog meeting, it’s fair to say several jaws dropped. (Personally, as a chronic speeder, I consider any driver meandering along, texting, while I’m trying to get somewhere fast to be a mortal enemy.) But it was very clear to all of us as we chewed it over that he was only admitting to something that a vast majority of LA drivers do with impunity.”

“I suspect that at least half the commenters shaking their fist in his direction will send a text, or check their phones, or Tweet something, on their way home tonight. Everyone’s outraged about it; at least on the roads I’m driving, everyone’s still doing it.”

“And behind all the provocative rhetoric, he does make one good point: Distracted driving has long been illegal. As it should be. Texters are not necessarily any worse than the drivers putting on makeup, or eating breakfast. Yet texting is what we get wound up about (as, yes, this story proves!)”

Yes, this article proves that people get upset when someone brags about how they engage in dangerous behavior which proves your point that…wait, what?

And what’s up with the defense of speeding? Speeding has a long deadly track record; it’s arguably more dangerous than distracted driving or texting. Anyone in Fenske’s way considered a “mortal enemy”? Yes, it’s an email using hyperbole for effect, and I had to double-check the definition to be sure Fenske wrote what I thought she wrote, but Fenske appears to be stating that slower-moving drivers (in the way of her speeding) are actually trying to kill her.

I will give Fenske credit for one thing. I had never thought of texting-while-driving and searching-through-your-glovebox-for-a-filthy-earpiece-while-driving as akin to traffic calming. Kudos for thinking outside the box.

A couple of years ago, I had a story idea to write about why LAist, L.A. Weekly and the Daily News (to name a few) publish the locations of DUI checkpoints. Each organization explained to me that they believed that publishing these locations actually made the roads safer, and a public relations person at the Sheriff’s backed them up. While this seems counter-intuitive to me, I never got around to writing the story.

But now that the Weekly is on the record in favor of texting while driving and driving at unsafe speeds, it’s getting harder and harder to believe that public safety on the roadway is something they take seriously at all.

Hillel Aaron’s piece states: “Let’s face it, we all text in the car some of the time.” Sarah Fenske further states “everyone’s still doing it.”

For the record, I can name a whole group of people who don’t text and drive or drive at unsafe speeds.

They’re known as “people who don’t drive.” Because you are driving around with a suit of armor known as a car, and they are not, you are responsible to pay close attention to them at all times. These people are your grandparents, your weird friend who bikes everywhere, and, most importantly to me, THEY ARE MY CHILDREN. So if I sound mad or outraged, it’s not somehow proving your point. It’s because you’re acting like an asshole.