Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Examiner: First Lady’s fitness campaign is so successful it’s killing people!

January 20, 2011 - 09:38 AM
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This morning reporter Scott McCabe had a story in the Examiner about the nationwide uptick in pedestrian traffic fatalities during the first half of last year. As with almost any dubious trend story, the headline hedges the story’s bets with some qualifying language: “Exercise, iPods could be causing pedestrian deaths.” [Emphasis ours.] But the story’s lede lobs a stunning and far more specific allegation: “First lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to get people to exercise outdoors might be a factor” in the increase in deaths, it reads.

That’s a rather provocative charge right there. And to whom is it attributed? To the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), a nonprofit that represents state highway safety offices, and more specifically to the group’s executive director, Barbara Harsha: “the ‘get moving’ movement, led by Obama’s 'Let’s Move' campaign to eliminate childhood obesity, could be to blame, Harsha told The Washington Examiner.”

Well, the folks at GHSA were awfully surprised when they read this morning’s paper. In fact, Harsha tells us, she didn’t tell the Examiner that at all. “It’s ridiculous,” she says. According to Harsha, the First Lady’s fitness campaign never even came up in her discussion with McCabe. “Absolutely not,” she says, adding that she actually supports the “Let’s Move” campaign.

But as McCabe points out to us, the Obama nugget came from the GHSA's pitch to him for the story, which he passed along:  "Why the increase? We don't really know but speculate that it could be a couple factors. One is the possible increase in distracted pedestrians and distracted drivers. We've been focusing on the drivers, but perhaps we need to focus some attention on distracted walkers! Additionally, Mrs. Obama and others have been bringing attention to 'get moving' programs, so perhaps pedestrian exposure has increased."

Harsha says her theorizing to the Examiner never went beyond the predictable and mundane: More people seem to be walking and running, particularly while listening to music or fiddling with their smartphones, and not paying attention to traffic signals. “What we were trying to say is if people do walk more, there’s more risk,” says Harsha. “We’re concerned with the increase in pedestrian fatalities, and we need to monitor it. Maybe some education needs to be done for people who are into physical fitness.”

We cover pedestrian deaths with abandon over here at On Foot. We must say, in our continuous effort to affix blame for traffic fatalities we’ve never wound up at the first lady’s doorstep. If the “Let’s Move” campaign is so effective that herds of inexperienced joggers are suddenly getting run over, then we need to put Mrs. Obama in charge of more nationwide initiatives, starting with the economic recovery.

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