WBZ Uncovers Tainted Tests

Oct 23, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Kristen Setera’s story on corruption in car inspections started long before she even began working at CBS-owned WBZ-TV in Boston. Back in 2003, while working for Fox-owned WFXT-TV in Boston, she produced a series of reports on the accuracy of the state’s auto emissions tests. So once at WBZ, she decided to dig into the issue a little more.

“Cars that should have been failing were passing,” she said. “That made me think there was something deeper going on.”

She then received a call from a man who claimed he had an outside business arrangement with one of the managers who oversaw emissions tests for the state. She was told that the manager rigged the tests so more cars would fail. The source said he knew this because he was cut in on the deal; he sold software to local mechanics that detailed how to fix the cars that failed, Ms. Setera explained. The source has since received immunity from the federal government and is cooperating with its investigation into the possibility of emissions test corruption.

The WBZ piece ran May 5, 2005, after several months of research. “It took a long time to do public records and documents requests,” she said. The emissions test manager in question subsequently asked for a leave of absence and has now been removed from his post, she said.

“The reason we have the test is to help reduce pollution and clean the air we all breathe, and ultimately, if the test isn’t performing accurately, that’s an environmental problem,” she said. “Some cars that were failing should be passing and vice versa. … Do we know if the [tests] are being accurately administered?”

Stories like these aren’t easy to report because of the science and level of detail involved, Ms. Setera said. So she asked other journalists at the station who weren’t involved in the coverage to read the scripts and give her feedback on whether they explained the story easily.

“It was an important piece to do and very complicated, and it was difficult to boil down because of the science. So we try to boil down the issues to the very basic,” she said.