Former PR chief accuses Ford of bugging

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The former head of public affairs at Ford Motor Co. accused the Dearborn automaker of bugging his phone during the company's 2001 Firestone tire crisis.

Jason Vines

In a new book, Jason Vines — a longtime public affairs official at DaimlerChrysler, Chrysler LLC, Nissan Motor Co. and Ford — says after he was fired along with then-CEO Jacques Nasser in October 2001 that a Ford security official told him his car and phone had been bugged. Vines said the official told him his phone had been bugged for a "few months."

Under Michigan law, bugging a phone, even a company-owned phone, would be a felony. The book "What Did Jesus Drive? Crisis PR in Cars, Computers and Christianity" is being published Nov. 1 by Waldorf Publishing. The publisher made an advance copy available to The Detroit News.

Vines recounted a meeting in the office of the company's then-general counsel John Rintamaki that he complained about a boss. Rintamaki turned up the radio in his office and began playing some loud classical music, similar to a scene in the movie "All the President's Men" and whispered to Vines "they're listening."

Asked about Vines allegations about bugging, Ford spokeswoman Susan Krusel said in an email: "We are not aware of anything of this nature happening."

Vines also says he asked Ford security to track down leaks to the press. The book suggests Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. was behind leaks to a New York Times reporter during the crisis that eventually led to Nasser's ouster.

The book recounts Nasser's decision in May 2001 to recall another 13 million Firestone tires during the SUV crisis that ultimately linked more than 270 deaths to faulty tires on Ford Explorer SUVs. The book says Nasser told Ford of the decision, and soon after the New York Times Detroit bureau chief called Vines about rumors of a new recall.

Vines in turn asked Ford security to check the reporter's home, cellphone and office phone to see if someone at Ford at called him. The security official told him an hour later: "You don't want to know." He then recounted another leak to the reporter — that Nasser's poor health would prevent him from attending the company's annual shareholder meeting. The security official then explained who they believed was behind the leaks: "His name is on the building," Vines writes.

Krusel notes the book recounts a crisis for Ford that took place more than a decade ago.

"The accounts detailed in the book about the Firestone tire crises happened more than a decade ago under a very different leadership team at Ford," Krusel said. "As with any retelling of history, memories and accuracy differ from person to person, and this account is no different.

"During the events, our sole focus was on doing what was right for the safety of our customers. Jason was a key member of our leadership team at the time, and we are grateful for his tireless leadership during the time he served at Ford. We will let the book speak for itself, as we remain focused on creating the next chapter in Ford's history."

Vines recounts his advice to then-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick after DaimlerChrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche asked him to meet with the mayor.

"I had brought with me a massaged version of the PR strategy we were employing at Chrysler; a version carefully crafted for Detroit. It was basically, 'Do This. Don't Do This. Absolutely Don't Do This,' " Vines writes.

Part of the advice was to tell Kilpatrick's staff to stop "lying." Kilpatrick was convicted in 2013 of felony corruption charges and sentenced to 28 years in prison.