How to turn a shattered windscreen into 775 shares
Recently a Ms Erin Holmes made a facebook post on Wednesday (7 Feb 2018) lamenting her experience of being attacked by a cyclist, and put up photos of the alleged assailant asking people to contact the police if they have seen him. However she also initially chose to withhold the fact that the man had accused her of almost injuring him just before the incident, apparently almost knocking him off his bicycle. Ms Erin framed her experience as a harrowing tale of a mother on school pick-up having her windscreen smashed by a bearded cyclist, and generated so much anti-bike controversy that it was shared over 100 times that day alone. It is framed as a simple appeal for witnesses.
The original facebook post. https://www.facebook.com/erintbender/posts/10155519085476743
Three following photos were included. Two were video screen shots of a bearded man on a bicycle with no visible cuts to his hands, and the third was a photo of a car with a smashed windscreen, taken from a different location.
Most people on her post gave her sympathy but a few people asked if she had done anything to provoke the incident. Ms Holmes avoided the question, stating in a comment
“…It seems impossible to me that anyone could think that this man had a right to assault me if he felt "threatened or angered". It is never okay to assault anyone. I did not get out of my car and reciprocate violence, I called the police.
This was a strawman argument as no one had suggested that smashing the windscreen was justified. A driver who almost kills or injures someone on a bike does not deserve to have their windscreen smashed or to be frightened, regardless of how much terror the driver may have caused. The fellow should have taken the number plate and reported the incident to the police.
Ms Holmes has not personally encouraged violence towards cyclists but comments on the original post were not encouraging.
By Thursday the post had been shared over 200 times. Seeing the post going viral, Ms Holmes had the initiative to attach a link to her holiday promotion blog to the post, generating traffic to her private business “Explore with Erin”. Usually her personal posts, like her recent St Valentines Day post, do not have a link to her business. As a media professional Ms Holmes must have known the sort of comments that her shared post would generate.
However there were some readers who were suspicious about what had been left off the post as the story didn’t seem to ring true. The original post was closed to comments from the public. Friends of friends who asked too many awkward questions were blocked.
Ms Holmes said that she had a video but did not post it online. A member of the facebook Cycle Members Forum offered to help to find the cyclist on condition that she could see the video. Ms Holmes was initially interested but then stopped contact, presumably because she did not want to share the video at that time.
Then on Friday (9th February), Ms Holmes was interviewed on 3AW.
This was the headline:
This choice of language is highly inaccurate. A ‘bandit’ is an armed robber. By all accounts this cyclist did not rob anyone, was not armed and did not physically threaten anyone. It is not acceptable to make false accusation for the sake of alliteration.
The interviewer, Tom Elliott sounded quite very surprised how someone could smash a windscreen with his fist. He asked Ms Holmes if she had done anything to provoke the attack.
“I was parked and he proceeded to punch my windscreen. He says that I cut him off the road. I mean this was a school zone and I was being very careful and had looked at all the traffic and I was actually parked before I grabbed my handbag and my phone, my keys, opened my door and then he cycled up, and I’m not sure how it took him so long to get to me if I’d cut him off but apparently that was the reason he got to display such a violent act.
Tom Elliott did not consider the possibility that she could have have cut him off earlier in her journey to the school or that she may have doored the cyclist, nor did he consider that ‘cutting someone off’ was actually a much more violent act than damaging a windscreen. Instead he concentrated on how Ms Holmes felt during the incident.
The story was then picked up by Chanel 7, and the video was finally aired. By the time the news broadcast had finished at 7pm on Friday evening, Ms Holmes’ post would have been shared 514 times.
This is what is heard on the video (M = man, EH = Ms Holmes)
- EH - You did.
What is wrong with you? (shouting)
I have to pick up my kids.
Look what you did to my car
- M - You nearly ran me off my bike.
- EH - No I didn’t. And you are in huge trouble!
- M - You didn’t even look!
- EH - What is your name?
- M - As if I’m going to tell you. (? unclear audio)
- EH - (with sarcasm) Great! Thank you.
The presenter Jennifer Keyte says
“The woman opened the car door but closed it when she saw the cyclist coming towards her”
presumably based on what Erin Holmes had told the producers. This is the first time that we hear that the driver had opened the door in front of the cyclist but shut it in time. How far in front of the cyclist was the door? Ten metres or one metre? Had she doored him?
The Network Seven segment purports to be evenly balanced, though it does refer to Ms Holmes as ‘a mother’ rather than as ‘a driver’. This is inconsistent use as language since as the man is called ‘a cyclist’ rather than as ‘a man’ (or even as ‘her accuser’).
Rather than portraying an innocent victim and scary culprit, as Ms Holmes has framed it, 7 News showed two people: each accusing the other. This seems fair enough, until one considers the nature of the acts that the two people are accusing each other of: dooring or driving at a rider on one hand, and smashing a windscreen on the other. One involves damage to property and the other involves (or could had involved) the killing, disabling or injuring of a person. To equate them as similar events, as 7 News did, is a false equivalency.
To continue this line of reasoning, please consider how the following hypothetical situation would have been reported. Say a woman had been walking while swinging a knife around and had accidently almost stabbed someone. Now say that the fellow was quite unset by this and grabbed the knife and smashed it against the pavement, causing it to bend and snap. Would the headline then be “Bearded walking bandit accused of smashing knife in Melbourne’s north” or “Mother confronts pedestrian who she claims smashed her knife”? I doubt it. Both the 3AW and the 7 News reports down-played the risk that being hit by a car poses to cyclists. Being doored is like having a metre long vertical blade appear out of nowhere in front of you. Being hit by oncoming traffic while trying to avoid a being doored is like being knocked down by the solid metal ball of William the Wrecker. This cannot be compared with having a windscreen smashed, terrifying though that would be, because property damage causes no immediate risk to life and limb. To equate the two acts as being similar is irresponsible reporting.
Ms Holmes says she was parked before the windscreen was smashed. She says that after it was smashed she stayed in the car and called the police, so the incident must have occurred where the video was taken. The video, and the two stills from it, are taken at the corner of Epson Rd and Doncaster St in Ascot Vale, which is neither next to Victory Park not next to any local primary schools.
This is where it is on Google Street view
The intersection in the video is 500 m from Ascot Vale West Primary School, and 350m from St Mary’s Primary School which is a fair way from either school. It is not in a ‘school zone’ as she claims in the 3AW interview: it is blocks away. Such inconsistencies in her story discredit her account of events. What is most surprising is that the car is parked right on top of (even blocking) a pedestrian crossing. How could she have ‘looked at all the traffic’ and then parked right on top of a crossing in the middle of an intersection? In the 3AW interview, she says that she had parked, then she gathered her things, then opened her door, then the man smashed her windscreen. Did she park there in the middle of the intersection to pick up her children? Did she open her door over a pedestrian crossing? Was she planning to leave her car there on the crossing while she walked the 700 m or 1100 m return trip to the school and back, blocking it right when children would be walking home from school? Her story is almost impossible. Either Ms Holmes was highly negligent in parking or she was not parked to pick up her children from school. In either care the photos were taken at the intersection, seemingly from the driver’s seat. Was the engine turned off while she was in the middle of an intersection or did she take photos while the engine was running?
There are so many discrepancies that it does encourage the reader to speculate. Why was she claiming to have parked where parking is both dangerous and illegal? Had she almost ‘run him off his bike’ earlier and he had just caught up at the lights? Why was there no picture of the damaged windscreen at the intersection where it apparently happened? Why did the man have no cuts on his hands? Is it even possible to break a windscreen with one’s fist? Was the driver referring to some other (more minor) damage when she was shouting “look what you did to my car?” Why did she give the clear impression that she had called police straight after the incident when it is more likely that drove off straight away?
Also on that Friday Ms Holmes made some changes to her post. She added the “Hi friends and followers” to her post, and the sentence “He would not tell me his name”, but did not include his accusations against her. The glass became “glass abrasions”.
On Saturday (10 February) the facebook post had been edited to its final form. For some reason there is a different police offer in charge of the case. At his point the police had still not made a public appeal for information.
In the 3AW interview Ms Holmes had said that
“I did not get out of my car and reciprocate violence, I called the police.”
This statement clearly indicates that she sat in her car and took a video and rang the police. So if she was on the phone to police outside the primary school on Langs Rd, where did the photos from the intersection of Doncaster Rd and Epson Rd come from? What else are we not being told?
It seems likely that Ms Holmes had driven in pursuit of the cyclist. If so, then how had this major part of the series of events been conveniently forgotten? There is not necessarily anything wrong with driving in pursuit, (if done within the speed limit and so forth) except that the driver’s side windscreen was smashed and was therefore opaque. Did she also have her phone in hand during this pursuit? That journey is 600m with one set of traffic lights on route and four side streets, two on the left had side and a small shopping strip on the left. It could not have been a slow, careful journey to get the car home for repairs, but a race to get photos of the rider before he disappeared
A driver who would make even this journey without a front windscreen (it was apparently shattered) contrasts dramatically with carefully crafted image of an attentive and responsible driver that Ms Holmes had projected during the 3AW interview:
I mean this was a school zone and I was being very careful and had looked at all the traffic…
Can the act of making sure that the cyclist does not flaunt his legal and monetary responsibilities ever justify risking the lives of other road users by driving blind and distracted for several minutes? Even if he did smash the windscreen, such damage of property does not justify risking the lives of people in the area, including children who would be walking home at about that time. What of the drivers and passengers of other cars on the road?
Then on Thursday eight days after the incident, (15th February) Ms Holmes is interviewed by Channel Nine News.
This Channel Nine reporter Alexis Daish says
“A road rage victim takes on her attacker.”
Ms Holmes is interviewed in Langs Rd.
“As I was opening the door I noticed a cyclist coming up beside me so I pulled my door back in.”
This is slightly different to what Jennifer Keyte had said in her report:
“The woman opened the car door but closed it when she saw the cyclist coming towards her”,
In that previous news bulletin the cyclist could have been ten metres away. Now the cyclist was already coming up beside her. Beside her. Not behind her. I dare say he was close.
This drip feeding information is very well done. You never hear enough to be shocked as it is just a bit more information than last time. Imagine how less well received if her original post would have been if it had said the full story? What even is the full story? Ms Holmes said in the 3AW interview that she had sat for a short while getting her things together. So the cyclist may well have completed the U-turn before he saw the car, and (as seen in the third photo) the car windows are tinted. She opened the door and he was already “coming up beside her”. I am sure that Ms Holmes did not intend to door the man yet she is still culpable if she did not take adequate precautions. She states that she did not see the rider until after she had opened her door. Her actions are contrary to VicRoads advice:
The first point of advice to drivers is:
“Get into the habit of always using your mirrors and doing a head check before opening your car door”
By her own admission Ms Holmes did look before opening the door, and it did not occur to her to do this. She has no idea at all that she could have done anything wrong.
Alexis Daish continues:
The cyclist then stopped and hit her bonnet then he yelled at her
“You almost hit me off the road” and Erin replied
“No I didn’t”. That’s when he smashed her windscreen with a closed fist and it shattered while she still sat in the driver’s seat.
So the cyclist told Ms Holmes what she had done and her reaction to the person whom she had almost killed or seriously injured is “No I didn’t”. She can not even fathom the possibility that she could have done anything wrong, even though she admits that she did not look before opening the door and had closed it only just in time.
If someone almost causes a crash, then that is an incident. A near miss is an incident. The fear that comes from almost ending up on the road with passing traffic is terrifying.
That is when the windscreen was allegedly smashed. If the man did smash the windscreen then then he did so wrongly and illegally. No one doubts that that would be wrong. Every cyclist I know admits that to smash a windscreen is wrong, yet why are so few media reporters able to admit that almost killing someone is also wrong?
The reporter continues:
“Erin followed him down the road and started recording.”
It is quite clear now that in all likelihood Ms Holmes almost doored the man, either by opening the door in front of him or possibly opening the door onto the side of him and almost pushing him off his bike. It is also clear that she drove with a broken windscreen. By this time Ms Homes is quite unabashed in making a clear admission of this since the stage is set and the actors have been cast: the mother as the victim and the bearded cyclist is the assailant. From now on all media outlets frame the story the same way.
Channel Nine shows the very start of the video in Epson Rd with Erin saying
“I am so taking this to police, I can’t believe you did this.”
As far an anyone can tell she is telling the truth. She can’t believe it. Why would anyone break her windscreen when she had done nothing wrong?
Nine News cuts back to the Langs Rd interview. Ms Holmes is articulate, well presented and speaks with conviction.
“I was shocked, at first I was just shocked like: (pause) ‘how is this random person smashing my car right now’?
Her words are telling. One week later this savvy media professional appears to still have not the faintest idea of how someone could have almost been killed, and how he could be upset over this. She describes her potential victim as “this random person”.
“To cycle off when, like, a mother is in her car waiting for her kids – it’s just so irresponsible. And he really could have hurt something.”
She accuses *him* of irresponsibility – this is the height of hypocrisy. Then she says
“And he really could have hurt something.”
Of course this was a slip of the tongue, but is rather a Freudian slip. She is confusing things with people. He did break something, but the windscreen was not hurt. She didn’t break anything but could have caused an enormous about of pain that goes on in rehabilitation for months and months, or even for life.
This is not about one rider (who still did the wrong thing). This is about all people who ever get on a bike. Here is comment from the Nine News Melbourne Twitter account, one of the many many messages of bike-hate that this story has generated.
Nine days after the event, (16 February) with a change in investigating officer, the police finally made a public appeal about the case. A link is given from their facebook page with the heading “Investigation into Ascot Vale Road Rage”.
This is the social media report:
The report spells out the driver’s version of events - which is what one would expect since the cyclist did not stay around to give his version. Strangely the police have not even called for the man to come forward to give his version of events. The usual “alleged” is missing in the phrase “before punching her bonnet and smashing her windscreen”. Have they made up their minds?
"As she opened her car door to exit the vehicle, a male cyclist pulled up beside her and made a remark before punching her bonnet and smashing the windscreen."
If the driver had looked then she would have seen the cyclist coming and kept the door closed until he had passed. So how could he ‘pull up beside her’?
What is most interesting is what is missing. Ms Holmes claims that she was (verbally) abused. There is not indication of this here. In the video it looks like the opposite.
Two questions remain unasked:
- Why did the man not stop and report that the woman had doored him (or had run him of the road) to the police? He said that she had not even looked. Surely the police take very seriously reports of drivers putting people in danger by not looking properly.
- Given that the driver’s had admitted to it, why have the police not charged her with driving blind for several minutes with an unroadworthy car? Surely the police take very seriously reports of drivers putting people in danger by not looking properly?
No, as Act Sgt McCarthy has shown on the Nine News interview, they commend them.
It could be that the second question answers the first question.
Ms Holmes has written a note on her facebook page entitled “Nine Tips to Using Facebook to Market a Message”
Tip four is:
It seems that cherry picking information to generate hatred towards a presumed villain is a very good way to make a message go viral. The post ended up generating 775 shares.
The slow release of information was brilliant. The original facebook past was of an innocent mother whose windscreen was broken for no reason by some random thug. 3AW took this at face value. Then every other news agency framed the story in same way that the previous agencies had done. No matter how damming the next newly released information was, they all followed in lock step. The story has been picked up by the Daily Mail (Australia) which made a total hash of Channel Nine’s story, and by overseas news agencies. The one exception was Channel Seven whose report, though still biased, was the only one to consider the possibility that driver may have done something wrong.
Then the story took on a life of it’s own. The story has been picked up by the Daily Mail (Australia).
The journalist Emily Pidgeon has repeated everything that was on the Channel Nine report, though she does at least give them credit. Every stereotype and inaccuracy in the original report has been amplified until the protagonists resemble cartoon caricatures: the smiling cyclist, the road rage, the orange bearded cyclist, the ginger bearded cyclist, the single mother and of course the mother who is picking up her children form school. The ‘article’ could not be more black and while if it were the script for a children’s pantomime.
This fake news is then repeated everywhere. And for every sloppy piece of journalism there are comments that amplify bike-hatred. The Daily Mail is no exception.
Putting up a notice saying “The comments have not been moderated” does not morally excuse the Daily Mail for hosting bike-hating comments. Questioning the legitimacy of bicycle riders on the roads does influence people driving. How is someone going to manage to drive carefully on the roads with cyclists if they do not believe that they even have a right to be there? To make matters worse, according to some commentators the story has been repeated twice before by the Daily Mail.
So where did all this start? From a person post about a frightened mother who had her windscreen smashed for no reason. What if all the information that was slowly released to the public was presented in the original facebook post? What would such a report look like?
I wonder what reaction I would get if I posted something like this parody post:
(The above is a possible scenario and not intended to reflect the actual events. There has been so much misinformation that few of us know the actual events.)
Erin Holmes was accused of the very serious act of endangering a cyclist’s life and limb by not looking while in control of a car. Then the cyclist apparently caused some property damage, with no visible damage to his hands. According to the driver’s own admission she then must have put more people in serious danger by driving without even having the ability to see out the front window. By focusing on an act of property damage to a piece of glass while ignoring the flesh and blood injuries that could so easily have be inflicted by her own automobile, Ms Holmes and the mainstream media, particularly 3AW and Nine News Melbourne, have added to the bike-hate on social media. People view, hear or read these one sided reports and it has a negative effect on their attitudes and behavior on our streets. This puts all riders in danger. The number of close passes does increase after a radio shock jock makes an anti-cyclist rant. Some of the comments have been appalling. And what does it all lead to? It leads to more close passes, to less careful driving and even to riders being deliberately targeted. It leads to business men on road bikes; young women riders; single mothers with cargo bikes; children riding to school; and cycle commuting office workers all being more likely to get hit by a driver of a car. Who will be next to die for click bait?