Witherspoon, Michaels: DUIs bad as marathon bombings, mass shootings

Drunk drivers including celebrities are no different than the Tsarnaev brothers. Photo: File Photos, Al Michaels and Reese Witherspoon / Associated Press

SAN DIEGO, April 21, 2013 — Emmy winning sportscaster Al Michaels and Oscar winning actress Reese Witherspoon just moved from my “Respected” file to my “Reprehensible” file. Right next to the Tsarnaev brothers and the Sandy Hook shooter. The only difference is the number of people potentially in harm’s way.

Within hours of each other on Friday, Michaels and Witherspoon were both involved in drunk driving incidents.

Drunk driving is a disgrace and a serious offense against society. With a drunk behind the wheel, an automobile has every potential for being as deadly to others as a backpack bomb planted by crazed terrorists, or automatic weapons fired at children.

Worse yet, it is entirely voluntary and preventable and there can’t be a person in the country who doesn’t know this, including Al Michaels and Reese Witherspoon. 

Assuming the facts being reported are correct, we should be outraged reading about arrests like Michaels and Witherspoon. There is zero excuse for getting behind the wheel of a car after consuming alcohol, especially by people in the public eye who have a reputation and livelihood to protect, who possess the ways and means to hire a driver at any hour of the day or night, or pull out the Amex Black Card and get a room anywhere.


Drunk drivers including celebrities are no different than the Tsarnaev brothers, people who deliberately choose to put people in harm’s way through their actions.


But until America gets serious about throwing the book at highway terrorists like these, drunk driving will continue to kill more people in the U.S. than any marathon bombers, domestic terrorists or any mass murderers using firearms combined. That means you and me.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports 9,878 drunk driving fatalities in 2011, the last year available.  Mass shootings have resulted in 513 deaths and 494 injuries over the last 20 years (since 1982), and average of 20 per year.

Since 9/11, less than 250 people have died due to acts of terrorism in the U.S. including the Boston Marathon bombings, or about 25 per year.

So who should we really be angry at tonight? Religious zealots? Mentally ill young men with guns? Or celebrities, our family, friends and neighbors who willingly get behind the wheel of a car and drive drunk?

According to the Associated Press, Santa Monica, California police officials say that NBC Sports announcer Michaels, 68, was taken into custody Friday night and arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. Sergeant Thomas McLaughlin could provide no additional details.

Unfortunately for Reese Witherspoon, there are apparently plenty of details about the her arrest and the DUI arrest of her husband, agent James Toth. According to a report in Variety Magazine online, Witherspoon, 37, and Toth, 42, were jailed Friday in Atlanta, Ga., and then released, after Toth was pulled over for suspicion of DUI. He was reported to be weaving across a double line on Atlanta’s Peachtree Street.

This undated photo provided by the City of Atlanta Department of Corrections shows Reese Witherspoon after her arrest for disorderly conduct. AP Photo/City of Atlanta Department of Corrections

Witherspoon allegedly acted up, verbally harassing the arresting police officer from the passenger seat of the car and disregarding repeated orders to stay inside the vehicle for her own safety, according to police reports. She told the arresting officer she didn’t believe he was a “real police officer.” The officer told her to “sit on her butt and be quiet.”

Meanwhile, Toth, described as “disheveled,” was administered a Breathalyzer test at the scene and registered .139, well over the legal limit. 

Once Toth was arrested, Witherspoon got out of the car, and apparently claimed she was a ‘U.S. citizen’ and that she was allowed to ‘stand on American ground.’” This must have been about the time she was handcuffed and arrested on charges of disorderly conduct.

As the report by the arresting officer says, “Mrs. Witherspoon asked, “Do you know my name?” I answered, “No, I don’t need to know your name.” Mrs. Witherspoon stated, “You’re about to find out who I am.”

The report also specified, “Mrs. Witherspoon also stated, ‘You are going to be on national news.’ I advised Mrs. Witherspoon that was fine.”

As a national discussion continues about gun control legislation, background checks, and limitations on ammunition to keep us safe, how about keeping us safe from the two million people on our roads with three or more drunk driving offenses?

Many nations have gotten serious about drunk driving laws, and citizens in countries with strict laws wouldn’t even consider getting behind the wheel after even a single drink. Blood alcohol limits are often lower, as low as 0.02%, a quarter of the U.S. limit. In Italy and France, your car can be impounded immediately, and auctioned off. Drivers can lose their license for one to three years. Prison time and huge fines are the norm. In Sweden, a BAC over 0.02 will result in fines based upon how much money you have in the bank.

In the U.S., we need to to do the same. We also need to get squarely behind Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which has been lobbying to require ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenders. No exceptions. People who get arrested and convicted of drunk driving need to do time. No exceptions.

There is nothing wrong with people responsibly enjoying alcoholic beverages if they choose to. I am not a teetotaler. But I do not consume alcohol when I am going to drive. Period.

Drunk drivers including celebrities are no different than the Tsarnaev brothers, people who deliberately choose to put people in harm’s way through their actions.

Greg Hughes, a spokesman for NBC Sports, says the company “is aware of the situation” and has been in contact with Michaels. CAA, which employs Toth and represents Witherspoon, and her publicist, Meredith O’Sullivan Wasson, declined comment.

There is only one possible response by Michaels, or Toth and Witherspoon assuming the facts reported are true: a sincere, immediate apology, acceptance of blame for doing something truly reprehensible, and a lifetime of trying to atone for it.

The Associated Press contributed to this column.

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +

Please credit “Gayle Falkenthal for Communities Digital News at WashingtonTimes.com” when quoting from or linking to this story.   


Copyright © 2013 by Falcon Valley Group

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Gayle Falkenthal

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, MS, APR, is President of the Falcon Valley Group, a San Diego based communications consulting firm. Falkenthal is a veteran award winning broadcast and print journalist, editor, producer, talk host and commentator. She is an instructor at National University in San Diego, and previously taught in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University.


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