• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

FOLLOW-UP TO A FOUL-UP

While I don't intend to belabor the point, there are a few more things to be said about the IRL's DANICA WINS!!!!! news release, which said Patrick's victory in Japan made her "the first female to win a major auto racing event." That statement was heralded not only on IndyCar.com, but was repeated in staff-written stories in the Indianapolis Star, New York Times and elsewhere in the MainStream Media.

This, especially in light of Ashley Force's own historic victory -- AGAINST HER FATHER! -- last Sunday, to become NHRA's first Funny Car female winner.

If you're not up-to-speed on this issue, please refer to the first item in last week's blog, which was posted early as I was on jury duty.

Let me add:

1. For decades, management and staff of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have pretty much demanded respect, based largely on the Speedway's place in history. Fair enough. And yet, the IMS' sanctioning arm essentially showed disrespect to overall motorsports history with its elitist use of the word "major."

2. Even with open-wheel reunification, IMS and the IRL are in NO position to alienate the fans of any other racing series. Or general sports fans with a respect and appreciation for the accomplishments of legendary Shirley Muldowney, and other women.

3. The IRL had THREE YEARS to prepare for a Danica victory, including how to write a news release with factually correct historical references and context. No excuse that the release was written on deadline in the middle-of-the-night is credible -- or acceptable.

NHRA did the right thing in promptly issuing its own release. While congratulating Patrick on her win, the release detailed the long history of female winners/champions in drag racing. And, I was glad to see journalists Susan Wade and Jon Asher stand up to correct the record and take the MSM to task.

Wade, the drag racing correspondent for National Speed Sport News and owner of the 1320tv.com site (to which I contribute Business of Racing video commentaries), did the right thing, journalistically, and contacted the legendary Muldowney for comment.

"It's very hurtful," Muldowney told Wade. "What it does is prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are so many who don't do research. It's truly not fair at all."

That, from a Hall of Fame motorsports pioneer.

Wade wrote it best in her NSSN column (in which I am quoted): "Such ignorance by reporters is shameful."

A bit of MSM redemption came in the April 22 USA Today. An editorial, titled "History in under 6 seconds," read:

"Patrick's breakthrough is just the latest for women in hazardous sports that prided themselves as too tough for girls. It echoes driver Shirley Muldowney's Top Fuel dragster world title in 1977, musher Libby Riddles' victory in Alaska's Iditarod dogsled race in 1985 and jockey Julie Krone's win at the Belmont Stakes in 1993 -- all firsts in dangerous, male-dominated sports."

The next day, USAT had six graphs on pre-Danica female winners, including quotes from Angelle Sampey. However, in a classic win-one/lose-one scenario, a half-page Tissot ad congratulated Patrick on "becoming the first female to win a major motorsports event." That's a step worse than the original IndyCar release, as it widened the scope from "major auto race" to "major motorsports event."

I hope NHRA has contacted the Swiss watchmaker. At the least, the company should apologize to drag racing fans by buying a full-page ad in National Dragster, to praise the accomplishments of Muldowney, Force, Sampey, Melanie Troxel and others.
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Just to show you who is in an "outreach" mode for coverage, I got calls from both Ashley and John Force Sunday night. I interviewed her for 10 minutes and him for 15. Difficult to imagine that happening in most of the other "major" series.

And here's an important note for the MainStream Media: PLEASE pay attention and notice this basic difference between Ashley and Danica. Ashley admits she's "shy" (her word) and, in my Sunday night interview and others I heard, steered her comments toward her Ford Mustang team and the NHRA series -- paying tribute to Muldowney and others.

I just wish Ashley wouldn't hide behind her sunglasses. People (plus TV and still cameras) want to see her. Although I'm not a golfer, I admire Annika Sorenstam's professionalism. Annika (also a winner Sunday) has admitted she, too, is shy. But I noticed that after she attracted national media attention by playing in the PGA's The Colonial five years ago, Annika seemed to relax more in the spotlight, and part of that was putting her sunglasses atop her cap more often, so we see her emotions and expressions. I hope, in time, Ashley will be able to follow Annika's good example.
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To understand the declining standards in American journalism, just look at Time magazine, and managing editor Richard Stengel. To promote its advocacy of a global warming agenda, Stengel had his cover designers manipulate the iconic photo of the U.S. flag being raised at Iwo Jima, a controversial move that outraged various Veteran's groups.

Stengel then was quoted thusly in various business and journalism outlets:

“I didn’t go to journalism school. But this notion that journalism is objective, or must be objective, is something that has always bothered me – because the notion about objectivity is in some ways a fantasy. I don’t know that there is as such a thing as objectivity.”

“[F]rom the time I came back (to Time), I have felt that we have to actually say, ‘We have a point of view about something and we feel strongly about it, we just have to be assertive about it and say it positively.’ I don’t think people are looking for us to ask questions. I think they’re looking for us to answer questions.”

“I don’t even know what rules there have been all along in journalism. There are rules we kind of observed by tradition, but it’s not like you know the legal code or the being a doctor with the way you treat people. We sort of make it up as we go along and I think that is what will continue to happen.”

What a disgrace. Not surprisingly, Stengel has become a favorite on liberal TV talk shows.
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Credit-Where-Credit-Is-Due: Circumstances have delayed me from doing this, but thanks to the following PRers, who helped with my Arizona Republic NASCAR coverage at Phoenix International Raceway:

Paul Corliss, Griffin Hickman, Kerry Tharp, Jason Christley, Kelby Krauss, Joe Crowley, Jessica Rohlik, Amy Walsh, Jon Edwards, Bill Janitz, Mike Davis, Andy Hall, Judy Dominick, Dave Ferroni, Marc Spiegel, Becky Dick, Denny Darnell, Scott Sebastian, Dan Zacharias, Denise Maloof and Marc Abel.

Zip-A-Dee-Do-Da from anyone at Roush Fenway, Richard Childress Racing, Penske, DEI, Fox or SPEED, or big-time sponsors such as Lowe's, Budweiser, Miller, Mobil 1, Red Bull and plenty of others.

And the next time I'm told a driver "isn't available" for even a brief interview, I intend to repeat this story: Monday of Masters week, Steve Williams, Tiger Woods' caddy, called me from Augusta National for a 15-minute conversation. (!)

It was fun talking about my Woods-could-have-been-a-great-racer story with Dave Moody on Sirius and Claire B. Lang on XM.
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Kevin Lepage, Larry Gunselman (NASCAR) and Marty Roth (ICS) should be suspended indefinitely for inexcusable driving errors last weekend. "Probation" isn't sufficient in any of these cases. Lepage's apology (via a team statement) was appropriate but not enough for triggering the huge wreck in the Talladega Nationwide race. Gunselman had PLENTY of time to avoid slamming into Dario Franchitti's "door" area, sidelining the Indy 500 winner with a broken left ankle. As for Roth, even I could could steer into the pits -- at the reduced pit road speed! -- without hitting someone.


Here's a link to last Friday's Republic notebook:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/04/24/20080424racingnb0425.html


[ more next Tuesday . . . ]