What do I make of 2017?
Well, the biggest laugh I had was when a Trump Administration official talked about having "alternative facts" on a certain issue. The kook-left news media, led by a fundamentally dishonest CNN, went bonkers. The Mainstream Media arrogantly think they -- and ONLY they -- are the possessors and guardians of The Truth. Let us remember the several wrong reports from the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, ABC, et al, which required corrections or retractions -- and then were immediately forgotten as the righteous keyboarders and microphone-holders pro-actively fought on against the 45th and legally elected President of the United States of America with, they tell themselves, God and Country on their side.
It says here that, as a matter of ethics, integrity and credibility, when media use Anonymous Sources as the basis for a story, and that story is proven to be untrue, that the originating media organization identify those lying and agenda-driven sources. Yes, the public has a right to know!
"Alternative facts?" Nothing new about this! As I Tweeted ( @SpinDoctor500 ) at the time, NASCAR has been feeding AF's to the media for decades! And, I will cheerily admit here and now, so did I back when I was seeding the motorsports public relations fields. Candidly, this is nothing more than taking the hard and real facts and presenting them in a different -- as in more favorable to the boss or client -- way. It's an attempt to Frame the Issue so the folks see things your way. Misbehaving children try this with their parents every day of the week!
It's quite remarkable -- and sad -- what a stinking sewer CNN has become. So much so it's fallen behind the woefully misbegotten MSNBC in some audience measurements. The CNN bunch are no longer journalists. They are political activists. If she were honest, Erin Burnett -- whose otherwise beautiful eyes drip rage, would open every show with: "Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. I hate Donald Trump." White House beatman Jim Acosta easily wins the Ass of the Year Award, routinely acting for the cameras during press briefings, rudely interrupting other speakers, and injecting negative opinions into what are supposed to be "straight" news reports. Look no further than the background of CNN CEO Jeff Zucker to understand why the network has become "the most untrusted name in news."
Here's an on-point example of how bias is planted in what supposedly is an "objective" report: ABC network TV news said the controversy over NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem was "ignited" -- that's the word used, "ignited" -- by President Trump. Factually wrong. It was set off by Colin Kaepernick, not Donald Trump.
Overall, I think White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders does a good job, unafraid to jab back when necessary. I have to admit, though, that sometimes I wish I had her job. I know exactly what I'd do to hold the media accountable and I'd have the situation much more firmly in professional line within six months. And doing so while understanding and respecting and facilitating the media's role within our great Constitutional Republic.
Meanwhile, what is obvious to me, and very troubling, is the sports media think the overwhelmingly negative view of the press reflected in every public opinion poll doesn't apply to them. Oh, how mistaken they are!
One newspaper writer referred to NASCAR as an "insular oddity." I bet you can guess who was the one out-of-touch with reality on that one.
But, by far, the TV guy apparently watching from another planet was NBC football's Cris Collinsworth. Asked by Al Michaels to comment on the NFL-National Anthem controversy, Collinsworth said he wished President Trump would "apologize" to the players. If you want to see a guy existing within the bubble of his own overly-inflated ego, Collinsworth is your man!
The most important U.S. Business and Politics of Sports story, though, was the Bad News Central otherwise known as ESPN. Hundreds were laid-off, thousands of households cut the cable cord, and network President John Skipper resigned suddenly, citing substance addiction. What a mess.
Perhaps the worst day in ESPN history came Monday, Sept. 25, when the network offered-up one Talking Head after another, and none of them agreed with President Trump's stance on the anthem controversy. ESPNers repeatedly outright rejected criticism of liberal bias. (One talking point was that Fox Sports was stirring this pot. Maybe. That doesn't make it not true.) I can only assume none of them bothered to watch the 6 p.m. SportsCenter or Pardon The Interruption, to cite only two examples. The Heads have become all-too predictable: Every perceived wrong somehow gets back to racism or sexism, they say. Whoever replaces Skipper will automatically become one of the top 2018 stories and two things I will be watching for are to see if he/she steers editorial content more toward the middle and allows journalists to be just that -- journalists -- not performers. Probably unlikely . . . but there's always hope?
Elsewhere, too many media people -- especially in NASCAR -- increasingly became slaves to social media. Unhappily, some of those who didn't play that game as aggressively as others were caught in the latest wave of media layoffs. The writers at FoxSports.com were wiped out and even NASCAR.com downsized.
I couldn't help but think of my friend Leon Mandel, the late AutoWeek editor/publisher, when a current writer keyboarded about NASCAR's stage racing and playoff format: "I'll sacrifice some integrity for entertainment." This fellow is fortunate Mandel is no longer with us, otherwise, he would have been told to hit the road. Pronto.
Mandel was one who did know about the Business and Politics of Racing. I had many moments this year of shaking my head at those who pretended to know what they were talking/writing about when it came to BaPoR issues. Their knowledge base was exposed to be, well, not much. The Smithfield foods sponsorship moving from Richard Petty Motorsports to Stewart-Haas Racing, and Subway terminating its deal with Joe Gibbs Racing, were good examples of this. So was all the yap about how Fernando Alonso at the Indy 500 would boost the TV ratings. It did . . . in Spain. IndyCar sponsors don't care about TV ratings in Spain. They care the USA numbers were down -- again. Others claimed Alonso-at-Indy was the biggest story in racing. No, it wasn't. Liberty Media taking ownership of Formula One and ousting Bernie Ecclestone was No. 1, by miles. Alonso made for good copy but the F1 goings-on translated to billions of dollars across the industry.
Gimmicks increasingly became part of "news" coverage. The most disgraceful was NBC using its announcers -- mainly The Buffoon, who also cost Gibbs that sponsorship -- to rev-up grandstand fans by interviewing NASCAR winners at the start/finish line. The same questions were then again asked in victory lane. And again on the post-race show. Enough. Here's an idea: How about NBC hiring a real journalist and allowing that person to work as a real journalist, not a performer, on the race telecasts?
Racing PR continued its downward slide. (One more congrats, though, to ESPN's Andy Hall for winning the Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations.) Count me among those disenchanted with how the Dale Earnhardt Jr. farewell was handled. To show how basic common sense is too often in the museum alongside a '57 Chevy, consider the PRers who don't even think to offer a seat to a journalist forced to use a cane and wear a back brace, as he interviews her/his driver.
The human element has all-but disappeared, and as I've said before, part of the blame belongs to the ill-conceived NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications structure. Talk about setting a bad example.
A Tweet or Text is now considered sufficient to establish a professional PRer-journalist "relationship." Texting reminds me of how Voice Mail was used in its early days. If someone really didn't want to speak to someone else, but had to provide a reply, the VM would intentionally be left during the lunch hour or after 5 p.m. when the other party likely wasn't at his/her desk. That's how it is with texting: Use that, instead of a phone call, if you really don't want to speak to the other.
NASCAR gave us the dumbest word ever to enter racing lingo: "Encumbered."
One more thing: There are countless person-to-person acts of kindness within every racing series. I know that from first-hand experience. But it's crap when the TV Heads say, now as a cliche, how those in any garage area are a "family." I tell you that also from first-hand experience. It's a hard and bitter truth when you empty your heart on behalf of another and, well . . . Response sent, of course, via Text. There is no humanity in a Text.
I'll end with this: Thank you for those who have offered encouragement this year as I worked through health and personal challenges. As I've said to all, I'm not seeking sympathy, because millions have it worse than I. I would like to think I'll post more frequently here in 2018, but I can't make specific promises. After missing NASCAR-at-Phoenix last November, plans are in the works for me to resume writing for the Arizona Republic. I have, however, discontinued my CompetitionPlus.com column.
I likely will have more to say about my future plans in the upcoming weeks. The first to know will be readers of this blog. Again and again and again, I say to you a most sincere Thank You.
[ more soon . . . ]