Sunday, May 29, 2011
The stunt jump was anti-climatic. The historic cars paraded to applause. The celebrities were introduced. The Secretary of Homeland Security, who as governor of Arizona wouldn't secure the AZ-Mexico border, stopped by briefly to profile. The IMS Corp., Izod, and most team and sponsor PR people, didn't do PR. (For the record, I told Randy Bernard to his face last Thursday what I've written here: That the IMS Corp. employs and enables one of the five worst PR departments in all of professional sports.) The local media cheerleaders gushed. As noted here yesterday, the much-debated double-wide restart rule was quietly changed less than 24 hours before the start, a bone tossed to the drivers and yet another example that Randy ("The Fans Want It!") Bernard is trying to be all things to all people.
(Let's call that what it is: Mission Impossible.)
Jim Nabors sang (although the PA system missed the first little bit.) The media center Internet connection kept dropping like Will Power on three wheels. There were more people in the stands than anytime since the split, at least as far as I could observe.
And then they waved the green flag for the centennial Indianapolis 500.
And the drivers showed who was in charge. They essentially said "bleep you" to the series' officials and spread out for the start, despite all the talk about going back to the old, traditional, three-wide, 11-rows lined up at the starting line. Ditto on the first try at a double-wide restart. I'm tempted not to blame them. But Bernard, Brian Barnhart, etc. should take that for what is was: A shot across their bow, in the name of what they considered safety. What was Brian going to do? Black flag the whole field?
What would Formula One stewards have done? Or, NASCAR race control?
[ more next week . . . ]
Saturday, May 28, 2011
I'll be on Rick Benjamin's The Checkered Flag show on Sirius XM Satellite radio Sunday morning right after the network's live broadcast of the Monaco Grand Prix.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is all about history. What history will be written in Sunday's centennial running of the I500?
Yes, I'm one of those concerned about the first oval-track try at double-wide restarts. Especially in what apparently will be Crash City Conditions -- hot, sunny, humid -- a slick track with tire marbles on the high line. As I wrote yesterday, I haven't talked to one driver here in the last few days who isn't at least a little worried.
Looking toward the future, other issues are on the horizon, clear to see. Namely, the cost of new cars and parts and engines in a sponsor-challenged environment. I have talked off-the-record with a half-dozen current or interested team owners who say, right now, they don't think they'll have the money to buy the new equipment. Will IMS negotiate a very favorable loan package from an Indiana bank? Float some sort of bond issue to raise the $? I don't know, but stay tuned. Meanwhile, on the all-important TV front, some down-arrow news for hard core fans is coming soon, and it will be symbolic of the bigger picture problems. And, after last week's announcer talk of not being able to imagine an I500 without Danica, well, Gentlmen, start your imaginations. Good luck to her if she tries it as a one-off next season -- trying to figure out new chassis setups in a matter of days. Remember, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, among others, say it can't be done. At least, not if you want to be truly competitive for the win.
By the way, despite what you may have heard/read elsewhere, it was just whispered into my ear the restart zone isn't going to be as previously announced. Supposedly, this is a compromise on driver safety.But those are frets for tomorrow and next year. Today I've seen one of the best things I've observed at IMS in quite a few years. In the a.m., there was an autograph session with former winners. This afternoon, there was one with past drivers. These things are significant logistical challenges but as far as I could tell, things went well. I hesitate to try to list the many people I haven't seen for years, who came back for the 100th anniversary Greatest Spectacle, but I was glad to visit with the likes of Roberto Guerrero, Pancho Carter, Bob Lazier, Phil Krueger, Tom Bagley, Robby McGehee, Max Papis, Scott Pruett, lots of others. When I was the CART communications director in the early 1980s, I could call on guys like Krueger, Lazier, Bagley, etc. at the last minute with a PR request and they'd be happy to help. Plus, of course, Rick Mears and Johnny Rutherford. I always appreciated that.
You could tell these autograph sessions were a good idea. Why? Because the drivers and the fans were smiling and having a good time.
That's the way it should be at Indy.
I received three awards in the annual AARWBA journalism contest, results announced Saturday: Third place in the newspaper news writing category; third place for this blog in the web log category; and second place in the online column category.
One more reminder: Please check out the 1,800-plus word story Mark Armijo and I wrote on the history of Arizona racers in the Indy 500 in Sunday's Arizona Republic or at http://www.azcentral.com/
[ one more from Indy Sunday . . . ]
Friday, May 27, 2011
Dan Gurney accepted for Stewart, busy in Monaco. In what might have been the most historic happening of the centennial I500, Robin Miller attended to sit with Gurney. For the first time in the four decades I've known Robin, he was wearing a sport coat and TIE. It was an old Gurney Eagle tie. I'm glad there were witnesses or I would not have believed my eyes.
Jim Nabors was honored with a lifetime Oldtimers membership. Jim told how he started singing "Back Home Again in Indiana." Jim was on-site to watch the 1972 race as a fan when he was introduced to Tony Hulman race morning. Tony asked Jim to come out of the stands to sing what Nabors thought was going to be the National Anthem. When he was told it was "Back Home," he wrote the words on the palm of his hand. Jim swears this is a true story.
Having lived on both sides of the competitor/media fence, I can tell you for a fact that what you hear said during formal news conferences isn't always what is said behind closed garage doors. It's a bit of both here in terms of how drivers feel about the double-wide restart rule, being used for the first time on an IndyCar series oval Sunday. Thursday afternoon, I was talking with a group of drivers in the motorcoach lot. A couple of them were well-established big time race winners and another has been one of most pleasant surprises coming out of qualifying. I won't name names or provide direct quotes, because this was an off-the-record conversation among friends. I can accurately report to you, though, that the level of concern about double-file restarts is VERY high. One of the biggest names in the field pointed out this would be like the NFL trying out a major new competition rule in the Super Bowl. I said that while baseball Commissioner Bud Selig is often criticized, I know he wouldn't toss out a big new rule for the World Series. Whatever happens, just know people who will be on the track are worried.
If you're really into Indy coverage, please take a look at my stories on CompetitionPlus.com. Did you know Roger Penske started as a drag racer? And Kenny Bernstein's emotional memories of being on the pole as a team owner are quite something. You can find the links at earlier posts.
A reminder of the 1,800-plus word history of Arizona racers at Indy piece that will be in Sunday's Arizona Republic. It is, by far, the longest auto racing story in the paper in many years. Mark Armijo and I put in a lot of effort on this. If you're not in Arizona to buy the paper, please look for this at http://azcentral.com/ .
[ more from Indy Saturday and Sunday . . . ]
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Well, that was an exciting way to begin my 35th Indianapolis 500 and the run-up to the 100th anniversary Greatest Spectacle.
I arrived late Wednesday to an Indiana-wide tornado watch that had the local TV affiliates going to continuous weather coverage instead of network programming from about 5 p.m. until after midnight. Fortunately, other than some heavy rain, downtown Indy itself was OK. But rain carried over to mess-up Thursday planned Indy Lights on-track running.
Meanwhile, on the PR front, back in 2005 IMS started taking all 33 qualified drivers to New York City Monday of race week. As I told the powers-that-be back all the way back then that first year, this was a waste of time for most of the drivers, as only a handful of them actually did any meaningful interviews. Given the significant inventory of unsold seats, I told them the smarter course of action was to take a few big names to NYC, then scatter others to Chicago, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis and the surrounding areas where people might actually buy tickets and make it a one-day trip. In fact, in 2005, I didn't make the trip (even though I had a reserved seat on the charter plane), instead spending the day lining up local radio interviews for Tuesday and Wednesday -- MUCH more effective for the purposes of my driver, team and sponsors.
That's what I said and wrote -- you can look it up.
Well, finally, they listened.
Danica (surprise!), Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves did go to the Big Apple. But the group was dispatched to 13 different cities to promote the centennial -- including several of those I listed in 2005. Plus, some major race markets like Boston, Miami, Las Vegas and Dallas.
Let the record show that, for all the nonsense talk about IndyCar wanting to open its 2012 season in Phoenix, they didn't sent any drivers to the Valley of the Sun. That should tell you more than a little something.
Thursday was media day -- a poorly orchestrated one at that. The No. 1 topic was if this will be Danica's last I500. Enough said.
It's a little-known fact: Roger Penske, Indy's 15-time winning car owner, started off as a drag racer. Read about it, and what Roger has to say about the current motorsports economy and sponsorships, in my CompetitionPlus.com exclusive:
Indy's top 10 legends:
Rolex series champion Scott Pruett's PruettVineyard.com is presenting a magnum of limited edition Napa Cabernet Sauvignon to each Indy 500 team owner with race centennial logo on the label. http://pruettvineyard.com/ .
FAST LINES: It's gotten to the point where I'd rather the PTI pseudo-intellectuals just didn't talk about racing. Last Tuesday, Cranky Tony Kornheiser said Tony Kanaan was an Indy 500 winner. And this error wasn't corrected by the fact checker, probably because he was too busy practicing tossing paper balls at a camera . . . Something to watch for Sunday: For the last two years, ABC's announcers have completely botched the all-important Indy winner's circle interview. Will they go for the hat trick?
[ more from Indy Friday . . . ]
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Let's forget the hype -- which is easy to do since it's coming from one of the five worst PR departments in all of professional sports -- and ponder the question directly:
What will have to happen for Sunday's 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 to truly be the "Most Important Race in History?"
Another victory for Roger Penske? Paul Tracy winning and claiming justice for 2002? Vitor Meira or Bruno Junqueira giving A.J. Foyt the chance to again drink the milk? Graham Rahal or Marco Andretti following in the first-place footsteps of their family icons?
A record-tying fourth for Helio Castroneves? An Ed Carpenter upset that not only would put pregnant car owner Sarah Fisher in victory lane, but his step-father, Tony George, back in the spotlight? A darkhorse triumph by someone like Charlie Kimball? A "finally" for Tony Kanaan?
There is only one thing that would fit the bill and it's the obvious one:
A Danica win.
Will that happen?
Despite the speed struggles throughout Michael Andretti's team, her chances might be better than you think. She qualified 26th for her seventh go in IndyCar's version of the Big Go and has five top-10 finishes, including third in 2009. That history says Danica has a certain touch for the Brickyard, but it's the prospect of the 500 becoming a Junkyard that boosts her chances that much more.
Now, understand this. This will be my 35th I500 in six different decades (below, marking 33 races two years ago), I well remember and loved those classic 11 rows of three starts, and hated Brian Barnhart's single-file strung-out-to-Terre Haute instructions of recent years. Supposedly, BB has been told to go back to the old ways on Sunday. I'm all for it.
But it's more likely Jimmie Johnson will be a relief driver Sunday than it is you'll find more than a couple of racers who like Randy Bernard's new NASCAR-style double-file restarts. Just as there was a time when a rookie driver had to prove himself at tough ovals like Phoenix or Trenton before he could even get a Speedway test, I think it's incredible the IndyCar powers-that-be will experiment with this rule on an oval for the very first time at the Biggest (Most Important) Race of the Year (in History).
I'm no Carnac, but I predict carnage.
"I've heard comments these are supposed to be the best drivers in the world and all this kind of stuff, they can start two-by-two," defending winner Dario Franchitti said a few days ago. "Well, you can put the best driver in the world on marbles here, and I don't care who they are, they're going to hit the fence. That's the problem: The marbles (bits of tire rubber that collect near the outside wall) are the issue and the narrow groove here at Indianapolis."
Despite what the drivers say, Bernard says the fans have spoken, so the rule will stand. But I think anything is possible. If there are crashes-after-crashes on the double-wide restarts, will he tell Barnhart to change back to single-file in mid-race? Can you imagine how crazy, wild -- and dangerous -- double-wide will be if one is needed in the last 10 laps?
IF she can avoid all of that -- which will require some luck on running order so she can keep restarting on the botton line -- Danica could win a 500 that has five finishers.
The hypers would no doubt say, "See, we told you so, it WAS the Most Important Race in History."
Others, more objective, would call it an embarrassment.
As Newt Gingrich recently discovered, TV sound bites have a way of coming back to haunt you. IndyCar announcers who kept saying last weekend that "You can't imagine an Indy 500 without Danica Patrick" might well be bitten by those words come next year when she's in NASCAR.
A reminder to please get this Sunday's Arizona Republic, or go to http://www.azcentral.com/ to see the 1,800-plus word story on the history of Arizona racers in the Indy 500 that I co-wrote/reported with Mark Armijo. I learned a few things in working this project, and I think you will, too.
Here's a link to the story I did last week for CompetitionPlus.com on Kenny Bernstein remembering 1992, when Roberto Guerrero put his car on the pole. http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/news/17655-bernstein-revels-in-indy-500-memory
Please go to CompetitionPlus.com later this week for another drag racing-theme story I did. One of the Indy 500's most successful competitors has his roots in drag racing -- a little known fact.
Reminder: I will blog from Indy starting Thursday.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
I've told these two stories before, but they are worth repeating now, because they well illustrated my own history with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its people.
Back in 1975, I was on-site covering for the Philadelphia Daily News. A.J. Foyt was on the pole and in quest of a record-breaking fourth victory. In those days there were no organized press conferences (I was one, along with the late AARWBA President Dave Overpeck, who got those going in the early 1980s), so the practice was for reporters to stand outside a driver's garage, and hope to get a few minutes. Getting an interview with Foyt was a must for any writer seriously trying to do the job.
I was one of about eight who gathered in front of Foyt's garage late morning Wednesday of race week. The doors were open and A.J. knew we were out there. Finally, after about a half-hour, he waved us in. This was one of those years when Gasoline Alley rumor had it that Foyt was cheating on horsepower. Those of us with some experience figured we'd ask him about that, but not until after we had gotten enough quotes to write a proper story. Unfortunately, just a couple of minutes into our session, some guy -- I think he was a Chicago columnist -- blurted out a question on cheating. Sure enough, A.J. blew up and told us all to "get the hell out of here."
A few evenings before the previous year's Daytona 500, somehow I had been seated next to IMS owner Tony Hulman at a corporate dinner. It was a very pleasant experience. And that connection was about to pay off big time for me.
Our media group exited Foyt's garage and scattered in different directions. As I went around the corner toward the main Gasoline Alley entrance, who happened to be coming toward me but Mr. Hulman. He smiled and we shook hands and he said, "Welcome back to Indianapolis." Mr. Hulman asked me how I was and I told him what just had happened. "Come with me," he said, and we walked back toward Foyt's car. When we got in front of the garage, Mr. H said to me, "Wait here a minute." He went inside and I watched as he had a few words with A.J. Just that quickly Tony came back out and said, "Go on in!" and I looked up to see Foyt waving me in. Thanks to Mr. Hulman, I got an exclusive.
Fast forward to September 2001. I was at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course representing Valvoline, title sponsor of the SCCA national championships, the Valvoline Runoffs. One of the Friday events included Kyle Krisiloff, grandson of Mari Hulman. Mari was there to watch along with daughter Josie, Kyle's mom. Happily for the Hulman-George family, Kyle won, and became an SCCA national champion.
One of my responsibilities was to represent Valvoline in victory lane. As Kyle was going through the trophy presentation ceremonies, I noticed Mari and Josie outside the winner's circle entrance. An SCCA official, who obviously was pro-Champ Car, denied them entry. That happy family moment was not the appropriate time for racing politics, so I went over and re-introduced myself to Mari and Josie and brought them in, much to the unhappiness of the SCCA woman. It so happened Josie's camera wasn't working, so I had my photographer put in a new roll of film (no digital yet) and take a full series of Kyle and Mari and Josie with his national championship awards. When they had everything they wanted, I had the photog take the film out and I gave it to Josie.
At that moment, I felt like I had repaid Mr. Hulman's kind gesture of almost a quarter-century earlier.
The sad thing is, today, there is no one in an executive or staff position at IMS who would ever even think of helping the way Tony Hulman did. It was the result of having established an old-fashioned one-on-one relationship. Too bad that's a Speedway "tradition" that didn't endure while another -- arrogance -- did.
Which is why I'll now tell a story I've never before revealed.
On a practice day in 1989, I double-parked my Porsche in front of the Newman/Haas motorcoach for less than five minutes, so two guys could help me unload and carry inside a large and heavy wooden crate. For the record, no people or vehicles were blocked or impeded by my action. Just as we were about to put the box down at the back of the motorcoach area, I heard someone call out my name. I was surprised by the loud and harsh tone. I turned around to see an arrogant and out-of-control-with-power IMS vice president standing next to my car and yelling, "Come over here!" Understand, this Speedway VP had known me for years. I walked over, outside the canopy, where it was just the two of us, and was berated and cursed at and physically threatened if I didn't immediately move my car. I drove off without a word. (I'll wait to reveal this person's name in another forum.) To this day, I regret that I didn't file a police report, which would have been justified given the threatening words and gestures made at me. If I could go back and do it over again, that's exactly what I would have done. And then papered the media center with copies of the police report.
So, two weeks before the 100th anniversary Indy 500, that's what I'm remembering. I am certain Tony Hulman would have wished otherwise.
Here's two weeks advance notice of something I hope you'll read: Mark Armijo and I have teamed-up to write a long history of Arizona racers in the Indy 500 that is scheduled to run in the Arizona Republic on the day of the 100th anniversary event, Sunday, May 29. At over 1,800 words, it will be the longest racing story of any kind in the paper since at least 2005. There will be a main story recounting some key people and moments, including 1958 winner Jimmy Bryan, and then four sidebars with the four living AZ winners -- Arie Luyendyk, Tom Sneva, Eddie Cheever and Buddy Rice -- remembering their big days. I believe even knowledgable fans will learn something they didn't know. If you aren't in Arizona to buy the paper, look for this at http://www.azcentral.com/ .
And here's a linkto my May "Drags, Dollars & Sense" column on CompetitionPlus.com. It's 10 Q&As with Paul Page:
And here's another heads-up: There's more than one way to report on the 100th anniversary Indy 500. I'll have two stories on CompetitionPlus.com in the next two weeks from a drag racing perspective. Later this week look for my story on Kenny Bernstein remembering Roberto Guerrero qualifying his car on the pole in 1992. I think you might be surprised, as I was, at Bernstein's comments. Then, next week, look for my story on one of the most successful people ever at Indy whose racing roots were planted on the quarter-mile. It's a little known fact.
[ more next Monday . . . ]
Monday, May 09, 2011
For years, liberal journalists and pundits have been telling us to be understanding of the "Arab Street." Sunday night, May 1, the American Street spoke loud and clear.
For all of the positives bid Laden's death brought in terms of disruption of international terrorist operations, the most important benefit was psychological. The American people felt good. It raised our confidence in ourselves and our nation's capabilities and our worldwide prestige. It made us believe again, at least briefly, in the effectiveness of government. It renewed our admiration for the heroic men and women of the Armed Services. It was a blow to the confidence of our enemies.
The operation itself, as well as planning and decision-making process, was nothing short of audacious. To be perfectly honest about it, I didn't think President Obama had that in him. It was a terrible, credibility-bending mistake, for conversative radio show hosts and print commentators to offer tepid praise and then criticize around the edges. Let's be honest about something else: If Ronald Reagan had followed exactly the same course, these very same talkers/writers would exhaust all available oxygen and ink in congratulating him.
Congratulations and thank you to all who played any role in this breathtaking mission.
Attention, Indianapolis media cheerleaders and chatroomers: Despite the "hopes" and "wishes" of Randy Bernard and Terry Angstadt, it is highly, extremely unlikely -- put the chances at near zero -- that the IndyCar series will be at Phoenix International Raceway next season. Unlike others who just take Bernard's "hope" and run with that as if fact, I did some actual reporting -- we used to call that "journalism" -- last week. I directly spoke with two people who would know if such a race were on the horizon -- their names are John Saunders, International Speedway Corp. president, and Bryan Sperber, PIR president. I don't see the need to recount every detail here, because those who have read this blog or what I've written for the Arizona Republic already know them, but anyone paying attention to what is happening (and planned) at PIR from a construction standpoint, anyone who knows anything about the Valley economy (especially as it pertains to home values) and anyone who has two-cents worth of knowledge (or experience) in the Business of Racing or the way ISC runs its biz would know better. Unless IndyCar is prepared to lease the track and promote a race itself, or offer extremely favorable terms on sanction fees, there is not going to be a PIR date. Why IndyCar continues to pump this, and allow others to keep hope alive on this subject, is unfathomable to me from a PR standpoint. Maybe it soothes teams and sponsors that would like to be in the Phoenix market, but it's not reality. Why build-up false hopes for whatever tiny fragment of an IndyCar fan base that remains in the Valley? Credibility counts. Of course, I can see a self-fulfilling tale here of how IndyCar tried, putting by implication a bogus blame on ISC and PIR.
FAST LINES: Let's start with the obvious -- TV is a VISUAL medium. The picture sends the message. I've written before about the inattention of PR people who allow their drivers to be interviewed in front of a competing sponsor's ID, or with a portable toilet in the background. The IMS Productions/Versus version of this came on the debut of the weekly IndyCar show -- NASCAR cars testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the background. That's the way to build your sport and your brand! I'd call it an unbelievable oversight, but I know better, anything dumb is possible with this group. They just proved it -- AGAIN . . . I see the IRS is still chasing after Helio Castroneves. If Helio didn't want to pay any taxes, he should have put all his money in General Electric . . . I watched ESPN's PTI Monday fully expecting the co-hosts' first discussion topic would be the loud and passionate reaction of fans at baseball games (shown on the network) as word spread of Osama bid Laden's death. Silly me. Nothing is more important to those guys than the NBA playoffs -- not even a great national moment . . . Nice try at "spin" on Donald Trump skipping the Indy 500 pace car driver gig because he might run for president. The inconvenient fact, of course, is actual announced prez candidates have been profiling at races for many years. And, for the record, I suggested A.J. Foyt as the pace car driver in this blog on March 6 . . . While it's trendy to knock traditional media outlets, the breaking news on bin Laden was a triumph of reporting for most of the major legacy media organizations and proved there's a need for them to continue in the age of Twitter "journalism" . . . The Long Beach Press-Telegram will outsource its sports, features and photo departments to the (non-union) Daily Breeze. Well-known columnist Doug Krikorian is among those impacted as, no doubt, will be the depth of future coverage of the Grand Prix . . . Wonderful and appropriate that the media center at Darlington was renamed in honor of Jim Hunter . . . A reminder I'm a semi-regular guest on Sirius XM Channel 94's The Checkered Flag show, which is live after every Formula One race. My friend Rick Benjamin hosts with Circuit of the Americas and F1-at-Austin, Tex. Chairman Tavo Hellmund as co-host. I've been on after every GP this season.
Here's 33 things to watch for in May:
[ more next Monday . . . ]
Sunday, May 01, 2011
UPDATE, FRIDAY, MAY 6: I'll again be a guest on Rick Benjamin's The Checkered Flag show following the Turkish Grand Prix this Sunday (May 8) on Sirius XM Channel 94. Race coverage starts on Sirius XM at 8 a.m. EDT with the post-race show immediately afterwards. I'll probably be on somewhere between 10-10:30 a.m. EDT.
Some of the more useful days I've spent at racetracks have been when race cars were no where in sight. Such was the case last week when the Arizona Republic's Mark Armijo, Chris van der Beeck and I surveyed the on-going construction at Phoenix International Raceway with PIR communications director Paul Corliss as our guide.
With the front straight and pits devoid of asphalt, Mark and I had the same idea: Bring on the World of Outlaws!
We could feel the effect of the variable banking (10-11 degrees) in our legs as we walked turns 1-2. Although they won't be utilized right away, new walk-through tunnels are now under those corners.
Most interesting to me: The reconfiguration of the track's signature dogleg. There will be no more shortcuts -- it will have bite and be a real challenge.
The $10 million project is on schedule. A wide-open Sprint Cup test is planned for October before a four-day Kobalt Tools 500k (Thursday an added practice day) Nov. 10-13. The economic gods and ISC Board willing, this is just phase one of a multi-year construction, accomplished between the two NASCAR weekends. Spectators, competitors, sponsors and media will benefit and the work will bring PIR to modern standards in time for its 50th anniversary in 2014.
Finally -- and this is for the benefit of the Indianapolis media cheerleaders and chatroomers -- if Motegi, Japan is canceled for all the obvious reasons, PIR will NOT be the replacement venue. The only on-track activity in September will be a Goodyear tire test.
Before we left to meet PIR President Bryan Sperber, our group climbed the hills behind the track for a better big-picture view. The desert winds were blowing. That's PIR below me, with the turn 1-2 grandstands and suites to the left.
/strong> FAST LINES: Sad word from Stan Clinton that longtime and award-winning racing photographer Dan Bianchi died recently . . . Another standard of acceptability falls as TV networks hired lip readers to tell us what William and Kate said to each other at the Royal Wedding . . . Media hypocrisy would be laughable if it weren't such a huge problem. Those very same "journalists" who claimed no interest in President Obama's birth certificate want Donald Trump's tax returns and proof of paternity for Sarah Palin's baby . . . Most laughable of the liberal media lot was ultra-ego Chris Matthews criticizing Trump by saying, "Where do you go to get an ego like that?" Try looking in the mirror, Chris. This MSNBC headcase fancies himself one of Washington's smartest people, I take it in part, because his resume includes fetching coffee for Tip O'Neill and Jimmy Carter . . . ESPN PTI sub co-host Dan Le Batard last week spoke the most offensive line to average American sports fans since Kenny Wallace told rpm2night viewers to "chill out" days after Sept. 11, 2011. In commenting on Los Angeles Dodgers' owner Frank McCourt saying baseball Commissioner Bud Selig taking control of the management-challenged franchise was "un-American," Le Batard said McCourt was wrong because "America was built on seized property." Another example of an ego-drunk media elite being out of touch with the audience . . . Around this time last year, I noted how Tom Jackson had been completely marginalized on the ESPN NFL draft coverage. He sat on the set, a silent hulk, as other announcers talked around him. I observed that Jackson was not included in last week's draft shows . . . If you want a great example of how embarrassingly frivolous so much of TV has become, check out Win McMurry's cotton-candy act on Golf Channel's 19th Hole. Especially the walk onto the set, sit down, and silently cross legs bit at the end. It's a weekly personal humiliation . . . Another embarrassment: Robin Miller answered a reader comment about Versus' Lindy Thackston on Speed.com last week by writing, "Lindy is learning racing on the fly . . ." I thought IndyCar was a top-level, major-league sport deserving of in-the-know and highly experienced announcers. Guess I was wrong. Note to Randy Bernard: Katie Couric is available (see below).
It's not that we should read too much into Katie Couric choosing People.com to confirm her departure as anchor of the CBS Evening News. We should read EVERYTHING into it. In the early weeks of this blog, in 2006, Couric's impending occupation of sainted Walter Cronkite's anchor chair was a case study in hype. In part, here's what I wrote on Aug. 22, 2006:
"The Katie Countdown is underway: The only thing that surprises me is CBS doesn't have a digital clock at the bottom of the screen, so we instantly know the number of days, hours, minutes and seconds until Katie Couric's Sept. 5 debut as the network's news anchor. This is the PR Case Study of the Year. Couric hired her own image-makers (non-NASCAR drivers, please note this willingness to invest in your own career) to work in consultation with CBS' publicists, and they have undertaken an extensive and sophisticated campaign, to 'reposition' Katie from morning show perkiness to nightly news seriousness. The run-up has included carefully controlled one-on-one interviews, group sessions, photo shoots, focus groups, and a Hillary-esque 'listening tour' so Katie could hear from average Americans (no press allowed). Plus, heavy promotion on CBS Sports programming (wink). The New York Times reported the on-air promos would cost an outside advertiser more than $10 million. Those in charge of the orchestration have liberally borrowed tactics from Hollywood and Washington spin doctors. According to the Washington Post, CBS News President Sean McManus sees a media 'feeding frenzy' over Couric's new role and is surprised by 'this unbelievable thirst for information' about her life. No, it's NOT a surprise. As I have often said: We live in a celebrity-driven, People magazine, photo-op, sound-bite society."
Couric's failure -- and it WAS just that, a failure -- is a rare and somewhat heartening triumph of substance over celebrity. The unprecedented hype for Couric's debut led to boffo opening-night ratings, which then steadily dived to record lows over her five-year tenure. Couric's substance never matched her celebrity. Couric was very hands-on on the initial attempt to redesign the news format -- she gave stories of major significance a sentence or two and then instructed the audience to go to CBSNews.com to get the all-important details. Time was wasted on outside commentators, a gimmick quickly dropped. Eventually, the program was recast in a more traditional form, but Couric's credibility was shot. CBS wasted $15 million per year on her and was slow to hold those responsible accountable. Yes, there were executive producer changes, but it was only recently that McManus was removed from his position as head of the news division. (He's still in sports.)
It's no surprise Couric would use People as her announcement outlet. Remember, a true low-point of her CBS time was revealing that Michael Jackson wanted to date her. The public, as reflected by the ratings, rejected the Celebrity Anchor concept. ABC realized that and totally low-profiled Diane Sawyer's move to its anchor spot.
Couric's spin on her future (expected to be a syndicated daytime talk show) is she wants a format "that will allow me to engage in more multi-dimensional storytelling." Right.
Remember, even Oprah's numbers were going down before her show's farewell tour. Jane Pauley, on Today before Couric, was more fondly regarded by the American public but her own daytime talker bombed and ended after one season. Say goodnight, Katie . . .
Meanwhile, Couric's CBS failure is an object lesson on the limits and perils of hype. A comprehensive review and think session on this case study would be well worth the time investment by all contemporary publicists. I doubt that will happen, though, given how busy so many of them seem to be in not picking up the phone to build solid one-on-one relationships with journalists and not even bothering to visit media centers.
[ more next Monday . . . ]