Look, we don’t talk a lot about NASCAR here in these parts, but we did spend the better part of Monday’s show talking about Jay Busbee’s thought-provoking take on media impartiality and whether or not members of the fourth estate should celebrate and congratulate the athletes they cover.
In other words, it’s more talk about cheering in the press box.
This suddenly became more than just a media ETHICS class yesterday when news broke that Tom Bowles was let go from his SI writing gig because, per Bowles, he was one of the writers caught doing all that cheering and congratulating and celebrating last weekend after Trevor Bayne SAVED THE SPORT OF NASCAR FOREVER.
Busbee and I get into that a little bit too…to the layperson, what does the win by Bayne really mean and did it really save anything or was it just the little engine that could (and analogy that could almost be taken literally)?
Were the reporters cheering for Bayne or were they simply just cheering for the idea of him — for the storyline? Is that okay?
Busbee and I tend to agree more than not on this, but we agree most that there isn’t really a line anymore between what a reporter can and can’t do, ETHICALLY speaking (yes I put that in all caps every time). We do admit that the line certainly falls before getting into the pace car and blocking half the drivers from passing — or, as Busbee has daydreamed about while covering a PGA event, tackling Tiger Woods on the first tee. The line is certainly before that, but columnists aren’t above making themselves the story in other ways, see Wahl, Grant, FIFA or Simmons, Bill, NBA. How is making yourself the story okay, but clapping for a kid not?
We get more into the line of ETHICS, too. Is it okay to get an autograph from a subject for your kids? What if the subject offers? Does that compromise your ability to write a fair story? What if you’re a reporter and you train athletes in your spare time? What if your celebrity status in sports enables you to become friends with athletes?
There was a HUGE ethical debate about the ESPN College Gameday crew not disclosing super-secret Nike deals, with many of us wondering if the analysts have been more favorable to schools with Nike contracts. Is that different than accepting an athlete’s autograph? Is it worse? And if we question the ethics of those with super-secret Nike deals, is it fair to question a writer whose site is sponsored by the same company that sponsors an athlete? If Busbee ostensibly gets paid by the same company that a driver has on his hood, will that change his coverage of the driver? Where is the ethical line here? Why do we trust one media member’s ethics and not another’s — is it simply by the degrees of separation?
Which is more important for the impartiality of a media member: the manner by which a journalist acts around a subject or the manner by which a journalist acts around other journalists? Is “leaving your fandom at home” better or worse than admitting you have bias and working with that fully disclosed? Because, look, we all have biases. We all like teams or players or athletes or agents or other members of the media more than someone else. There is no such thing as impartiality, so why are we constantly trying to abide by rules that can’t actually exist?
Yes, this is a little more gray than a press room handshake and a post-race high five. Thanks for listening.