Reaching An All-Time Low

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Just when you thought that the mainstream media could not get any more shallow, they somehow managed to drain just a little more water out of the pool over the last few days.

As I indicated last week, I had already planned to not have anything here on Monday. I hesitated to even discuss the tragic episode in upstate New York late Saturday night involving Tony Stewart that left a young sprint car driver, Kevin Ward, Jr., fatally injured. After all – more than enough has been said on the subject. But after seeing the callous and irresponsible reporting done by supposedly credible news sources, I had to speak out.

We all know what Twitter is and we know to take it at face-value. Yes, there were horrible things written about Tony Stewart on Twitter. Some have even used the terms “murderer” and "cold-blooded killer", while claiming to know exactly what his “intentions” were. That’s what you get with Twitter. For no charge, you get fast and timely news – some of which is actually pretty accurate. You also have the chance to interact directly with a lot of interesting people, but with that comes having to deal with the trolls and bottom-feeders of the internet. I get that and I try to follow Pressdog’s advice to “never engage the crazies”.

The thing is, I expect the off-the-reservation conspiracy theories and magnified sensationalism about such things from Twitter. I don’t expect it from sources that claim to be trustworthy and leaders in their field. Unfortunately, the line between Twitter and CNN has blurred to the point that it is hard to distinguish between the two.

I first learned of the accident when I woke up Sunday morning. I checked Twitter and, following the timeline backwards, I could tell something horrible had happened overnight. I went to a couple of links and was able to pretty well piece things together. And yes, I’ll admit – I clicked on a link to the video. I did this not because I get my jollies over watching my fellow man meet their demise, but to compare what I was reading on Twitter to what the video actually showed. I’m not sure how anyone could make an informed statement either way without watching the video. Yes it was disturbing, but I saw what I needed to see.

I will also throw out this disclaimer – I am old and probably considered old in my thinking. I grew up in an age when death on a race track was much more common than it is today. That’s not to say it doesn’t bother me or affect me, but I probably look at it in a way that is considered insensitive in today’s world. Granted, this was different than if the driver had lost his life in the crash. Instead, the twenty-year old driver did what he had seen so many times on television. He unbuckled himself quickly and jumped out onto the racing surface to point his finger at Stewart to show his displeasure for being spun out. We all know what happened from there.

There is no way around it, this was a terrible, terrible tragedy. But our current society must always have someone to blame. And society loves to blame the rich guy with the hot temper, racing amongst kids less than half his age. Those were the only facts that people needed to convict Stewart, regardless of any other facts that might sway their thinking.

As I said, I’m a little more used to death in this sport than others. After I thought about how young he was, how devastated his parents, friends and family members must be, what Tony Stewart must be feeling at that point and how senseless and avoidable this was; I thought beyond the emotional aspects. I knew this was going to rock the sport of auto racing across the board and that the mainstream media would get hold of this and twist the facts and manipulate a story as only they can. Unfortunately, I was correct.

For whatever reason, the first place I went was CNN.com. The headline indicated that Tony Stewart had killed a young driver Saturday night. Someone may have read that and assumed that Stewart had assaulted and killed the driver in the pits. When you clicked on the video, the talking suits said that “…Stewart ran over the driver while he was standing on the track”. If you’ve seen the video, you know he wasn’t standing on the track – he was running into harm’s way, directly toward Stewart’s car.

I checked out the CBS and ABC news sites. They had similar distorted interpretations as to what happened. I was home Monday afternoon and caught one of the worst sources for news and opinions on racing – ESPN’s “Around the Horn”. It may be a sports show, but they need to stick with the NFL pre-season. These people don’t need to be discussing the intricacies of racing. It would be like me trying to sound authoritative about golf – I couldn’t come close to pulling it off.

ESPN’s SportsCenter wasn’t much better. Long ago, they lost all credibility with me. They’ve gone from being sports reporters to hip, stand-up comedians who happen to be talking about sports.

The bad thing is, so many people get their only exposure to news from snippets on the respective websites of CNN, CBS, ABC and the like. It might explain why almost thirty percent of Americans can’t tell you where our nation’s capital is, but they can all tell you who Kim Kardashian is married to. So, have our news services dummied themselves down to attract today’s mindless viewers; or are today’s viewers mindless due to the way they get their news?

I’m not going to tell you what really happened that night. I have no clue. I’ve seen the same video and read the same accounts as these so-called experts that claim to know. Maybe they’re smarter than I am, but I don’t have the slightest idea what happened. I know what I would like to think and it’s what I believe, but I don’t really know and neither do these experts.

But I do know this…Tony Stewart has already been tried, convicted and sentenced in the minds of some of these “objective” reporters who are so quick to throw out their uneducated opinions. They have all been eager to remind us of his well-earned reputation as a hot-head. They want us all to remember that Stewart has undergone counseling for anger management. Yet, while they are so quick to point out these things – they conveniently omit all of the wonderful and caring acts of charity that Stewart is also guilty of.

Tony Stewart is a lot like his idol AJ Foyt. He has a gruff exterior that covers up a heart of gold. His close friends speak of countless charitable acts that Stewart does when the cameras aren’t rolling. He doesn’t do them for the photo-ops or the publicity. He does them because he wants to, and without the credit. Like AJ, he doesn’t want anyone to know that he is really a teddy-bear on the inside. It’s funny how we who follow this sport closely know about them, but the professional journalists fail to bring them up. Why? Because it contradicts the sensational message that they’re trying to get across, that’s why. Who cares if it destroys his career and ruins his life? It’s a heck of a story.

But that brings me back to the worst part about this whole thing. While I’m talking about the mainstream media destroying Stewart’s career and ruining his life – don’t think I’ve forgotten that a life was ended on Saturday night. I’ve heard it said that only Tony Stewart knows for sure what really happened in those few seconds. I’m guessing not even Tony Stewart knows. I’ll bet he has played what happened over and over in his head a million times and still isn’t certain. But according to those closest to him – it is eating him up inside. You know he keeps second-guessing if he had just done this or not done that, maybe things would be different.

Hopefully, all racing bodies will make penalties so severe for stepping out onto a hot racing surface (except in the case of a fire or other danger), that no one will ever even think of trying this again. That was an act that had gotten very old, anyway. If there is anything remotely positive to come from this, that would be it.

I feel for the family and friends of Kevin Ward, Jr. I also feel for Tony Stewart. I cannot imagine what he is going through right now. If he never crawled back into a race car again, I don’t think I could blame him. His life and career will never be the same. It certainly doesn’t help to have the uninformed mainstream media trying to bury him, just so they can have a great story.

George Phillips

Note:  Out of respect for the Ward family, there will be no poll question today. – GP

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30 Responses to “Reaching An All-Time Low”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    Great post George….

  2. The spin was caused by a minor racing incident that happens all the time. I believe the young driver’s over-reaction was triggered only because it was Tony Stewart. He probably decided to put on a performance and show everyone he wouldn’t take any guff from the superstar. At 20 years old Kevin Ward Jr grew up with a media and society that thinks that kind of macho posturing is cool. At age 64 I consider that type of behavior unsportsmanlike childishness–something that should be rare instead of common. Unfortunately it cost a young man his life and I think a share of the blame goes to the media that glorifies ” showing emotion” in all sports.

    • I agree with Patrick. That was my thought too. The spin did not look in any way intentional and happens all the time when someone runs out of racetrack.

  3. Mike Silver Says:

    Great post, George.

  4. Right on all accounts. Further, I am embarrassed at some of “our” racing media for their sensationalization of this tragedy. I can forgive the ignorance of some of the stick and ball types to some extent, but that segment of the racing media that has joined in the mass execution of “Smoke” SHOULD know better.

    As Curt and Kevin said on “Trackside” last night, this should lead to a serious penalty for any one stepping onto a “hot” race track.

  5. It has been amazing to look at a lot of the comments,not just from the press but by all the Tony haters out there in the comments section.

    If you look at that video, Mr. Ward is exactly in the middle of the track if not slightly beyond half way toward the bottom of the track when he is hit. What in the world was he thinking? I’m not sure Tony Stewart even saw him until the last second.

    We keep hearing how Stewart swerved toward him, but its clear on that video that the car does not swerve until Ward is hit, obviously a reaction to the collision.

    Not only did this foolish thing cost him his life and the grief of his family, but now Tony Stewart has to live with this. Just because it was an accident does not make it any easier for Tony. And because of the idiots out there, it is going to hurt his career.

    Of course, if it had been anyone other than Tony Stewart whose car hit Ward, it may have not made news beyond the local paper. It reminds me of the politics of personal destruction we see so often today from the national press. Because of the political criticism we hear of the Nascar nation from one side of the political divide, I wonder if what is driving this is nothing more than politics.

  6. What’s the definition of “mainstream media?” Big? Non-racing focused? If it’s big, I’ve seen many many stories in big media that I think are fair. I too looked online for details when I first heard the story and it didn’t take long for me to get the basic outline of what happened. I’ve been reading stories about this in the mainstream media since then and found them to be, in the vast majority of cases, pretty factual and unbiased. I definitely prefer to hit mainstream media sites for update compared to some of the racing-focused sites and some of the crazier blogs. I think people who don’t know either of the parties involved (Stewart or Ward) would take a look at the vast majority of these mainstream media reports and get a reasonably accurate picture of what’s happened and the developments so far.

    • Some are already blaming “Southern Culture” for this incident, even though Tony is from Indiana. But it fits the narrative.

      • Colin Cowherd is trumpeting the “Southern Culture.” Nevermind the fact that a large majority of NASCAR drivers are not from the south and the highest rating for the Glen came from Indy. The “Southern Culture” left NASCAR long ago. Welcome to 2014 Herd.

    • When the incident first happened there were articles that outlined the sequence of events which I agree were objective. The BBC article: http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/motorsport/28731314 is one such example. It’s when these sites start publishing “analysis” type articles without knowing anything about racing that the problem lies. Instead of consulting people who actually know Tony Stewart and know about racing they published sensationalized analyses.

  7. Excellent post. I too am old enough to remember when death in a race car was tragically common. Since there was little TV coverage I can only speak for races I attended and what few media reports that were available. My memories don’t include any instances where drivers exited cars on the track and confronted moving vehicles. Usually, “differences of opinion” were settled in the pits after the race. The racing was every bit intense as it is today. My question is why is it now appropriate for drivers to express anger on the track? How did this acting out of aggression become fashionable?

  8. billytheskink Says:

    It has been too easy to forget in all of this how sad the loss of Kevin Ward Jr. is regardless of the circumstances. I’m typing it here as a personal reminder as I offer my meaningless commentary.

    ————-

    I agree with pressdog for the most part, I’ve probably read more mainstream media stories on the incident that I would deem fair than sensationalist. Most such stories made an effort to get quotes from informed racers and race officials.
    It is when the mainstream media outlets move from telling the story to offering commentary, though, that I and many other race fans struggle.

    To ESPN’s credit, they have let Ricky Craven deal with much of their commentary and I thought he has done a fair job. My experience with several other outlets, however, has not been nearly as good. From a spectacularly uninformed commentary by one of the local news sports anchors on “NASCAR culture” to reports including incidents in which Stewart struck pit crewmen by total accident as evidence of a history of aggression, a lot of uninformed garbage is being said about this sad incident.

    “If you don’t know the difference between Dick Trickle and Rich Bickle, then your opinion on auto racing means nothing to me.” That is a pithy little referential joke I have used in various forms from time-to-time, but it rings true here. Though I’m not betting on it, here’s hoping that the informed commentary shines through the uninformed.

  9. No one should comment until we hear or read comments from tony himself… So may have quickly called him a killer but an equal amount people are standing behind tony with excuses of it was an accident and excuses of lighting and his dark firesuit. Also some many claiming Ward should of never of gotten out of his car, but most racers would of gotten out, it’s what they do most of the time and it’s want race fans want to see, raw emotion. Get out and throwing gloves, pointing and yelling was always neat to see from a driver.

    But we know nothing until we hear from Tony…he may of never see him, he could of want to buzz him but didn’t realize the kid was that close or also lost contrl of his car while trying to buzz him… I don’t believe he set out or intended to hit him…but I will never know…

    All and all several things had to happen for this outcome… And it does not matter if ward getting out started the events that followed, the outcome was a death and if recklessness on Tonys part is proven he will be then held accountable as he should…

  10. Why has nobody talked about the operation of a sprint car? To turn one-you have to Gas it. It’s been reported that authorities are looking at the audio and the video very closely. There is strong evidence that Tony Stewart blipped the throttle right before he hit the other driver. That tells me he was trying to avoid hitting him.

    George -your first mistake was going to CNN for news. The second mistake was going to ABC NBC and CBS. The third mistake was going to ESPN. I have heard unbelievable things from people that should have credibility. I’ve heard things from the general public that will turn your stomach. It just reveals how clueless and idiotic the general public is and more importantly how uneducated and misinformed the media is about any form of motor racing.

  11. I seldom look for racing news beyond about a half dozen spots that I have come to trust for intelligent, reasoned comment and analysis. This site is one of those. ESPN, twitterdum, and much of the so-called mainstream media are not worth my time, at least for racing news. Most comment sections quickly become like a descent into hell. I also regularly read Norris McDonald, the racing writer for the Toronto Star and kind of the Robin Miller of the north country. His story today is worth a read IMHO. He does not point fingers or place blame, but he does pose some interesting questions.

    One writer here stated that racing fans want to see “raw emotion”. Raw emotion in racing often leads to raw stupidity. Tragically there will be plenty of raw emotion tomorrow at a young man’s funeral.

  12. I was looking at a picture of young Ward and what I saw a skinny 20 year-old kid. I was a skinny 20 year old kid once a long time ago, full of myself and ready to take on the world. I can understand that it could be easier to take on the world in a confrontation manner when you feel you have been wrong wearing a protective firesuit and racing helmet. I get that. However, to fault Tony Stewart for what young Ward brought on to himself is insane. Screw what people think the fans want. Keep the drivers in their cars or fine them with a season long suspension. Maybe that will put a stop to this. As for Tony Stewart, how unfortunate.

  13. I’m not a fan of the notion “how unfortunate” for tony Stewart… It will not matter at all what Ward did (getting out of the car)… All that matters is if Tony Stewart was reckless by his actions after Ward climed out of his car… If it’s proven so, he deserves to be punished as he should them be…

  14. Everyone seems against the raw emotion aspect… But up until last weekend everyone had no problem with it because it was apart of the race we all enjoyed… Yes after last weekend things will and should change… But u would be lying if u claimed u were against prior, no one here was against it prior…

    • Nobody expected someone to run directly in the middle of a hot track with poor lighting and dressed in dark clothing. If he had stood by his car and done it he would still be alive and , yes, people would probably not have had a big problem with it. Tony Stewart is getting a raw deal because Mr. Ward was foolish enough to do what he did. If it was anyone else the authorities would already have ruled it accidental and been done with it.

  15. I don’t know… But if recklessness is proven or if Tony admits that he lost control while trying to scare him… He deserves the punishment that he gets… His actions then would of cause a death of a kid… It doesn’t matter how or who started what, it matters who finished it… If Ward would of ran over Tony Stewart I would say that most of the defenders of both would switch views… People who are claiming guilty are just as dumb as the ones claiming innocent…

  16. Many headlines read “Tony Stewart Kills Sprint Car Driver”. The word ‘kills”, to me, implies intent. Perhaps “Driver Fatally Injured When Hit by Tony Stewart’s Sprint Car” would have been a less accusatory way to describe the tragedy. Those of us who know Tony know that he can be edgy at times, but there is no reason to infer that he intentionally hit Kevin Ward, Jr. I don’t believe there is any race driver who would intentionally try to kill a fellow racer. Once again the media is attempting to sensationalize a racing incident without substantial knowledge or information. This is no time for opinions. This is time for prayers for all parties involved.

  17. thank God for Robin Williams….kidding

  18. I’d just like to mention that, as an IndyCar fan from Europe, I watched my first ever complete NASCAR race last Sunday, from Watkins Glen, on a stream.

    The reason why I chose to do that was because former IndyCar AJ Allmendinger who is on a roll right now, had qualified so well.
    So I reckoned this might turn out to be a good race.

    Luckily, I had been warned in time before the race about the tragic and possibly avoidable crash that killed Kevin Ward, Jr. (RIP). Otherwise, this news which was discussed by the TV commentators would have come as more of a shock during what turned out to be quite an exciting road race at the Glen.

    The on-track action between Ambrose and Allmendinger was great driving. Congrats to AJ for his first Sprint Cup victory. He has finally come through.

    Too bad Kevin Ward, Jr. wasn’t able anymore to watch this trackside. Too soon gone for sure.

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