The Sting Of Irresponsible Journalism
After a very tough week of mourning and tributes for Dan Wheldon that was capped off with two moving ceremonies – one in St. Petersburg and one in Indianapolis that we were all allowed to view live – I get a sense that the majority of the IndyCar community is willing to move forward. We may not all be ready to, but I think that many are now at least willing to turn the page and face the “normal” world.
As tough as this past week has been on all of us fans, it has been even harder on the drivers, teams and those directly involved with the IZOD IndyCar Series. That includes INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard.
Beginning last Sunday night, I heard and read many accounts where fans and even members of the media were personally laying blame for Dan Wheldon’s fatality, specifically at the feet of Randy Bernard. I heard Kevin Lee on Thursday night’s edition of Trackside directing a question to these people asking, “Do you have no heart?” The thing is, Trackside is only listened to by hardcore fans of this sport. I seriously doubt that many, if any, casual or non-fans listen to their show. Therefore, none of those people making these cruel and baseless accusations heard Kevin’s rhetorical question.
How do I know this? Because no one that follows this sport and knows the facts would ever say such a thing.
Not to name-drop, but I feel I personally know Randy Bernard. I interviewed him at Barber last spring and had some good one-on-one time after the interview was concluded. Six weeks later during qualifying weekend at Indianapolis, Susan and I bumped into him and he immediately called us both by name and asked how the site was going. We walked through the garage area with him and chatted a little bit before we parted ways. We also exchanged e-mails a couple of times throughout the summer.
I don’t tell this to brag, nor do I claim that we are friends. However, I think I’ve had enough personal interaction with him to know if he is the genuine article or not. I can say, unequivocally, that he is. We’ve had no interaction since Wheldon was fatally injured, but I can assure you that he is hurting as much or more than any of us.
I know very little of the sport that Randy Bernard came from – Professional Bull Riding. I know that PBR was almost invisible when Randy Bernard took over in 1994, but by the time he left to move to INDYCAR, he had taken them to levels of popularity that no one had dared dream of. I also know that, like IndyCar racing, bull riding is a very dangerous sport, but I don’t know if that sport ever suffered any fatalities during the fifteen years that Mr. Bernard was at the helm.
In the short time that Randy Bernard has been on board leading our sport, he has seen the highest highs and the lowest lows – all within a five-month span. He has kick-started our once-dormant sport and had a large hand in the highly successful Centennial Celebration of this year’s Indianapolis 500. He recognized what an unusual situation having Dan Wheldon winning the race was, since he was a one-off. It was not an ideal set of circumstances that the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner was sitting on the sidelines for the rest of the season.
I will admit his challenge to any non-IndyCar driver was ill conceived. I think it is now painfully clear that only drivers with significant experience in these cars should be racing them. A couple of test sessions is not enough to prepare even the likes of Jimmie Johnson or Kasey Kahne, much less a rider from the X-Games.
As it became obvious that no one was really interested in taking up the challenge, Bernard thought it would be great exposure to have the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner, who had captured so much attention a few months earlier – go for the challenge. He would start from the back of the field to make it even more challenging. If successful, Wheldon would split the $5 million with a random fan who would enter online.
Even as Wheldon was interviewed from his car via radio just before the race went green, he referred to this as “…a great opportunity that Randy Bernard has given me”. He went on to say that if he didn’t honestly think he could win, he wouldn’t be doing it.
The mainstream media has been all over this. On my way to work Tuesday morning, a friend called to tell me of a segment of The Today Show on NBC. I have not seen this, so I’m relaying this second hand, but supposedly they referred to the promotion as a “dare” by INDYCAR and that they and Randy Bernard set Wheldon up to die. Those are some very strong words. If this was really what was said, then shame on them.
Without turning this discussion political – long ago, NBC lost its status as a credible news source. They have had a reputation for years of twisting facts in order to promote their own agenda – whatever that may be. They’ve now done it regarding INDYCAR, in order to join the throngs of the media that don’t understand racing, but have jumped on this story in order to legislate auto racing from existence.
Unfortunately, a much more credible news source – The Wall Street Journal – has decided to take on the supposed evils of auto racing. Two authors, Alexandra Berzon and Rachel Bachman, have attempted to put their spin on what they think led to what happened last Sunday. You don’t have to read very far to realize that these two know nothing about our sport. Yet, they use their credible employer as a platform to get the point across that they think Randy Bernard was gambling with driver’s lives in the name of marketing.
If you’ve read this site for very long, you know that I don’t consider myself to be a journalist at all. I’m just a fan, just like everyone else. I just like to write about the sport I love. To us that know this sport, it is obvious that these two had no business writing this article. But to those that know little or nothing of our sport, having The Wall Street Journal come down on IndyCar racing makes the attacks seem justified. Feel free to read the article here.
This is one of the most blatant examples of irresponsible journalism that I can think of. Here you have two writers that are tackling a subject they know nothing about in order to advance their careers by creating a stir, in sort of an odd form of drive-by journalism. Next week, they’ll move on to some other sensationalistic topic. In the meantime, the damage to IndyCar has been done in the eyes of the public. If I didn’t know this sport, by reading this article – I would assume that Randy Bernard was an irresponsible leader who should be ousted and this was a sport that needed to be disbanded.
I had it brought to my attention in mid-week that Randy Bernard’s Facebook page had a post from someone demanding his resignation immediately and blaming him directly for Dan Wheldon’s death. To whomever this person was, I’ll go back to Kevin Lee’s response – do you have no heart?
I fully believe Randy Bernard to be a good and decent man, who also happens to be a good businessman – not the other way around. When he first made the announcement that Wheldon had passed away and when he spoke so well at yesterday’s memorial service, you could tell that his heart was aching. It wasn’t because he was worried about his job or his own legacy or reputation – it was because he had lost a friend. For anyone – fan or non-fan – to suggest that Randy Bernard is responsible for Dan Wheldon’s death is asinine and completely irresponsible.
Such irresponsibility and irrational comments are not limited to the mainstream media. A late comment from a reader on this site on last Wednesday’s post, attacked Randy Bernard and suggested that all ovals should be removed from the 2012 schedule. He also claimed that the 2012 car was more dangerous than the current Dallara. I have no idea what his source of information was, but I think that everyone needs to take a deep breath before we all get hysterical.
There are things the series can learn from Wheldon’s accident. Certain rules and safety precautions will be implemented. I’m still hopeful that Kentucky will return for next year along with New Hampshire, but I think there is now a good chance that Las Vegas may disappear from the 2012 schedule. But to suggest that all ovals go away is almost as ridiculous and over-reactionary as insisting that Randy Bernard should resign.
The events of last Sunday are going to be a blow to this sport. Aside from the fact that it lost a great friend, the sport will feel the ramifications from this for a long time. There are a lot of irrational and irresponsible comments out there bordering on hysteria. After yesterday’s tragic death of MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli, expect the comments to intensify. We need someone who can keep a clear and calm head about them, to be leading this sport in the next few months. I fully believe that Randy Bernard is the best person to have his hand on the tiller as the sport navigates some pretty treacherous waters over the next few months. There are many new problems facing INDYCAR in the coming months that no one foresaw just ten days ago.
Going into Las Vegas, the series had a lot of momentum on its side and there was a good vibe headed into the offseason. Now there is a lot of heartache that will quickly be replaced by a multitude of questions – many without answers. It’s bad enough to have the mainstream media commenting on things they know nothing about as they attempt to bring down the sport we love. To have a few supposed fans adding to the hysteria is not only unfortunate, it’s irresponsible.