Sunday, August 3, 2008
NASCAR Tempers Rising At ESPN's Reporting
The Thursday edition of NASCAR Now was on-the-air. Tim Cowlishaw was along to offer his views of Indy and the upcoming Chase for the Championship. The outstanding video piece seen earlier on ESPN was replayed showing Richard Childress and his thoughts on a wide variety of subjects from the passing of Dale Earnhardt Sr. to the current state of NASCAR. The scenery from his Montana ranch was beautiful.
Among all the news and notes read by host Ryan Burr, one big item was missing. On Wednesday's show ESPN.com NASCAR writer David Newton had led the program by stating that, according to his sources, Ryan Newman had agreed to drive for the new Stewart-Haas Racing team. This column will detail our reaction to this type of journalism.
Later that same night, this column appeared written by Ryan's wife Krissie on her personal blog. Here are the quotes that relate to Newton and ESPN:
"There have been some recent articles posted that reporters have put out that sound factual. However, Ryan has not verbally agreed to anything and is still working on his 2009 and future plans."
"This has been a week of controversy. I don't know how those celebs in LA handle all the false information and attention the media puts out there. Don't even get me started on Rusty Wallace!"
"We had an appearance for Watkins Glen Race Track in NY and then we came to PA to spend a little time with my family before the race weekend craziness. Which is now going to be more insane thanks to an ill-informed reporter from ESPN. Sorry, if you can't tell I was a little ticked."
So, we have the wife of the driver stating that David Newton was wrong and Rusty Wallace has her upset. If the topic at-hand was a racing incident, that would be one thing. What Krissie Newman is upset about is ESPN's constant push to have "breaking NASCAR news" and exclusive NASCAR stories when they really do not. She says they lied about her own husband.
Her post comes on the heels of Martin Truex Jr. blowing-up in a profanity-laced reaction to Newton saying on national TV and ESPN.com that Truex was staying at DEI because "sources" told him that a deal had been done. Word is that report sent Truex directly to a verbal face-off with DEI executive Max Siegel.
The simple question is, what is going on here? NASCAR Now has been on-a-roll since February with Allen Bestwick leading the Monday roundtable shows and Nicole Manske handling interviews like a seasoned pro. Somehow, Ryan Burr seems to be in the host position when these types of rumor and innuendo stories come to the air. These two were no exception.
Burr grilled Newton on Wednesday about the validity of the Newman story and even showed a videotape of Newman seeming to contradict the Newton report. This sudden internal tension was very strange on a TV series that has been outstanding for the last six months. What has changed?
After all the fuss of a lead story on Wednesday, somehow the direct denial by Newman's own wife of that very issue did not even cause a blip on the NASCAR Now radar on Thursday.
Unlike other sports, ESPN is finding that it cannot manufacture and manipulate the news about NASCAR to serve the network's own agenda. The relationships between the long-time members of the NASCAR press corp and the key figures in the sport run deeper than David Newton or Rusty Wallace will ever experience. If Newton's stories are not verified in the mainstream NASCAR media, that should throw-up a red flag.
ESPN's other NASCAR reporters Marty Smith, Angelique Chengelis and the recently-added Ed Hinton have been very quiet on these two topics. Silent might be a better word.
Maybe they remember the anger and ultimately the national news stories of last season. It was Tony Stewart who led the way on this topic. "Every time we've got to deal with somebody from ESPN it's a sharp knife trying to dig for dirt," he said. "Do we always have to leave with a dagger in our back from ESPN? Here is the original story from the NASCAR.com website.
It would have been nice if Burr acknowledged the Krissie Newman statement, but the issue is much bigger. Knowing when to report a story and when to back-off is ultimately the responsibility of the editors at ESPN.com and the producers at NASCAR Now.
Perhaps, a well-place phone call or two would help to get some perspective on the information that Newton and others sometimes bring to the plate using "anonymous sources" in the NASCAR garage.
It should be interesting to see how the ESPN reporters are greeted in Pocono and how the network executives decide to handle this growing problem for the remainder of the season.
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