Tuesday, December 2, 2008
NASCAR Media Moments: Ron Hornaday Jr. And Steroids
There was a lot of time and money spent by ESPN the Magazine to set-up Truck Series driver Ron Hornaday Jr.
For those readers who need a brief refresher course on this topic, here is a summary from Dave Moody of Sirius Speedway on his Motorsports Soapbox blog:
Hornaday’s Media Nightmare: After a Mike Wallace/60 Minutes-style ambush interview in early September, ESPN The Magazine writer Shaun Assael set new standards in yellow journalism when he wrote that former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday had “received shipments of testosterone and human growth hormone from an anti-aging center that has been linked to drug-related scandals in the NFL and Major League Baseball.” In his zeal to portray Hornaday as a 600-horsepower version of Jose Canseco, Assael slow-played the fact that Hornaday briefly used only a mild steroid cream to treat a diagnosed case of Graves disease. After a shameless, weeklong media frenzy, Hornaday was cleared of any wrongdoing. No apology was ever issued by Assael or ESPN The Magazine.
What ESPN did accomplish was the timely release of a NASCAR story the company knew would be carried around the world. Thanks to the Internet, it certainly was. Click here to see just how far it was stretched by media members.
The story was officially unveiled on a Thursday edition of NASCAR Now hosted by Nicole Manske. Click here for the TDP column on that program. This placement of the story allowed the press to circulate it just in time to build-up the media attention before the first Chase for the Championship race. That race was on ABC.
In an amazing coincidence, the Craftsman Trucks were racing that weekend with the Sprint Cup Series at the very same track. All of the full-time NASCAR traveling media would be perfectly in place to put Hornaday in their gunsights and fire away.
The ultimate irony of that week's NASCAR Now shows was that once again ESPN eliminated any promotion of the truck race because that event was on SPEED. Even as the Hornaday story raged in the media and on the Internet, ESPN inserted NHRA Drag Racing promotions and updates in place of the Craftsman Trucks.
Most interesting of all was the stone cold silence of the only doctor on the ESPN NASCAR team, Jerry Punch. That silence was echoed by Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree.
On the very next day (Friday), rain wiped-out the Sprint Cup qualifying and Punch, Jarrett and Petree had several hours of live TV to fill. Below is a complete transcript of all three top ESPN announcers talking about the Hornaday story:
"Ron Hornaday will not be disciplined by NASCAR for the testosterone use for a medical condition, a thyroid condition," said Punch.
That sentence took eight seconds. Jarrett and Petree said absolutely nothing.
But, later that day one member of the ESPN team said a lot. He was joined in his reporting of the facts by the very TV anchor who uncomfortably presented the story one day earlier. Here was the TDP comment at the time:
It was NASCAR Now's Lead Reporter Marty Smith who teamed with host Nicole Manske on Friday to deliver a stinging rebuke of ESPN the Magazine reporter Shaun Assael's assertions of Hornaday's steroid use as performance-enhancing.
The events of those four wild days are contained in (click here) this TDP column entitled "The Two Faces of ESPN On Display." Here is a brief excerpt:
The first face of ESPN has perfected the hit-and-smear style of sports journalism that is currently thriving in society even as ESPN's second face promises more hardcore sports coverage of NASCAR and Monday Night Football during ESPN broadcasts.
Needless to say, Hornaday provided all the medical materials and paperwork in his possession to NASCAR through his employer, Kevin Harvick. One quick press conference with NASCAR's Jim Hunter and the whole episode was gone in a flash.
But, ESPN had accomplished what it set out to do. The focus of the sports media world, including many publications and Internet sites not normally covering the sport, was on NASCAR for that weekend.
At ESPN many magazines were sold. TV and radio interviews were done and the "bottom line" sports ticker on the ESPN TV Networks said the words "NASCAR" and "steroids" together over-and-over again for days.
Traffic on the ESPN.com website was up and the mission of using this artificially created content to drive revenue for the overall corporation was a big success.
Hornaday had welcomed ESPN's Assael into his home for an interview under a false pretense. This friendly NASCAR driver was then sucker-punched and made to pay dearly in the public eye. This one incident cemented ESPN's "gotcha" reputation in the NASCAR community. It certainly made for a memorable moment in 2008.
The Media Moments theme will continue during the off-season, but for now you can add your comments on this topic by clicking the COMMENTS button below. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thanks for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.