By on October 4, 2011

The way Jeff Glucker tells it, it was a matter of a few phone calls. The first came from Autoblogs’s Chris Paukert as Glucker was driving his 2000 Civic Si up California’s Interstate 405, letting him know that Jalopnik editor Mike Spinelli would require his attention. We’re going to run a story, Spinelli told him, and he explained that Jalopnik would be “exposing” Glucker’s double-dipping excursion with a PR firm and Autoblog in support of a Nissan Versa promotional campaign. Jeff had taken money from a PR firm to promote the contest. He’d written e-mails to his friends in the autojourno biz, asking them to post stories about the contest on their blogs… and then he’d “put on his other hat,” that hat being labeled “Associate Editor, Autoblog.com” and written a story about the contest for that site. Google “payola”, Spinelli would later message him, referring to the illegal practice of paying radio DJs to play a particular song at the expense of others.

“I don’t have Bluetooth,” Glucker told him, “I’m on the freeway. I need to call you back.” He rolled up the 405 in silence, thinking about his options. What would happen next? Paukert called one more time, asking for some additional details. When the phone rang again, Jeff saw that it was Spinelli, and he didn’t — he couldn’t — answer. He didn’t know what to say. Automotive journalism wasn’t a hobby for him any more. He’d left a lucrative job in another industry to follow his dream of writing about cars, and now he and his wife needed every dollar of his reduced salary just to keep going. Sure, he was on his way to drive a $375,000 Lexus LF-A, but the car that was taking him there, the car he really owned, wouldn’t fetch ten grand. Could he lose his job for this? What would his family say? How would he replace the income? What was going to happen next?

The last call, when it came, was from Autoblog editor John Neff, and it provided the answer to that last question: he was being terminated. Immediately.

Everybody liked Jeff Glucker. I know that I certainly liked the guy, and continue to like him. Tall, handsome, fresh-faced, effortlessly optimistic, he was a natural fit for the see-no-evil world of automotive “journalism”. He enjoyed driving new cars in fabulous locales, and he didn’t mind saying nice things about them. Reading his back catalog reveals a genial writer with a knack for a friendly turn of phrase. After leaving his first autojourno job at NADAGuides, but prior to working for Autoblog, he’d co-founded Hooniverse, a site that served as a refuge for old-school “Jalops” who’d failed to keep up with Ray Wert’s transition of Jalopnik from gearhead’s club to lad’s mag.

Over the course of a few years in the business, Mr. Glucker had managed to make friends in precisely the same way that your humble author has not. Riding the endless wave of loaner cars, five-star trips, and cozy friendships with manufacturer PR reps, he’d come to know some people. When one of those people asked him to promote a “Nissan Versa contest with Britney Spears”, Gluck took the gig and he took the money that went with it. The rest of the affair is well-known. He reached out to other people on behalf of his PR friends. Some of them published articles, some of them didn’t.

This behavior wasn’t against “the rules” of the industry. Far from it. Automotive journalism, automotive PR, and automotive advertising are three legs of a very crooked stool. David E. Davis, the supposed “dean of the industry”, started his career by writing advertisements. His most famous piece in Car and Driver, the Turn Your Hymnals to 2002, is a shameless advertisement for BMW that doesn’t even pretend to find a single fault with the car. It’s perfectly normal for automotive journalists to go work a PR or ad gig for a while and then return to writing. Favors are exchanged. On his way out the door to a major OEM, a journalist will write a few puff-pieces for that company’s products. If he’s thinking about leaving his job at that OEM later, he may curry some favor with a senior editor or two somewhere by flying them somewhere really nice or making sure they’re sitting in a six-figure “long-term tester”. Many of the articles you read in the color rags and larger websites are “placed” by a PR person making a call to a friend. It happens. All. The. Time. It’s not illegal, and there isn’t a single publication in the business which deliberately avoids participating in the process, not even TTAC.

Back to Mr. Glucker: After sending out his emails, he decided to “change hats” and publish a story in Autoblog about the Nissan contest. It wasn’t “double dipping” in the traditional sense. He didn’t receive any extra payment from Autoblog for writing the article, and as he was eager to emphasize to me, the PR firm which hired him didn’t pay him “per view” or “per placement” or anything like that. He just wrote the article and sent it off for publication. This was the action which resulted in two bile-filled Jalopnik articles and Glucker’s immediate termination.

I asked Mr. Glucker what his response had been to Spinelli’s initial call. His answer? Confusion. He didn’t think he’d done anything wrong. Had Autoblog mentioned this kind of thing in the “ethics lecture” he’d received upon his hiring there? Nope — because there had been no such lecture. Autoblog isn’t unique in that regard. The “rules”, if there are any, are rarely spelled out to anyone. Even when the rules are spelled out, they are easily bent, as Washington Post writer Warren Brown proved when he accepted a free trip to Bologna, Italy. Never in his career had anyone told Glucker that he couldn’t do what he’d done.

I would like to take a moment to spell out exactly what Jeff did to get fired, and compare it to things that would have been perfectly acceptable for him to do. Jeff was fired for writing the article himself without notifying Autoblog of his cash compensation from the PR firm. Let’s exaggerate the situation and assume that he was paid two thousand dollars, which he wasn’t, to promote the contest. That’s breaking the rules, but here are some things he could have done with no penalty:

  • Had he asked another Autoblog contributor to write the story, that would have been acceptable, although the story would have differed in no particular way from the one he published.
  • Had Jeff received a free $10,000 first-class flight to Monaco, a free $2,000 hotel room in Monaco, and had then attended a press conference where the Nissan contest was discussed, and written an article about the contest in Autoblog, that would have been completely fine.
  • Had Nissan given Jeff a “long-term tester” Versa to use as he saw fit for a year — a benefit which would cost normal people perhaps up to seven or eight grand, depending on the cost of insurance and maintenance in your area — and left a card describing the contest in the glovebox, that would have been exactly in line with the way things are done in automotive journalism.
  • Had Nissan given Jeff a free GT-R to race in Speed World Challenge, along with all of the necessary go-fast parts, and some crew to help him, and his entry fees — let’s call it a $250,000 package — and he had then written about the Nissan Versa contest, he’d be in the clear.
  • Had Nissan told Jeff explicitly that he would become the head of Nissan PR, earning mid-six figures a year and traveling the glove like a sultan, and the only requirement for doing so would be to publish the Autoblog article before quitting his job… well, go cross-reference the names of the current PR people at the major manufacturers with the list of editors at Car and Driver and other places, and you can draw your own conclusions.

All of the above compensation schemes, no matter whether they are worth ten grand or half a million bucks, are not only permissible, they are encouraged. Here’s a reality check for you. If you think there’s a difference between getting a tax-free, cost-free one-year lease of a $95,000 car and receiving a $5000 check every month from a manufacturer, you’re wrong. If you think that there’s a difference between drinking for free on the Monterey seaside and getting a restaurant gift card for $250, you are wrong. There may be technical differences, but there are no moral differences that any sane man could see. And Mr. Glucker was ostensibly fired for a breach of morality. His personal record doesn’t support the allegation. He has no police record. He’s never run a Ponzi scheme, killed a family with dangerous driving, beaten his wife, or spent a night in jail for a bar fight. He’s a “regular guy”, and as that regular guy, using the information he’d been given and learned during his time as an automotive journalist, he didn’t see why taking a few hundred bucks to promote a contest that was free to enter would be a bad thing. He wasn’t asking anybody to buy a Versa. He was offering them a chance to win a Versa. He didn’t put the Honda S2000 on the “10 Best Cars” at the same time as he was racing an S2000 with a manufacturer’s title in SCCA competition. He didn’t do a puff-piece on BMWs immediately after flying to Spain on BMW’s dime. He took a buck and wrote an article encouraging people to enter a contest. If it was immoral of him to do so, then everything I’ve discussed above was immoral… but the public stance of the automotive journalism industry is that those things are perfectly fine.

Why, then, did Gluck’s head have to roll? This is simpler to understand. He’d made an enemy in the business. This man (or woman) happened to get a copy of his email, and that person knew that it could be exploited for his (or her) gain. It’s well-known that Jalopnik and Autoblog like to snipe at each other. He (or she) forwarded the email to someone at Jalopnik, and all he (or she) had to do was wait for what another journalist colleague of mine called “a Tomahawk through the bedroom window”.

John Neff didn’t have to fire Mr. Glucker. It’s highly unlikely that any actual laws were broken here. The FCC nominally regulates blog content, but that regulation is dispensed with a mild, forgetful hand. If Autoblog, as a company, had done multiple paid placements without disclosing that fact, it’s possible that someone might have eventually asked them to stop, but the rules, such as they are, don’t appear to consider the potential for conflicts of interest, multiple representation, or non-cash compensation. Firing Mr. Glucker certainly didn’t prevent Ray Wert from using the incident to attempt a solid poke in the eye to AOL’s Arianna Huffington, and the decision was greeted with outright contempt by the bulk of Autoblog’s readers, many of whom pointed out that much of Autoblog’s content is indistinguishable from paid advertising anyway. Why bother letting him go?

I would suggest that terminating Mr. Glucker’s employment was simply the easiest thing to do. Note that, among the many pieces discussing the situation, none have asked whether or not Autoblog bothered to educate Jeff on the bizarre, hypocritical “ethical stance” regarding cash placement of articles. Nobody’s willing to open that can of worms, because nobody wants to be known as The Guy Who Ended Everybody’s Free Ride.

Here at TTAC, we are the exception to that rule. We aren’t afraid to point out that the emperor may not have any clothes, but he has a hell of a frequent-flyer mileage total. It’s time to fix this industry. It’s time to revamp the system by which vehicles are evaluated. It’s time to level — and that really means remove — the hidden economy by which manufacturers shape, direct, and manipulate press coverage. Instead of flying selected journalists to Europe to drive a new car, the manufacturers should make the car available somewhere in the United States, and then let everybody pay for their own meals, travel, and accommodations. Instead of giving away long-term testers, the manufacturers should make early examples available to lease at real market rates. It’s time for a new system. I don’t have all the details, or all the answers, but I know this: an industry which puts one man out of a job for taking a small cash payment while his colleague flies first-class to Europe right above his head is wrong, it is corrupt, and it needs to end. Now.

Jeff isn’t a Robert Farago or Jack Baruth, ready to tirelessly savage his enemies, real or imagined, in print or electronic form. In our conversation, he repeatedly refused to say anything derogatory about Autoblog, John Neff, or anybody else on the team. He was polite and friendly, albeit depressed. He told me,

I am just a guy who loves cars, loves to write about them… I made a mistake, and I wish I could change that.

The problem is this: he didn’t know he’d made a mistake, and nobody told him it was going to be a mistake. In truth, the mistake wasn’t his. It was John Neff’s, it was Autoblog’s, and, speaking for the industry in general, it was ours.

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65 Comments on “American Scapegoat: How Jeff Glucker Was Sacrificed To Redeem A Corrupt Industry...”


  • avatar
    Jack Baruth

    For “traveling the glove” above, substitute “traveling the globe”. I’m leaving the typo in because I hope that it spawns a new catchphrase.

    “What’s Bob been up to?”

    “He’s driven all around Michigan.”

    “Traveling the glove, I see.”

    “More like the mitten, but yeah.”

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      The “Enchanted Mitten” for any Drew and Mike listeners (back when they didn’t suck so bad).

      Fascinating article. I kept seeing posts about this but really didn’t know what happened. You laid out the details pretty plainly. And it doesn’t make much sense to me. He tried to earn a little bit of extra money and got screwed by it while others are getting all expense paid trips. Not really all that fair.

      • 0 avatar
        Doc

        If I remember correctly, a suggestion for a new state slogan to put on license plates. I think that they made the suggestion directly to then Governor Engler on the phone.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll picture it as a perforated calfskin leather driving glove, adhered to the polished walnut wheel of a topless and perfectly-restored Jag XK120 traveling at WOT.

      It’s always been a dream of mine to write as an auto-journo. The (very) few contributions I’ve made here at TTAC have only served to whet my appetite. One or two potato chips for the starving man.

      Your article points to a very black kettle, and admitting a dark spot or two on the TTAC pot is more than generous, given the attribution generally seen at the end of each TTAC review. The auto-mags and blogs with the greatest power draw the talent who have made themselves famous along the way, succumb to the highest degree of the cited corruption (for lack of a better word – truly, business is done this way), and they will never make mention of the perks they enjoy. Advertising dollars can do that to an enterprise, even when seeking to be otherwise principled.

      When the results we’ve read in the print mags and blogs make us scratch our heads, we will come back here and find Truth.

      Jeff did not deserve to be selected as the whipping boy.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Is that like “Smell the Glove”, or “Tipping the Velvet”?

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    Sad tales indeed. Looks like the editor at Autoblog has no spine, and took the easy route by firing Jeff. He was pretty good writer too. Hopefully he’ll find a job writing about cars somewhere else. Maybe here on TTAC?

    • 0 avatar
      chrystlubitshi

      possibly on Hooniverse, though I don’t know if he could cut it with that crowd, seeing as how they supposedly couldn’t keep up with “wert’s changes to jalopnik’s format”

      • 0 avatar
        photog02

        @chrystlubitshi: I think (not a regular visitor there, so cannot confirm) that Jalopnik still publishes things other than pictures of Steve McQueen’s genitals. If Hooniverse can’t support him, maybe he could go to Jalopnik. I’d see that as a fitting end to the story.

      • 0 avatar
        acarr260

        He has already been reinstated at Hooniverse.
        http://hooniverse.com/2011/10/03/in-response-to-an-incident/

      • 0 avatar
        Jo Schmo

        he is already back at Hooniverse and we are happy about that

        http://hooniverse.com/2011/10/03/in-response-to-an-incident/

        I shudder to think of him going over to [REDACTED]

      • 0 avatar
        geggamoya

        He’s back on Hooniverse, and the response seems to be positive judging by the comments. http://hooniverse.com/2011/10/03/in-response-to-an-incident/

      • 0 avatar
        facelvega

        I knew the tags of many of the usual suspects at hooniverse from back when we all commented on jalopnik as well. Now I don’t know if any of us still comment over there– I imagine tony does, but as everyone knows he can’t be stopped. I didn’t rebel against Wert all at once, I just realized that the site wasn’t really written for people like me anymore, and most of the commentariat whose opinions and knowledge I wanted to hear were over at hooniverse instead. As far as the writers go, the two who I trust the most are Aaron Severson and Murilee Martin, because they are the two who know the most.

      • 0 avatar
        Jo Schmo

        @facelvega good god man, could you imagine a world where AUWM and the Saucy Minx joined forces and created a website?

      • 0 avatar
        tonyola

        Yes, I still comment in Jalopnik though not as much as I used to. I’m more often seen on Hooniverse these days. As facelvega says, I can’t be stopped – I’m a force of nature. :)

  • avatar

    I don’t see how the system can change as Jack recommends. Can TTAC afford to lease its own test cars out of Google ad revenue? I doubt it …

    D

  • avatar
    doug-g

    Jack, how to you compare this with your exposing the FIAT intern offering $100 meals and a ride in a 500? It seems your attack on Ray is a bit like the pot calling the frying pan black. Just sayin’…

  • avatar
    fred schumacher

    The auto industry manipulates the media but the reverse is also true. Auto press writers interact with automobiles as toys to be used for fun. For most car buyers, autos are transportation tools used very mundanely. The auto press hates the mundane and pressures the industry to create more exciting vehicles that they can then test.

    Look at the road test list of Road and Track magazine. Eighty percent of the vehicles they’ve tested are irrelevant to 90% of us. Very occasionally they test a daily driver. The auto press deals in fantasy, while we need practicality. When manufacturers try to please the auto press, they end up producing the wrong product.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      And there’s the real elephant in the room. If Road and Track suddenly switched over to 99% Camry, who would read it? We’re *all* responsible. I read Cycle World precisely because I’m _not_ in a position to buy the MV Agusta Oro that I fantasize about. If I could afford the thing I’d be riding it, not reading about it.

      • 0 avatar
        Nostrathomas

        Bunkie, Im probably in the minority, but I’d rather read about real cars that I have access to, than another special edition of a half-a-million dollar exotic. It’s like comparing a stunning SI model to a cute girl in your office….one of them might be the hottest thing ever, but at the end of the day you’re relationship ends at the screen or magazine. The other one you actually might have a tangible shot with (at least in theory), which is what makes it exciting.

    • 0 avatar

      Saying that journos pressure the industry into making what they like to test is a bit rich. I have been in this industry for nearly all of my professional life, and I can tell you:

      – For a volume model (that’s industry speak for a car people buy), the opinion of journos has zero impact
      – Halo cars are usually not made to be sold, but are made to be talked and written about. They should be paid out of the marketing budget
      – A halo car in a showroom gets the traffic, the boring car gets the sale
      – If journos would test more what people want to buy, their readership would be up. Ours is way up when we review even the most boring car, as long as people want it
      – In a showroom and in a magazine, you need the right mix of cars people want to buy, and cars people want to dream about.

    • 0 avatar
      mattfarah

      I’m going to flagrantly steal this line, and I’m sorry I can’t remember who said it but:

      “Camry drivers want to read about Ferrari and Lamborghini’s. Ferrari and Lamborghini drivers also want to read about Ferrari and Lamborghini, and have no interest in reading about Camry’s.”

      • 0 avatar

        But there are lots more Camry drivers and they go online looking for information and reviews of Camrys and other cars in the Camcordata class. As Bertel pointed out, if you publish an automotive website, running reviews of mundane cars gets you more traffic than an exclusive first ride of Lambo’s latest limited edition.

      • 0 avatar
        Bowler300

        My guess is that the quote was referring to the days of print magazines. When it comes to the internet, people are researching before buying – and it’s the Camry’s they’re buying.

    • 0 avatar
      bodegabob

      Let me guess: You’re the guy who buys those pr0n magazines showing dumpy middle-aged women with bad hair and stretch marks who threaten to take off their mom jeans and Big-Dog t-shirts, right?

      Buff-books are catalogs with a slice of adventure here and there. The best give an impression of a lifestyle or attitude that helps us escape from our mundane lives for a bit while waiting at the dentists’. I am interested in practical cars only every 4 or 5 years, and I have Consumer Reports for that.

  • avatar

    At first I thought the guy deserved to get fired. Then I read the copy of Road and Track that came in the mail and figured out it was these idiots who really deserved to be let go. It was a stunning display of favoritism and possibly payola.

    1. Porsche Cayman R beats Lotus Evora S and BMW 1M. — What a surprise, Mr. Fong must have been there. And is it really fair to compare a stripped down track model to fully loaded sports cars?

    2. Peter Egan’s column about his wife crashing their BMW. “Barb however, was unscathed, however- a tribute to good luck and BMW’s STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY.” — Yeah Peter, any other car would have crumpled like a beer can…

    3. Then there’s this nugget from a BMW motorcycle review… “BMW’s reputation in the automotive world is enviously high-tech and so over-competent that the tongue-in-cheek chatter around the R&T Offices is that the reason the engineers come up with things like iDrive is because they’re a little bored by being so good with chassis dynamics and engine performance.” — Sickening, just sickening… How many trips to the Ring do these guys get???

    Doing what Mr. Glucker wasn’t a good idea, but it’s sure a lot less annoying than having to read the crap I posted above. I hope he finds a new job quickly.

    • 0 avatar
      photog02

      and that is why I couldn’t stand to renew my (free!) subscription to R&T. I found myself flipping through the pages every month just looking at pictures. The words were meaningless.

  • avatar
    spatula6554

    Bravo Jack…bravo.

    Your article points out the depths that auto manufacturers have inserted themselves as quiet overlords of the car culture, inextricably linked and are slowly pulling all the strings to push a higher quantity of lower grade product at increased prices.

    The trouble is…how can it change? Online, print, even word-of-mouth is so permeated with manufacturers’ manipulative, persuasive hand on the small of our backs that we might not know where to step in this tango of auto consumerism.

    TTAC calls out the issues; TTAC calls for change; but in TTAC’s opinion…what could it change to? How would each auto manufacturer baring all of their skeletons and shortcomings affect consumer confidence? How would that consumer confidence affect the global economy?

    A ripple will still get to the edge of a big pond but will it be worth upsetting the water lily?

  • avatar

    As far as I can tell, Glucker’s only lapses were not telling his editors at Autoblog about the side gig and not asking if they had a problem with him writing about the Versa contest. He certainly didn’t act like a man who thought what he was doing was wrong.

    It’s hard getting excited about this when the announcers on the sports radio station seamlessly segue from talking about the Tigers to how dry Bob’s Basement Be-Dry will get your cellar.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Forgive me if I withhold my Kleenex.

    There really is a difference between accepting some freebies and being on the PR payroll. The writer who takes the dosh still has the option to provide an honest opinion. In contrast, the public relations gig carries a specific contractual requirement to provide quid quo pro to the employer.

    It’s time for a new system

    Consumer Reports already takes a different approach — they buy their own cars, and don’t rely upon advertisers. But I don’t notice a whole lot of attaboys around here for that way of doing business, even though it is pretty much what you claim to want.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      To the contrary, I’m a big fan of Consumer Reports and I believe in their methods and results. I’ve met some of CR’s core people and you couldn’t ask for a better group of committed, ethical writers.

      But.

      CR has had some issues of their own (like using a robot steering machine to make Troopers roll) and they don’t evaluate cars on anything other than their test numbers and the reliability of their predecessors. They don’t have all the answers either.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        They don’t have all the answers either.

        Nobody does, and nobody will.

        CR has largely removed the payola out of automotive writing. The moral of the story: removing the graft doesn’t necessarily result in a particularly satisfying result.

        Informative? Sure. Useful? Of course. But entertaining? Not so much.

        Personally, I think that there’s a place for car porn. But just as it is with that other porn, it would be a mistake for readers to confuse car pornography with research. There’s a whole lot of writing about cars, but very little of it qualifies as journalism.

      • 0 avatar
        tonyola

        What CR chooses to ignore is the fact that for at least some people, cars are a thing of passion rather than a mere transportation device. Cold objectivity has its place but for most of us cars aren’t blenders, washing machines, or toothbrushes. I credit CR for their automotive reliability data – for the rest of their evaluations, not so much. They once lambasted the Fiat X1/9 for its supposedly dangerous handling – now granted, the Fiat had plenty of flaws but handling wasn’t one of them. CR chose not to consider the entertainment factor of a mid-engined car.

        Also, as Jack pointed out, their methodologies are sometimes suspect. CR once condemned the Dodge Omni on the basis that the car oscillated out of control when driven without hands after a hard yank on the steering wheel. I think we all learned in driver’s ed that keeping our hands on the wheel is a primary rule, right?

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        What CR chooses to ignore is the fact that for at least some people, cars are a thing of passion rather than a mere transportation device

        This isn’t actually true. CR does make a stab at ranking sporty cars, and does comment on fun to drive. What they don’t do is try to pander to enthusiasts expectations of what a fun-to-drive car is because attempting to do so would be impossible (because, frankly, enthusiasts are fickle bitches). They also don’t test unobtainium.

        But for the record, they’ve had the RX-8 at or near the top of that scale for some time. That more or less jives with the consensus among the “passionate”, or at least those among the “passionate” who actually enjoy driving above and beyond laying a patch at an intersection.

  • avatar
    doug-g

    McCahill was who he was and Davis tried to be something he wasn’t. Actually, I think Davis modeled himself after McCahill. McCahill took you along with him and Davis tried to impress with pictures from his trips. If anyone is the “Dean” of automobile journalism in this country it’s McCahill.

    Part of what made McCahill for me is that he was a “was”. A “was” in my dictionary is a person who had wealth, lost it and went away realizing all those shiny things really don’t matter. Davis was always impressed by wealth and wanted so bad to move into the manor house.

    On a side note, I’m not sure McCahill was above shilling – he was pretty cozy with the Chrysler Corporation but, I haven’t researched to see if that effected his writing. I can tell one thing he shilled – as a young man he sold tanning liquid on the beach. Everything always comes around, doesn’t it? :)

    • 0 avatar
      bodegabob

      3-part advertorial by McCahill on the wonders of the 1958 Mopars: http://youtu.be/PBoEoFmRsYo

      Fun to watch, but no. . . . he was an advertorialist just like all the others.

      My dad liked McCahill for the reasons you describe but was less-than-convinced of his editorial sanctity. When I asked him why he never bought one of the Forward-Look models all he would say was “people who actually knew anything about cars didn’t buy those”.

      • 0 avatar
        doug-g

        It took a year for people to figure out that the forward look cars had issues. I think the main reason was that they were rushed to market. We always had Chryslers when I was growing up. My very earliest memory of cars was my father calling to say he was going to be late for supper because he hit a train. He arrived about 15 minutes late. The car was a ’58 and the front was pretty much gone and it listed severely to one side but, it made it home. After that I always figured the old man in a Chrysler was invincible – who would? They took on a train and all it did was make him a little late for supper. That car went away soon after but, not the memory.

  • avatar
    PG

    Wow. Great analysis, Jack.

    I’m a working journalist myself, and throughout this ordeal, I’ve thought that Glucker should have known better than to do what he did.

    But when his field of journalism is so full of ethical gray areas to begin with, how was he supposed to know what “better” was?

  • avatar

    If I’d made an error like this at my job, or if most people had made this error (and it is definitely an error in judgment – he SHOULD have asked someone else to write the piece), I would have been “talked to”, possibly reprimanded. And I have journalism experience. I know what I speak of in this matter. But I fail to see how firing the guy was an appropriate response. It was disproportionate to the infraction of whatever rule they feel was violated, but in fact gives more credence to the validity of whatever complaint Jalopnik or this unnamed enemy might have had against Glucker, Autoblog, HuffPo or Yahoo. It’s effing politics. God, I hate politics…

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I find this all much ado about nothing at all. I read car magazines (and TTAC) purely for thier entertainment value anyway. I am quite capable of making up my own mind about what I like to drive. Helps that I rent cars for work 30 times a year, I get to sample all sorts of stuff for MUCH longer than the typical around the block test drive.

    The endless going on here about the incestuous relationship between Auto Journos and the car industry strikes me as simple jealousy. If you can’t get on the gravy train, whine about it.

    But I think I would find JB entertaining writing about dishwashers, so bring it on.

  • avatar
    harshciygar

    Great. Just as I am getting into the auto-journo club, you guys have to declare Jihad on free rides.

    Eh, whatever. Sign me up.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Every time you write a piece about AutoJurnoEthics (or the complete lack of ethics) I feel like quoting (or paraphrasing) LT. Renault in “Casablanca” – “I’m shocked, shocked to find there is gambling going on in this cafe”.

  • avatar

    I have to wonder, as Glucker was writing his Versa promotion piece for Autoblog, did he ever consider the inappropriateness of being paid by his employer for a story promoting his third-party endeavor?

    If he didn’t, then shame on him.

    But if Glucker did ask himself that question, then how on Earth didn’t he realize, “I’d better play it safe and ask so-and-so if they want to do this story instead?” (Or, at the very least, include a qualifier at the end of the article, similar to how TTAC acknowledges the press bennies for auto reviews.)

    I really do feel for the guy, but common sense never once seemed to enter his thought process.

  • avatar
    NTI 987

    Hear, hear. To be honest, I did not feel bad for the guy until reading this. You’re absolutely right. He shouldn’t be punished for following the modus operandi of an entire industry.

  • avatar
    kol

    The reason why Jeff was made a fall guy is simple. Autoblog, like many online publications, could not give a shit less about its writers.

    Look at the content. Most of it is essentially scripted. Witty headline, favorable observation about press release, additional detailed information, bam! You’re done.

    As a result, Autoblog hardly car who writes what. When a potential problem comes up about a writer, it’s far easier to just bump them off the payroll and deny, deny, deny.

    The fact the news mainly broke through Jalopnik is particularly disheartening, as that publication is nothing but an online automotive tabloid. Currently, some of its wonderful front-page stories include “Why you wouldn’t want to become an Icelandic fisherman” and “Your ridiculously cool McLaren MP4-12C Wallpaper is here”

  • avatar
    Monty

    Seriously, Jack? You think that Autoblog needs to prepare writers with an “Ethics Lecture”? Maybe Mr. Glucker missed taking his B.A. in Ethics while at college?

    It’s sad commentary that in today’s world people require an “Ethics Lecture” prior to beginning their career, or that Ethics courses are offered and/or required in college.

    Most of your posts written for TTAC reflect much of my philosophy, but this time you’re way off the mark – what Mr. Glucker did was clearly a conflict of interest, as were the other situations you described.

    And while feeling some sympathy for the poor guy is natural, it’s not reason enough to excuse his actions.

    • 0 avatar
      rwb

      From my understanding, he doesn’t dispute that Jeff’s actions constituted a conflict of interest, but is calling into question why all of these other scenarios apparently do not.

      It’s not whether he did or did not do wrong; we accept that he did. It’s the context and the “ethical” shades of grey involved in standard industry practice.

      I think all the fuss is because, from the outside, the editorial was like any other, and would have been treated as such had Jeff gotten another AB editor to create the post. Unfortunately, he didn’t think of that technicality and he received the harshest possible punishment for an offense that was, for all practical intents and purposes, invisible.

      Everyone I’ve read, including Jeff himself, will readily admit it was a pretty obvious oversight, but considering how crooked the whole game seems to be, the brutal response just doesn’t sit well with me.

      Just a very lay person’s $0.02.

    • 0 avatar
      facelvega

      I’m pretty sure college ethics classes get a little deeper into the philosophy than you’re implying. Also, I think Baruth’s point is that though Glucker definitely had in indirect stake in a few hundred bucks of shill pay, that far larger sums and more serious ethical BS is normal practice in the field, so that Spinelli going after Glucker or Neff firing him was like firing one associate investment banker at J P Morgan.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Ethics is not the same thing as morals, and is highly dependent on the industry you’re in. Medicine, military, law (and there’s a big difference between enforcement, barrister and adjudication) accounting and journalism all operate in different ethical spectrums, and even within journalism there’s a spread between front-page ethics at, eg, a major, old-school news outlet, front-page ethics at a tabloid or cable news show, and ethics in the blogosphere.

      Autoblog should have ethical guidelines. Heck, they might, but they’re as Jack notes, probably more than a little morally suspect and self-contradictory.

      Or can you tell me with a straight face that when they are pushing cologne, backpacks, movies and toys that there’s not some kind of kickback happening? Really?

  • avatar
    mad_science

    I will state upfront that the point I’m about to make is not 100% logically defensible, but I think there’s a very strong truth at the center of it. Also, total conflict of interest on my own behalf.

    I understand and respect Jack/TTAC’s point of view about cleaning up auto-writing to be a more respectable form of journalism. Really, I totally get it and can’t say you’re wrong, except…

    As a reader, I’m not sure I care. I’m after good, entertaining writing, not consumer reports-grade sterility. I’m fully capable of making my own faux-rational decisions about what car I should buy. Take a poll on “what’s your favorite [auto writer, piece of auto writing]?” and you’ll probably find something of little value from a consumer advocacy standpoint.

    That said, (here’s the irrational part) I’d like to claim there’s a fuzzy, but clearly visible line between partaking of the perks of the gig and writing total BS in exchange for ______. Lieberman can have a free CTS-V wagon and say it’s awesome. Why? Because it fncking is, that’s why. And I trust him to point out a few shortcomings, as he always does. I don’t care that it’s a ridiculous way to spend $70 grand. When he goes head-over-heels for the Traverse and subsequently takes a position with GM…yeah, that’s a problem…and a different one than the mere appearance of impropriety.

    • 0 avatar
      facelvega

      I think there is an appropriate balance of critical independence and industry embeddedness, no different than journalism about restaurants or new books. It’s part of the job to give us the inside story by getting inside, but when it goes too far it ceases to be interesting again, like the big print car mags all reviewing the same exact cars as one another every month, with the same conclusions. As for owning the bribery, I like the policy that hooniverse or insideline have of always mentioning what was free in the process of the review, and where the conflict of interest might be–just a footnote goes a long way in this regard.

      • 0 avatar
        mad_science

        As boring as it can be, when the Big Guys all agree, that suggests their opinions are probably valid. (Or formed over dinner on night two of wave 1).

        What’s both baffling as suspicious is when different reviewers make opposite assesments of the same trait on the same car.

  • avatar
    mdensch

    I’ve been reading car magazines since I was 10 years old (that was a long time ago) and automotive blogs for about as long as there have been automotive blogs.

    In all that time it never occurred to me that this was journalism. It’s People magazine, not the New York Times. It’s Stephen Colbert, not Edward R. Morrow. It’s writing (obviously), and often very good or even excellent writing. But it’s entertainment, folks, nothing more, nothing less. People who write about cars for magazines and blogs shouldn’t take themselves so seriously. (And Jeff Glucker should never have been fired.)

  • avatar

    Sometimes I get the feeling autojournos are abit like aspirational, Donald-Trump-seminar-attending crack-whores.

    They told themselves they’d only hit the rock once and not get hooked.

    Decided that if they just turned tricks only long enough, hung out with the right ‘dealers’, partied in the right places, they’d be able to participate in a life they could not otherwise afford. (not counting Matt Farah & Alex Roy here)

    Eventually it degenerates into only tricks without the benefits anymore, the clients get weirder and grosser,

    till one day you find yourself staring at an insane, decadent, carney-faced Ray Wert,
    down in the 9th circle of hell tallying up souls on his giant-butterknife-powered-adding-machine,

    while a raven-beaked, seven-scissor-vaginaed Arianna Huffington stares on sharp-eyed at the world-trade-center-sized bagpipes,
    made from Dick Cheney’s discarded stomach lining…

    .
    +Nice last bit though, Jack; seems like you ~tried to drag things back up to at least the 5th or 6th Circle via TTAC.

  • avatar
    delpiero1980

    “The Fall Guy” Wasn’t this the show Johnny Drama wanted to make that went to Dean Cane instead??

  • avatar
    Zackman

    This is the article of the week for me. I have no writing or journalistic chops whatsoever, I no longer read any car mags because I don’t have time. I only read TTAC and CurbsideClassic for anything about the cars and industry I love and CR occasionally. Too much to do.

    This article merely confirms what everyone else already knows about certain industries – the more money at stake, especially in a very sick economy, the more pressures out there to make a buck. I’m not sitting in the judgment seat in any way – that just appears that’s how things are done and until a better system is devised and everyone abides by its rules, you have what you have.

  • avatar

    Thanks for yet another look at the world of auto-journalism. Although I’m involved in a quite specialized version of the construction business, there are very similar ethical issues which arise as companies try to flack their products even at an obscure end of the business world. I think it’s important to talk about the ethical issues and applaud TTaC for noting what has been provided for a story. I think it’s truly decent that you stood up for Jeff Glucker.

    By the way, how about the Baruth one-paragraph comparo McCahill vs Davis? Or, hell – you could just make it another post!

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    In the ancient Hebrew tradition, the high priest would lay his hands upon a chosen, young goat in the temple, thus transferring the sins of the people onto the goat. Then the goat was led by a lesser cleric through the streets of the town where the people would spit, swear, and throw rocks at the goat. Finally, the cleric would lead the goat through the gate of the town and out into the wilderness where it would be left, never to enter the town again.

    It seems the human race never loses its subconscious need for the scapegoat.

    The roles of the ancient practice were filled predictably by exactly whom you might have guessed, here in the automotive journalistic blogosphere, weren’t they?

  • avatar
    pharmer

    I never really reflected on how boring and uninteresting Autoblog’s and Jalop’s content has become until I read this post. I unsubscribed to both of them, not out of any protest, but because I realized that I was rarely (if ever) clicking through to the content like I do here or on Hooniverse.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    Usually Ray Wert chimes in by now with some snarky response then leaves the building, but not this time. I guess he’s too busy writing hamburger reviews for his car site and writing about TSA agents.

    Keep up the great work there Ray.

  • avatar
    Toad

    Jack, I posted a couple of weeks ago that I would like to read more about how the automotive journalism sausage gets made, and you have certainly delivered.

    One of the highlights of my Saturday mornings has been to read Dan Neil’s auto column in the Wall Street Journal. I always enjoy the great writing and clever prose about interesting cars in exotic locations. While the writing may still be great, I am going to start reading his work with a much more jaded eye, at least until the test drive locations become a lot less exotic. Michael Karesh doing his test drives in suburban Detroit (vs. southern France) becomes a lot more appealing.

    Keep up the good, and needed, work.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Great piece.

    These ethically compromised journosaurs should be thankful they pimp cars and not stocks or mutual funds. The G and the friendly people at Internal Revenue don’t have such a hands-off attitude toward such payola games…

  • avatar
    Jellodyne

    You say the problem is that Glucker was fired for unethical behavior. And this was straight up conflict-of-interest unethical behavior, and he got caught publicly. I say that maybe the problem is that everyone else isn’t getting fired when they do it. I say good for Autoblog. If they don’t already have an editorial conflict of interest policy, they need one. All potentially conflicting relationships need to be disclosed. All perks, gifts, bribes or any other sort of compensation should need to be disclosed prior to writing about the products of the company providing the filthy lucre. Ideally both to the employer and to the readers in the relevant article, but definitely to the employer.

    Of course their real problem is probably that Glucker got paid to post that article instead of Autoblog. Because Autoblog has a mechanism whereby a company looking to convey some information to the readers can pay Autoblog for the privilege. I think they’re called ads, but they probably cost more than a couple of hundred bucks.


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