All Things Considered, It's Been A Good Year For Warren Brown
In an era where print publications are increasingly conscious of external scrutiny, ethics issues, and responsibility to one’s readers, one might expect that Washington Post auto reviewer Warren Brown would see some kickback from being exposed in the American Journalism Review earlier this year. As it turns out, Mr. Brown has been singled out by his peers… but not, perhaps, in the way one might expect.
Quoth yesterday’s press release:
DETROIT, MICH. – Wed., Nov. 9, 2011— Warren Brown, esteemed automotive columnist for The Washington Post will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award during the 16th Annual Urban Wheel Awards on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012.
Covering the automobile industry since 1982, Brown will be recognized as one of the nation’s most influential auto writers, at the black-tie gala, held in the Sound Board theatre at the MotorCity Casino Hotel in Detroit, during Press Week of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). The Urban Wheel Awards Show is the “official multicultural event of the NAIAS.”
Mr. Brown is a witty and engaging fellow; although I’ve only spoken to him once in my non-lifetime-award-winning-career, I was impressed with the depth and breadth of his sociological observations. Unfortunately, however, this award comes right on the heels of AJR‘s discovery that
The Washington Post, meanwhile, said for years that it took no junkets but paid staff reviewer Warren Brown’s way. Well, not always. The issue arose when AJR questioned his 2007 trip to Bologna, Italy, to review the $1.45 million Lamborghini Reventon. Brown, who became a freelancer for the Post in 2009, told AJR that he reviewed the Reventon because “I wanted to see Bologna,” adding that a Lamborghini USA executive had talked up the city to him. Did the Post pay for that? No. Although Brown’s review ran in the Post, it turns out that Brown simultaneously consulted for an independent minority-oriented supplement, African Americans on Wheels, which allowed Lamborghini to pay for his trip. Brown’s then-editor, Sandra Sugawara, referred questions about the arrangement to the Post’s communications department. It issued a statement saying that the situation was unique and that Brown had disclosed it to editors before the review was published. But it was never disclosed to the Post’s readers.
Only in the candyland of automotive journalism could such shenanigans be rewarded with additional positive recognition. No matter what else you can say about Mr. Brown, you can say this: he knows how to pick a career.
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I'm not sure what is news here. Warren Brown has been pimping for manufacturers forever, African Americans on Wheels is a joke, and self-congratulatory, back-slapping awards are how the world works. All of us on this board long ago realized that TTAC and maybe Jalopnik are the only places left to get honest car coverage.
I think this makes Warren Brown the cleanest (i.e., only one small smudge) auto journalist on the planet. The big rags, Motor Trend, Car n Driver, Road & Track, etc., travel pretty much only on the automakers' dime. And they never print bizarrely upright disclosure statements. This is silly. Everyone knows car reviewers are in the bag. No one makes the pretense that car reviews are objective, or even informational. It's all attitude and posture (except maybe Warren Brown in the Post and Dan Neil in the WSJ). Chill, people.