By on November 10, 2011

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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16 Comments on “All Things Considered, It’s Been A Good Year For Warren Brown...”


  • avatar
    aristurtle

    You know, I can get upset when someone is taking kickbacks when “reviewing” the new Camry or even a new Porsche. But VW built exactly twenty Reventons, and they were certainly all spoken for before the “review” ever went to print and moreover I’m not convinced that anyone who buys a limited-production supercar cares about what a newspaper review says in the first place. So I’m not sure who Mr. Brown harmed, here, by getting a free vacation. I mean, I can understand on an intellectual level how it’s somewhat dishonest but I can’t really bring myself to get angry about it.

    • 0 avatar
      night driver

      It doesn’t matter how many Reventons were sold, aristurtle. The issue is that I know that VW knows that “Warren Brown owes them one” now, and I will be biased to expect a puff piece review of future VW products in the future. Like, say, this glowing review of the new 5-cylinder Passat:

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/cars/volkswagen-passat-southern-built-north-of-the-competition/2011/10/24/gIQAZtfWPM_story.html

  • avatar
    photog02

    Yeah, I would have held out for Mortadella myself…

  • avatar
    NTI 987

    The Reventon review in Venice would be somewhat short, I expect.

    “And here we are in the car park, now let’s pull out and go for a spin… **splash**”

  • avatar
    Guzzi

    He’s pimping for VW on his Post chats now. Last wek someone called VW to task for being a poor and poorly support car. He said something to the effect of “Yes, they need to step it up more.”

  • avatar

    African Americans on Wheels

    If you think the buff books and their pimpatorials are in a moral grey zone, AAoW exists solely because the magazine has convinced newspaper publishers of the buying power of black Americans. It’s a bimonthly free insert in urban newspapers than claims a circulation of over a half million. Every year during the NAIAS they hold a big gala and give out awards based on “diversity” and “multiculturalism”. The awardees are car companies that advertise in AAoW.

    AAoW has rebranded itself as “Decisive Magazine: The best source for cultural and consumer news”, and it appears to be branching out, selling ads for more than just cars. Latinos on Wheels, a sister publication is now Decisive Latino.

    Every time I read about AAoW, I think about starting out my own little advertising venue, targeting a group of ethnic car buyers. I want to call it Wandering Jews.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    “[o]ne might expect that Washington Post auto reviewer Warren Brown would see some kickback from being exposed in the American Journalism Review earlier this year.”

    The word you are looking for is blowback. Kickback he appears to be seeing quite a bit of.

  • avatar
    imag

    In question is an all-expenses-paid junket to Italy to drive a Reventon. I don’t think it’s a big reach to say most of the Post’s auto readers would have been much more upset at him if he’d turned the trip down.

    I mean, like, seriously. It’s not like auto journalism deals with affairs of grand importance. Admit it or not, vicarious living is most of the point of auto reviews.

    I very much appreciate TTAC’s disclosure and sense of propriety; it’s one of the reasons I’m here. But when you hassle someone who has been a lifetime auto writer for taking a single dream trip to drive a dream car – one that most readers would love to read about – it sounds a lot like whining.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      What if they’d just written him a check for twenty grand and told him to take his dream vacation anywhere he wanted, courtesy of Volkswagen?

      The issue isn’t the Reventon test; it’s that a writer deliberately subverted his paper’s ethics policy and is being patted on the back for doing so.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      “But when you hassle someone who has been a lifetime auto writer for taking a single dream trip to drive a dream car – one that most readers would love to read about – it sounds a lot like whining.”

      Well, if this dream trip of a life time is his last review, I am fine. But as you can see, he will be doing more buffing piece on VW junks.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      This is the only “dream trip” you/we know about. If somebody has been bought once they can be bought again, and usually have been. When that happens you can no longer trust their honesty; that’s why most codes of ethics prohibit bribery. A journalist that has been bought can no longer be trusted, and reputable journalism depends on honesty.

  • avatar
    JSF22

    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.

  • avatar
    amca

    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.

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