If I Drove It: 26:28 And The End Of Automotive Journalism

by Ur-Turn

If you thought yesterday’s article on Alex Roy’s latest “cross-country record” was fake, you were right on the money. As many of you suggested here and elsewhere, Alex and I came up with the idea during our cross-country drive in Matt Farah’s Million-Mile Lexus. Alex was frankly dismayed at the cottage industry of cross-country driving that had sprung up since the publication of The Driver and wanted to do something to demonstrate just how low the standards of participation, “competition”, and proof had become. When we found out that someone was trying to set up an “original Cannonball” to take place in the near future, Alex decided to strike. He “went dark” for 72 hours, as did I, and with the help of many of his friends and fellow drivers Alex created the idea of 26:28.

Now here’s the weirdest part: someone else did set a new cross-country record this past weekend. He says he doesn’t want publicity or media attention. So… Should we leave this piece as the final word on a pop-up culture of absurdity that honestly believes it’s “safe” to cross the country in under thirty high-speed hours? Over to you, Mr. Roy — JB

Sorry, Ed and Dave. You still hold the Cannonball record, to the best of my knowledge.

To quote the drummer from Spinal Tap: “I believe almost everything I read, and I read quite a lot.”

I’m constantly amazed by two things: 1) the wisdom of commenters on the major automotive sites, and 2) the decline of journalism.

Kudos to everyone who called out 26:28 as absurd. Two steering wheels? Spy Hunter mods? Thirty off-duty cops helping us? Apologies to anyone who felt taken. It was April 1st. This was never about pranking the car community. This was about how easy it is to place a story in major media, for whom fact-checking is seemingly irrelevant.

It’s a good thing April 1st is over, because, believe it or not, I wasn’t looking forward to carrying on the charade for the television interviews I just cancelled. I’m pretty sure if it hadn’t been April 1st, the 26:28 hoax would live on.

The genesis of 26:28 goes back to two incidents that changed my life: 1) the Sokal affair, and 2) the day Jalopnik’s Matt Hardigree called me to for comment on Ed Bolian’s 28:50 announcement.

Never heard of Sokal? In 1996 NYU professor Alan Sokal, fed up with what he felt was the nonsense published in academic journals, submitted an article filled with “grandiose quotations” and “outright nonsense” to Social Text. Published without peer review, Sokal’s experiment confirmed everything I suspected about post-modernism.

My memory of Sokal erupted the day Hardigree called for comment on Bolian’s pending announcement of 28:50. The only evidence Bolian had shared with Hardigree and contributing writer Doug DeMuro were stills and “GPS data.” I suggested that neither of them was qualified to judge whether they were faked.

Hardigree – the only real journalist to cover Bolian’s story – was convinced 28:50 was true. Not because of the Bolian’s purported “evidence”, but because of an anonymous source. To me this seemed weak, but in the spirit of good sportsmanship I kept my mouth shut.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

In 2006 I was quite sure 31:04 would not be believed unless all our evidence was made public on the day we announced, 366 days after our run, after the statutes of limitations had (mostly) expired, after it had been vetted by numerous outlets including Wired, The New York Times, and the legal departments at William Morris and Harper Collins.

In 2013, Bolian announced 28:50 and did so with seemingly limited evidence shared with but a single web site gambling that withholding evidence from the public for a year would protect him from prosecution. Bolian’s assumptions 1)that he was safe, and 2)that DeMuro’s Jalopnik article would go viral even with the evidentiary restriction would prove correct.

And not just correct. Overwhelmingly so.

By 2013, if one online outlet vetted a story, apparently that was good enough for pretty much everyone else. Whereas 31:04 went vertical, 28:50 went horizontal. Whereas 31:04 was everywhere in U.S. media, 28:50 went global.

I eventually saw Bolian’s evidence. However, that wasn’t what convinced me. Stills can be faked. GPS data can be faked. Ed Bolian and David Black had something I don’t think can be faked: the demeanor and professionalism of those who’ve actually done this.

In the spirit of April Fool’s Day, successful hoaxes and testing the fact-checkers, it was essential the 26:28 announcement start believably and descend into madness only after the TL:DR crowd had reposted it. An 18,000 word draft became 12, then 9, then 6,690 words.

I’m pretty sure the majority of television bookers didn’t read past the headline.

Ironically, much of the April 1st story is true:

0. April Fools’ Day is a great day to announce and keep your plausible deniability.

1. I think Ed Bolian and David Black did 28:50. (I fucking don’t — JB)

2. 28:50 is beatable.

3. The Infiniti Q50 can accommodate two steering wheels.

4. The analysis of evidentiary standards.

5. My opinion on Rawlings.

6. The feasibility of the Spy Hunter options.

7. I wrote The Driver myself. Signed copies are available on my website for $19.95.

8. I was Chairman of The Moth.

9. I did win The Ultimate Playboy.

10. The Box has a midget celebrity impersonator sex show with an enema demonstration.

11. I do love Homeworld, Fields of the Nephilim and Yngwie Malmsteen.

12. I did carry Holy Book wheel chocks on the Gumball 3000.

What wasn’t true?

1. The drive itself.

2. My devotion to Wotan.

3. My belief in Matthew McConaughey. (There’s evidence to contra-indicate this — jb)

If you don’t want to be the drummer from Spinal Tap, and especially if you love cars, ask yourself:

1. When was the last time a major automotive publication ran a front-page story about the Toyota recall scandal?

2. What is the correlation between an auto manufacturer’s ad pages and winning Car of the Year?

3. How many reviewers disclose the luxurious junkets on which they are “educated” about the products they endorse?

4. When was the last time you read a distinctly negative review for anything other than a movie?

Media is a business. Blah, blah, blah. Publish first. Service the advertisers. Blah, blah, blah. Fact-checking? Transparency? Forget it. Not part of the media’s mission any more. Those are things that you, the media consumer, now have to do for yourself. It’s a hassle, and it’s hard work, but it’s worth doing.

Or, you know, you could just be the drummer from Spinal Tap.

* * *

Oh, one more thing.

If we were actually going to do this again, we certainly wouldn’t tell anyone.

Maybe ever.


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  • RonaldPottol RonaldPottol on Apr 05, 2015

    Back 1980s and 1990s, England's Car magazine had an editor whose column was about the junkets for car intros. He'd write about the food, the hotels, and how very nice they were, and how they compared to other press junkets. Then he'd mention that the new what ever had a nice back seat. It didn't really occur to me at the time what he was really doing. Car of that era (not read many car magazines in years) would talk about which maker were not buying adds because of one or another nasty truth car had told about them (like the car having a tire come off the rim in the slalom). That, was journalism.

  • Wjfreemont Wjfreemont on Apr 05, 2015

    You wrote a story bemoaning the current state of journalism and attack post modernism for not valuing hard data enough to encourage fact checking ... then followed it up with this paragraph: "I eventually saw Bolian’s evidence. However, that wasn’t what convinced me. Stills can be faked. GPS data can be faked. Ed Bolian and David Black had something I don’t think can be faked: the demeanor and professionalism of those who’ve actually done this." Their demeanor? Are you serious? This entire post is insufferable.

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