By on October 23, 2020

Jim Farley. Image: Ford

Car Twitter is a weird, wonderful online “place”, but sometimes bad takes bubble up. And there’s a double-whammy of bad takery floating around this afternoon.

Take number one: Ford CEO Jim Farley is taking an unnecessary risk by racing cars that could hurt Ford should an accident leave him dead or too injured to work/lead the company, according to some experts interviewed by the Detroit Free Press for a story by Jamie LaReau.

Take number two: The Freep and/or Jamie are dumb for publishing/writing this article.

I do agree with the logic behind the arguments in favor of Farley racing, but that doesn’t make the Freep or LaReau dumb. It’s a reporter writing about what experts think. More on that in a sec.

The logic is this: Farley should be allowed to race because he’s a car guy and enthusiast and it’s arguably better to have a car enthusiast running a car company because a car enthusiast is more likely to understand a unique industry in which many purchase decisions are driven by emotion and/or if Ford is run by a car guy it means there will always be a place for performance cars in the company’s model lineup. Besides, the risk is low.

As I said above, in general, I agree with that, even though it’s not a given that a car guy will do a better job running a car company and/or keep performance cars alive. Just that it’s more likely. And racing today, even in vintage cars, is generally safe, although the risk of death and injury still does exist.

But to castigate the Freep for writing this story is a bit ridiculous.

There’s a “kill the messenger” critique of journalism that has existed for the past five years (and probably before that, but it’s been more noticeable since you-know-who and some of his partisan enablers took up arms against media that was fair and honest but critical). It’s not just relegated to politics — Elon Musk has rallied Tesla fanboys against media the same way, too.

In brief, this critique usually presents itself in one of two circumstances. Circumstance one: The subject of critical reporting deflects by accusing the outlet/journalist of bias and/or incompetence instead of addressing the criticism. Circumstance two: Journalist/outlet interviews a person/expert or multiple persons/experts, the reader doesn’t like what the interviewee(s) say, and instead of critiquing those who were interviewed and their claims, the reader moans that the outlet shouldn’t have published a story that dares to present an argument they don’t agree with — even if the outlet isn’t the one making the argument.

This is an example of the latter. What’s frustrating to me is that some of the annoyed Twitterati aren’t just car enthusiasts — they’re automotive journalists or people who work in the automotive media in some capacity.

In other words, people who should know better.

It would be one thing if LaReau was writing an opinion piece and got flayed for having a take that most people disagreed with. It’s an occupational hazard of writing op-eds. Y’all have flayed me a few times and that’s fine. You write an opinion column, you risk blowback.

But this is a feature story, not arguing either side. At least, LaReau doesn’t appear to be arguing either side — she quotes those who defend Farley’s racing, as well as those who think it’s not a good idea.

There’s also nothing in the piece that isn’t really true. Racing is risky, though far less so than it used to be. And none of the arguments from either side are way off-base. Regardless if you think Farley should race or not, all the arguments are valid.

To be clear, I am not defending LaReau for any personal reason — as small as this industry can be, I am not sure I’ve ever met her. I’d disclose if I knew her, or recuse myself from writing about this.

Has the discourse fallen this far? It’s bad enough that we flame each other, and cherry-pick facts, and fall for mis/disinformation, and that we’re often too tribal. Too often, people care more about “owning” and “destroying” someone in a discussion/debate to worry about being intellectually honest and reasonable.

All that makes for terrible discourse. And now we’re attacking writers and outlets for merely presenting an argument we mildly disagree with? Instead of attacking the argument itself?

This isn’t some free speech/First Amendment/cancel culture rant. The First Amendment doesn’t apply here, and there are some takes that do deserve to be shamed and scorned, and some takes that don’t deserve a platform (Holocaust denial comes to mind). I also think people are far too quick to scream “cancel culture” when someone gets deserved blowback for writing something truly terrible, especially if it’s bigoted in some way.

Obviously, tweeting out that the Freep shouldn’t have published this piece doesn’t rise to the level of screaming at some comic who said something transphobic or racist. But it’s still odd!

Why is so hard to argue that Farley should be allowed to race without suggesting the Freep shouldn’t publish a relatively harmless examination of how big companies insure CEOs who indulge in risky hobbies during their free time?

It’s actually an interesting dive into a part of the business I’ve never given much thought to before.

If you think some insurance experts (who, may I remind you, work for companies with a vested interest in NOT seeing their clients hurt pursuing risky fun during their off hours) are ninnies because they think it’s a bad idea for Farley to race, that’s fine.

Just don’t argue that the Freep can’t give those ninnies an interview because you’re such a ninny yourself that the mere suggestion that Farley hang up the Pilotis gives you the willies.

Yeah, that’s right. Don’t be a ninny.

[Image: Ford]

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32 Comments on “Jim Farley is Allowed to Race, and The Detroit Free Press is Allowed to Write About It...”

  • avatar
    R Henry

    “There’s a “kill the messenger” critique of journalism that has existed for the past five years (and probably before that, but it’s been more noticeable since you-know-who and some of his partisan enablers took up arms against media that was fair and honest but critical).

    A piece about Ford CEO Jim Farley driving race cars quickly devolves into anti-Trumpism. No, the media has not been “fair and honest but critical” toward non-Democrats since forever.

    • 0 avatar

      It took just until the first comment to *literally do what the article was talking about* – Ignore the message and attack the journalist and/or the journal.

      Thanks for the objective analysis, Tim. A lot of this is “inside baseball” for car journalism, but this is a large part of why I come here in the first place.

    • 0 avatar

      No, the media has not been “fair and honest but critical” toward non-Democrats since forever.

      I used to laugh at conservatives who complained the the media was against them. Thinking the media would turn on the left once they were in power. I was wrong. Dead wrong. I regret ever trusting the media machine to walk the centerline.

    • 0 avatar
      Ol Shel

      Whether you support Trump or not, if you’re into objectivity, then yuou agree that Trump attacks the messenger, even when the message is accurate.

      As a Trump supporter, you obviously already know that Trump’s mentor, Roy Cohn, taught him to: 1. Never settle, never surrender. 2. Counter-attack, counter-sue immediately. 3. No matter what happens, no matter how deeply into the muck you get, claim victory and never admit defeat.”

      Trump has said that when criticized, his response it to attack 10X as hard. Not to consider, reflect, and to act reasonably.

      If you’re paying attention, you’ll hear Trump routinely attacking everyone who reveals any information that doesn’t specifically benefit him. You may not like that fact, but you shouldn’t try to deny it.

      • 0 avatar

        The only four words you need to know about Donald J. Trump:

        “Trump’s mentor, Roy Cohn”.

        I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t heard of Roy Cohn to research him…assuming, of course, you have a strong stomach for the stench of human trash.

  • avatar

    Proposed name change for the site:

    TTATCAAAC – The Truth About Twitter Comments About Articles About Cars

  • avatar

    “more noticeable since you-know-who and some of his partisan enablers took up arms against media that was fair and honest but critical).” Sorry, pal. You’re not old enough to remember fair and honest media. I’ve been reading media for at least 60 years and “fair and honest media” has been very scarce during that period regardless of whoever was in power during that period. The “fair and honest media” covered for a sainted President and his known womanizing 58 years ago, the “fair and honest media” told us that the Tet Offensive (which we won and devastated the Viet Cong) meant that that Crazy Asian War ™ was lost, just a couple of “fair and honest media” stories that come to mind. None of ’em are “fair and honest” and haven’t been. Clicks, advertising dollars, and, in the past paper sales, were the top priority over “fair and honest”. Pretty much advertising dollars also drive this site as well in a similar manner and you and most of us know it.

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry pal. You’re not old enough to remember fair and honest media unless you are old enough to remember an imaginary time when they were, possibly before the demonized Hearst and the sainted Pulitzer created the Spanish-American War.

      • 0 avatar

        Hah, Detroit Iron. I remember an old book and some magazines my grandfather (he was born in 1883) had from that period that I read as a kid that talked about Cuba and that war. The cartoons were brutal! LOL! I’m thinking no one can truly remember “fair and honest media” unless they are some sort of phantasm returned from the grave.

  • avatar

    “But this is a feature story, not arguing either side.”

    I didn’t go to a fancy journalism school and I don’t know if LaReau picked it but:

    “Ford CEO’s **dangerous** racing hobby raises questions over risk to shareholders”


    “Ford CEO’s racing hobby raises questions over risk to shareholders”

    I’d say the headline deserves some criticism. “Dangerous” is not an incontestable term. For something that isn’t an opinion piece I think leading the reader with a judgement-based adjective is poor reporting.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, I went to a journalism school; some would call it “fancy,” others wouldn’t, but the one thing they drilled into us was that accuracy is key.

      Having said that…

      Is the headline a bit over-the-top? Maybe. It’s not like the guy’s driving F1, where drivers do face a credible risk of dying when they get behind the wheel.

      But calling racing dangerous isn’t inaccurate.

  • avatar

    What’s with all the hand-wringing? It’s not like it was Alan Mulally.

  • avatar

    Also, just more in general, automotive journalism would get less flack about biases if they weren’t almost as seedy as vacation club reviewers. It is the entire reason TTAC exists in the first place.

    Very few places disclose anything. Too many auto writers have aspirations of working “in the industry” so they kiss everyone’s a$$ and certain OEMs require glowing praise lest they kick you off the press car gravy train.

    With competency, be competent. Don’t call an I6 a V6, don’t call a Sportage a Sorento, sit in the back seat, put things in the trunk, actually test features and report on their effectiveness, ask follow up questions to press releases. I know not everything is possible (especially in 2020) but when a review goes “We got an F-350 Tremor and I just took it to Whole Foods, Lulz” or “We got a S60 T8 and I never plugged it in and didn’t check the range, lollercoaster” it is not a good professional reflection. If you want to be the next Jeremy Clarkson then go make YouTube videos.

  • avatar

    okay, he’s no Ecclestone and hasn’t nicked up a ‘Vette like a future NASCAR Director, but given time Farley will make his own mark. I like this guy.

  • avatar

    What was article about again? I just wasted 5 minutes of my life. Donnie is bad Hunter is good, I know that. What else is in the news?

  • avatar

    I wander. No, I wonder what Peter thinks about Farley risky racing?

  • avatar

    A more extremely dull, logically disorganized, poorly laid out faux reach at the mores of journalism I don’t believe I’ve ever had the misfortune to read. To top it all off, I had to read the mind-numbing banality twice to even understand what was supposedly being argued! Then I wished I hadn’t.

    I won’t ever get my lost time back, more’s the pity.

    To justify the waste of my time, I decided to waste even more letting you know you’re not improving.

    Not only do you often get specs incorrect which any real enthusiast knows innately off the top of his head, you’ve admitted to not bothering to even personally own a car. I really haven’t been able to fathom quite what it is you’re supposed to be doing at TTAC. Original, insightful, witty and humorous takes on the motor industry and its products are notorious by their absence. What’s left is mush beyond the rewritten PR handouts. Might as well be the truth about indoor/outdoor industrial carpet for all the passion this site exhibits.

    Then we get an all out-of-breath load of codswallop on whether an auto exec should drive a racing car and what his insurance agent might think about it. Oooh, leading edge exposé of journalistic mores, man! At about community college level. Still, since we’re talking mediocrity, I suppose Car and Driver’s concurrent slide into tabloid irrelevance shows what the corporate bigwigs think of good writing and originality these days — not a darn thing.

    • 0 avatar

      The first paragraph here is just classic.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        Indeed it is.

      • 0 avatar
        Rick T.

        Agree. Along the lines of, to paraphrase another classic:

        …what you’ve just written is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever read. At no point in your rambling, incoherent post were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone on TTAC is now dumber for having read it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

    • 0 avatar

      Read it twice? You didn’t have to do that to write so damn many words of how upset you are at the writer/TTAC/world. And I doubt you did. Seems like instead you just had some leftover Twilight/journalism crossover fanfic bits that only needed shoehorning of the general idea of the article into the last paragraph, to make all of the whining seem relevant.
      I’ll admit though, when I do come to TTAC, I go straight to the comments section to check which way the panties are bunched up today. You definitely delivered.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      Well, that’s just like, your opinion man.

      For the sake of my sanity I won’t address all of this, though I do disagree that we aren’t original or insightful. We’re witty and humourous, too, I hope.

      As for specs, though — what are we getting wrong? I am not saying we don’t make mistakes. No one is immune from typos, transposed numbers, and other assorted sorts of brainfarts. But we also fix our mistakes ASAP when you or others point them out. I think we do a good job on that, overall.

  • avatar

    “it’s been more noticeable since you-know-who and some of his partisan enablers took up arms against media that was fair and honest but critical”

    Please tell me you’re being satirical.

  • avatar

    Journalists can write about whatever they want, isn’t that what America is all about?
    Now, the snarky comment of the bubble dweller who wants to dis Trump, well he has the right to his opinion too. But, it’s just an opinion. The “media” is NOT fair and honest, but critical. In my opinion, they have a serious political agenda, and push it all day long. As a mere reader, I read the stuff “journalists” write and I decide for myself. If you make it easy for me by putting your anti-American-President opinion right out there, I can click somewhere else faster.

  • avatar

    Yes sir!
    “Studies show” 98% of journalists are hard left. They have a right to be, and they have the right to make any claim (like “media is fair and honest”) they want. I am glad the Freep article was published, and I think it’s stupid anyone wants to say it shouldn’t have been published. That’s why it’s called “freedom of the press”. We’re reading this….

  • avatar

    “There’s a ‘kill the messenger’ critique of journalism that has existed for the past five years . . .”
    Golly gee; promoting the overthrow of a duly elected president might have had something to do with it.

    Regardless, I think he should go with a grassroots league like Formula-Vee until he wins a few trophies. He will probably find it harder than he’d anticipated, and the only thing he’s likely to injure, is his ego.

    PS: I think this is a good thought provoking article. Good job Tim.
    PPS: For your own sanity, stay away from the toxic waste cesspool that is Twitter.

  • avatar

    I wonder what RPMs the engine was running at 70 MPH? Of course, impossible to tell here with no tachometer.

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