Why NASCAR reporters got defensive about Kevin Harvick rumors

If you paid attention to Twitter on Thursday, there was a bunch of chatter about reporting and sourcing and journalists conducting themselves the right way. I bit my tongue on this at first, but it really bothered me after awhile and I want to weigh in.

First, the backstory. In case you missed it, a guy named Tom Bowles showed up at the racetrack for the first time in weeks (months?) and promptly reported a rumor that Kevin Harvick might leave Stewart-Haas Racing for Hendrick Motorsports.

From Bowles’ May 16 story on Frontstretch.com:

Multiple sources claimed to me at the track the driver’s been approached with an offer to move to Hendrick Motorsports equipment in 2017, a deal that could insert him straight into Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 car.

Not only was the report not true, but its basis was quite old and tired. Speculation about Harvick had been circulating since February, when SHR announced it was moving from Chevrolet to Ford. Harvick is known as a Chevy guy, so people figured he might be unhappy and try to leave. Maybe, the thinking went, he could even replace the underperforming Kasey Kahne at Hendrick Motorsports.

Hmm. Was there any truth to that? Well, the thing to do was to ask Harvick.

So at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Feb. 26, I waited in the chilly wind of the Xfinity Series garage along with ESPN.com’s Bob Pockrass and NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan. We followed Harvick to his hauler after he was done with practice, then waited outside until he came out. When he did, we asked him about whether he’d consider leaving.

Harvick said: “You’ve just got to follow along with what your organization thinks is best. I got a great team, I’ve got great people, I’ve got a great organization that’s wanting to win races. To not be committed to them would be foolish on my part; (it’s) the best position I’ve ever been in as a driver.”

Those comments seemed fairly strong, and I took him at his word that he would stay at SHR. Others disagreed, and rumors continued to pop up every few weeks that Harvick might leave.

He was asked about it again on March 11 at Phoenix.

Harvick said: “For me, I’m in the best position that I’ve been in with my team. I feel like I have the best crew chief in the garage. It would be pretty tough to turn around and walk out on everybody who has been a part of building everything that we have built so far.”

Then he was asked about it again on April 7, when he told reporters in Texas: “I don’t know what everybody is talking about because of the fact that I do have a relationship with SHR, the contracts that we are in, the situations that we’re in are already there. I just let everybody just keep talking about it just because there is really nothing to it. I feel like I’ve got the best organization that I could possibly fit with. I think I got the best crew chief in the garage. Got everything that we spent years lining up. It would seem silly trying to do something different. Nothing’s changed.”

That day, Harvick tweeted about it and said: “Looking forward to driving the #4 car for many years to come. Never had more fun racing & love my team. #4thewin”

Look, people lie sometimes. At other times, they dance around the truth. But let me ask you: Do any of the above quotes sound like they’re from someone who is looking to leave?

Fast forward to last weekend, when Tom Bowles showed up at Dover. He heard the rumor somewhere and floated it in his story with “multiple sources” cited.

Obviously, his sources were wrong. SHR announced Thursday that Harvick has signed a long-term extension to remain with the team; Harvick was never going to leave for Hendrick.

So why did some media get so fired up over this incorrect report from what’s essentially a citizen journalist website?

Well, I’ll tell you: Because it makes us all look bad.

Being part of “THE MEDIA” is like being a lawyer. You know how people make lawyer jokes, like they’re all the same? Well people view the media in the same way. The general public has a very hard time differentiating between various media members and outlets.

These days, it takes very little to be considered part of the “media.” There is no license or formal training required, nor is there some sort of media police who act as a watchdog for flimsy reporting and/or ethics. Virtually anyone can be in the media if they write for a website that claims to report news.

But underneath that media umbrella, there are many different standards. For example: At USA TODAY, we are not allowed to use the word “source.” There are no anonymous “sources” because that could mean anything. Instead, we can only cite a “person with direct knowledge of the situation who requested anonymity” based on a small set of qualifying circumstances.

And even if I had such a person, I would have to tell both my editor and my editor’s boss who this person was and why they should let me include their comments in the story. It truly has to be someone in the know.

Other news outlets have similar standards. Why? As a journalist, your reputation is all you have. If you are wrong even 5% of the time, you have no credibility. I would rather get scooped on a story any day than report something I wasn’t sure about. People rarely remember who broke something; if you get it wrong, it’ll always be in the back of your readers’ minds.

Well, Jeff Gluck is reporting that news — but he also reported that Tom Smith was leaving John Doe Racing a few years ago, so how do we know that he’s right?

What’s the point of being a reporter if your readers can’t trust you?

But there are some media members who don’t care as much. I know Bowles doesn’t, because I heard his interview on Sirius/XM on Thursday. He said he learned a long time ago he wouldn’t be right 100% of the time and patted himself on the back for generating conversation in the NASCAR world this week.

Say what?

Look, I don’t dislike Bowles as a person. I’ve gotten along with him when I see him. But professionally, his methods truly bother me. When you play fast and loose with journalism rules — unapologetically so — this is what happens:

Of course, there was never “a lot of the media” who reported something about Harvick with sources. There was one person. But drivers, like the general public, often don’t (or can’t) separate the media. It’s all one big group to them. And to be honest, they shouldn’t have to. 

Maybe I’m just old-school, but if you get a credential and present yourself as part of the media, you should have the decency to conduct yourself in a certain way. I was upset with Bowles for cheering in the press box at the 2011 Daytona 500 and I’m upset with him again today for bringing this shame upon a bunch of hard-working professionals who try do to things the right way.

Unfortunately for anyone in the NASCAR media, the average NASCAR fan probably thinks there were many false reports in the media about Harvick’s contract. To my knowledge, there was only one — but that one has cost all of us a little of our credibility today. And I’m not happy about it.

11 Replies to “Why NASCAR reporters got defensive about Kevin Harvick rumors”

  1. Thanks Jeff Gluck. My only problem in your report was that no one is even thinking about what this has done to Kasey! He was another innocent by stander in this whole situation. I will never read another article Tom Bowled ever writes but would someone step up to the plate and defend Kasey in all this. He did nothing wrong and yet they drug him in the whole thing. No he has not had a great season but he deserved none of this!

    1. Guess you
      Missed that part where Kane said Harvick talked to him a couple months ago and told him he wasn’t taking over his ride

  2. One mistake can ruin a persons reputation or cause them to be labeled or catorgized in a different way. There used to be a joke about a young girl who was always kinda loose and free with her body. She decided to see if she could make some money and the first time she did, she immediately was labeled as being a prostitute. Reporters or anyone else should consider what the results of their actions might be.

  3. wow that was a powerful article and I’m so glad you wrote it, I’ve always respected your work Jeff and this just proves why so many do.. Being a fan of Kasey Kahne this rumor has made for a few uncomfortable days. Thank you for reporting a truthful article..

  4. Jeff,
    I am one of the masses that you speak of (lost faith in most media). Too many times accuracy matters not, just who was first. As you stated, we really don’t care who broke the story. I realize it’s a big deal for you guys though within your industry. Besides rampant inaccuracies, my biggest issue with the media is sensationalism. It also seems that since the inception of digital media clerical errors run rampant through your industry as if there are no longer editors that proofread anything. Omitted words to the point of nonsensical sentences, terrible spelling and the classic there, their, they’re, your, you’re, since, sense (you know, fourth grade English). With all that said I have to give you extreme credit for writing this piece. It’s good to know there are journalists that actually care about integrity and getting the story right. Although I have reservations about the whole, condition of anonymity, I’m glad to know there are some qualifiers to the “invisible source”. Of course anyone with half a brain realizes that half of these “anonymous sources” are actually directed to float info to the media. Our government does this all the time. Anyways, I digress. You’ve gained a reader. Thank you for being a professional.

  5. Oh, Jeff. While only one “media” outlet, by your definition, reported this, there are PLENTY of social media accounts claiming to be “media” who also reported it. Unfortunately, your definition of “media” and that of others might not match.

  6. Just a comment, I don’t care about past rhetoric or present contracts, but all said and done Kasey Kane and Kevin Harvick ‘should’ switch places. Call it a trade or whatever, but Kasey would be a much better fit at SHR where the pressure to perform would be off and he could just ‘race’. Just like Tony, Danica, and Kurt. On the other side, Kevin is known inventor and avid competitor that would greatly improve Hendrick’s ‘diversity’ program, after all growing the sport seems to be what Hendrick does best.

  7. The other problem is after its “reported” one place, it gets picked up on other “citizens journalist” websites. Now you’ve got 50 mom-n-pop style website retweeting and sharing a rumor that is in reality four months old as though there’s something new afoot. A lie told often enough becomes the truth.

  8. Well stated Jeff Gluck. There have always been individuals in the media group whose soul concern is the number of readers versus the accuracy of their articles. I applaud you.

  9. Kudos, Jeff. But these days with 142 characters and the inter web, everyone is a reporter and everyone else believes what they read and hear. Missed ya in Richmond by the way.

  10. When the rumor started about Harvick, I knew that there was no truth to it. Harvick and Stewart have been friends for many years. Stewart drove for Harvick and his wife in the Busch/Xfinity Series. Harvick has said multiple times that he is in the best position he has ever been as a driver. Just because the team is changing manufacturers is no big deal. Because I am certain, before SHR made the move to Fords, they told their drivers this was what they were considering and why. And if the drivers were not on board, something would have been worked out before the deal was done with Ford. Stewart has been through this before, and he would not make a move like this without discussing or at least letting his drivers know about it.

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