I now see why most people hate mainstream, cable newsmedia.
I will readily admit that I have limited my viewing of news coverage on the Kevin Ward Jr./Tony Stewart tragedy to a minimum. I've done so for the safety of my television and for any random object that might have found its way propelled through said television's screen.
What little bit of coverage I have seen has almost been enough to make me commit TV-icide. It has also opened my eyes as to just how these networks operate, a revelation that can only come about when someone you really care about becomes a news story.
I would never sit and claim that Tony Stewart is a perfect angel. I don't think anyone would. When he was named NASCAR Illustrated's Person of the Year in 2008, they captured him perfectly in a cover that showed him shrugging. On one shoulder sat an angel Tony, placidly twiddling his thumbs and contemplating the meaning of life. On the other sat Devil Tony, arms crossed, grinning mischievously as he plotted some prank or some juicy sound byte that would take a literal bite out of one of his friends in the media. I'm sure I'm far from the only person who pulled it out of their mailbox in December 2008, gave it a glance, and declared "THAT'S Tony Stewart!"
To hear Fox News and CNN report it (my TV hasn't stopped on MSNBC since the 2000 Summer Olympic games. I do have standards.) Tony is a devil incarnate, a ticking time-bomb that was just waiting to explode with the most tragic of consequences for anyone who got too close.
You would think you were looking at a police blotter as they put graphics on the screen listing off some of Tony's past incidents with fellow drivers and the media, such as tossing his helmet at Matt Kenseth's car and giving then-rookie Brian Vickers a thump in the chest. What they fail to recognize is that many an angered driver, even gentle giant Dale Jarrett, has tossed their helmet at an opponent's race car following an accident. They also fail to recognize that in addition to Stewart, Vickers rubbed quite a few veterans wrong in the summer of 2004, including Jarrett (who he spun into the "kitty litter" at Watkins Glen) and Bobby Labonte. It's amazing only one of 'em popped him.
They don't recognize the fact that Kevin Ward, in his anger over crashing, jumped out of his car and stalked down the track towards a line of approaching cars, many of whom narrowly dodged him before Stewart even arrived on the scene. They don't point out that he was clad entirely in black and standing in a dimly lit area of the track. They don't bother to show everyone with photos and diagrams just how little visibility there is in one of those sprint cars and the fact that to make one turn, you have to give it a little bit of power (which addresses the cries of "He gassed it before he hit him!").
Worst of all, they fail to recognize that for every sin Stewart has committed against his fellow racer, there is a story or ten of him coming quietly to another driver's aid when they were injured and needed help with medical costs. If they were to take the time to really look into who Stewart is as a man, not just the occasionally combative racer, they would see clearly his love for his fellow man and all the good that he does for children, animals, and those injured fellow racers I just mentioned. They would realize that nobody feels worse about this situation and, above all, that he would never intentionally put one of his competitors in harm's way with a race car.
I wish they would ask former driver and current TV analyst Kyle Petty just how evil Stewart is. Kyle, the son of legendary Richard Petty and grandson of inaugural Daytona 500 champ Lee Petty, knows all too well the dangers of this sport. His 19-year-old son Adam tragically lost his life in an accident during a practice session in Loudon, New Hampshire in May 2000. Adam was wise beyond his years with a love of all people but especially children that you seldom see in a person of any age. He wanted to start a camp for ill kids, similar to Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang camps. The dream didn't die with him; Kyle and his wife Patti made it a reality and today chronically ill children from all over the Southeast make the pilgrimage to the Victory Junction Gang Camp in Randleman, NC. Stewart played a large role in the industry-wide initiative to get the camp up and running with repeated donations, and he used his Eldora Speedway in Ohio to host a charity race that helped bankroll a second camp in Kansas City.
Alas, that isn't going to get them the cheap ratings that these parasites crave. What will get those ratings is using his quote from his incident with Kenseth in which he stated that he would "run over" Matt every chance he got for the remainder of that season (2012) as some sort of foreshadowing of the incident with Kevin Ward.
Newsflash, geniuses: when a race driver uses the terminology "run over," they are talking about car-to-car contact. No driver, at least not this level, even has it in him to potentially run someone down with their car on purpose. You have to have a pretty solid respect and care for your fellow man to bail off into a corner side-by-side at nearly 200 MPH. Somewhere among the thousands upon thousands of racers who flock to the short tracks every week to live out their passion, there may be someone that callous, and there's a reason that we will never hear about that clown in one of the higher levels of the sport.
The news folks don't bother to point that out to the ignorant masses though, perhaps because they themselves are that ignorant. Or perhaps they know that if they can fill it into the average Joe's head that there is a multi-millionaire race driver, one of the most popular and successful drivers in racing history, who will intentionally run over unwitting rivals who dare cross him, that will get people tuning in because folks feed like leeches on that kind of a story. The impact on Stewart's life and career be damned.
See, for as many fans as Tony Stewart and NASCAR racing as a whole have, there are millions more who think that we are a bunch of inbred hicks who take time from loving our sisters (or brothers, in the case of the millions of women who love racing) to watch cars drive around in circles. They would probably be shocked to know that all of us own at least one pair of shoes. Making these folks believe that Stewart is the kind of horrid person they are making him out to be instead of telling the truth about the kind of man he clearly is to those of us who actually know and understand the sport of auto racing is far more advantageous to their ratings.
If they can tie Stewart's sponsors, folks like Bass Pro Shops, ExxonMobil, and Coca-Cola, into this whole big deal, even better.
That is what they've tried to do, and they've taken to using Tiger Woods as an example. Nevermind that there is no comparison between Stewart and a lying, adulterous skunk who makes millions of dollars in endorsement deals for whacking a ball, walking to where the ball landed, and whacking it again (how scintillating a game, this golf). Stewart's sponsorship deals go far beyond regular endorsements where a fellow makes money for a company and they in turn pile money in his direction.
Take Johnny Morris, founder and owner of Bass Pro, for example. Stewart is not just a client, he is a close friend and fishing buddy. Morris will unquestionably rally behind his friend, but when he does these media won't paint the picture that way. Instead they will be talking about how Bass Pro Shops chose to continue to align themselves with someone who ran over and killed a fellow racer. Where do you think that is going to leave Bass Pro in the court of public opinion?
But these people don't care. They could not care less if they are presenting an accurate portrayal of the situation. They couldn't care less about the impact that it will have long-term on Stewart's life and career as they feed their inaccuracies, half-truths, and spins into the minds of the masses instead of attempting to educate them on the man and how a race car really works. If it destroys his life and career, what do they care? They got people to tune in and that is all that matters.
Sooner or later, the newsmedia will move on from the Ward/Stewart story and give the same treatment to some other news event. In doing so they won't give a second thought to the kind of destruction they've left in their wake with their shameful, unprofessional, and irresponsible reporting.
Yes, the tragedy of this story is and always will be the death of Kevin Ward and its impact on his family and friends. The secondary tragedy is its impact, probably long-lasting if not lifelong, on the psyche of Tony Stewart. The way the story has been presented to those who have no idea about our sport or about Tony Stewart as a person may not quite reach tragic levels, but it certainly is a travesty. These people should be ashamed.
As we all know, though, there is no shame when ratings are on the line.