Jim Farley is Allowed to Race, and The Detroit Free Press is Allowed to Write About It

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.

https://twitter.com/dutch_mandel/status/1319705793147658240?s=12

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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