A couple of days ago, His Magnificent Sweetness took Karl Brauer of Edmunds to task over the site's "Most Wanted" vehicles list only including two slabs of Detroit iron. Peter's rationale? "[I]s it any wonder that the new go-to guy for auto-biz quotage for that beacon of anti-Detroit objectivity, The New York Times, happens to be none other than Karl Brauer, editor in chief of Edmunds.com?" And while I have heard people talk smack about Karl and his industry connections, I've gotta give the win to Karl's response in this matter. Click through for Brauer's smackdown of Peter and a bit of analysis.
"Interesting that Peter questions my bias when he's paid directly by the Detroit Three. Oh, this isn't a controversial statement by any means, as he totally admits to being on their bankroll in this BusinessWeek article. I think it's refreshing that Pete wants to be upfront about working for Detroit's automakers, as it's important for readers to know that you're paid by the people you also report on."
This is a dirty business we're in. There're a lot of good guys in the auto industry, people who are simply trying to earn a living and indulge their passion for automobiles — on both the manufacturer and journalistic ends of the spectrum. And plenty of journalists turn into corporate whores without even realizing it. It also colors a review when you've gone on a junket. I happen to like Toyota's FJ Cruiser very much. Does the fact that Toyota treated me like a king in Birmingham, Alabama have anything to do with that? No, it does not. Toyota's got savvy PR people, for sure. But I did point out as many of the utelet's shortcomings as I could find, and it had a few. Regardless, the fact that I liked the truck so much troubled me, because I wanted to be taken seriously, and not look like I was huffing corporate dong.
So then, Johnson, why don't you simply pay your own way for these things? Budget, basically. The best I can do is disclose what Toyota set me up with. I really like Mickey Kaus' idea of renting any car you review. But where are you going to find an Audi RS4 in a rental fleet? If you truly want access, you have to go to the manufacturers. And even a company as large as Edmunds (Brauer has 13 colleagues voting with him on the awards; in contrast, we have Spinelli, myself, Wert and sometimes Loverman, Austin and Uncle Bumbeck) is still going to take the free lunch. Corporate protocol demands it. The manufacturer gets ink, thus justifying its PR outlay, and the bean-counters at the publication see a cheap-as-free way to generate content and hopefully ad dollars, even if they're not necessarily telling the journos what to scribble. Broke-dick writers get a chance to experience things that they could otherwise never afford to do. Everyone wins, right?
Right. Everyone wins but the consumer and the reader. Peter calls bias on magazines because he's an ad guy. He may be tired of the ad biz (and as somebody who worked in advertising on-and-off for the better part of a decade, I can relate), but in some sense, he'll always be an ad guy. Karl calls Peter on bias because he's a journalist. Both men, however, love their cars. But their petty little war seems pretty self-absorbed to me. Peter obviously hit Karl where he lived, given the length of his response. And frankly, as much as I hate the New York Times (sorry, Ray), being quoted in it is a pretty silly excuse for having somebody call you anti-Detroit, just because people you work with think Detroit is building a lot of subpar cars. It looks as if Peter's got his tinfoil hat on. At the same time, Brauer's response is kind of candy-assed, somewhat "I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I?" and nebulously disingenous. Besides. Dude freaking bought a modern-day Malibu after describing it as "relatively trouble-free". I may drive a Durango, but Christ — that's a credibility-blower if there ever was one.
I have a few PR-type rules that were learned the hard way over the years, and I can't honestly tell you where they've gotten me. 1. When you're blatantly wrong, concede and apologize. 2. When your assailant is half-right, either ignore him (because it will probably go away) or concede the half that's wrong and hit him back. 3. If the man with the club is entirely wrong, deliver a withering, highly-precise attack that leaves him sans scrotum, pancreas and intestines. In the heat of battle, sure, these things can get muddled. And while Karl won this round, in my opinion, both he and Peet made themselves look like children. But when the red mist clears, learn from it. And finally, if you're so desperately worried about your cred, stop sucking corporate teat altogether. Otherwise, you're always going to be somewhat suspect. And that goes for me, too. [Thanks to Mike on the tipoff to Karl's rant.]
Popular Hot Rodding Puts Another Chink in Primedia's Styrofoam Chinese Wall [Internal]