Meet The Press

One last word – or words – on the Tony Stewart incident a couple weeks ago:

(Well, I sure hope it’s the last time I write about his boorish behavior.)

Seems to me some people out there are confused about photographer Gary Mook’s “role” in the Stewart fiasco, and to a larger extent, the media’s role in society.

(Uh, oh. “The media’s role in society.” Might be too big a topic for me to handle, I’ll gladly admit.)

But let’s back up a bit. Tony Stewart was leading at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which is somewhat akin to me playing for the Chicago Cubs in Game 7 of the World Series at Wrigley Field – except I have NO chance of playing for the Cubs. He was living a dream.

Then, that dream was shattered. Instead of celebrating with Tony George and hearing the cheers of 400,000 fans, Stewart mysteriously faded from contention. Where he once ran in the Top 2 or 3, Stewart was in eighth. Whoops, ninth. No, 10th.

Geez, he’s falling like a rock. Eleventh. Twelfth. Mercifully, the race ended. The anger, unfortunately for Stewart, did not.

Along comes Mook, a freelance photographer working for The Indianapolis Star-News. That paper has been around a long time and has impeccable credentials, especially when it comes to covering races at Indianapolis. They did THREE special sections for the Indy 500 this year, so they know what they’re doing.

And what does Mook do to Stewart? Did he run up to him and bait him? Did he hide behind his motorcoach and jump out when Stewart wasn’t expecting? Did he invade Stewart’s privacy?

Answers: By all accounts, no, no, and … Stewart’s in the middle of 400,000 people – how much privacy can he expect?

What did Mook do? Hmmm, say it with me now, folks: He did his job. That’s all. Nothing more, nothing less. If you were crunching numbers in your accountant’s job, and someone shoved you, what would you do? Probably start World War III, wouldn’t you?

If you were packing groceries at the local supermarket, and someone shoved you, what would you do? If you were hammering a nail in a roof, and someone shoved you, what would you do?

If you were (fill in your work duties), and someone shoved you, what would you do?

Ah, but some would argue that it was somehow partly Mook’s fault, that he needed to give Stewart his space and let him cool off.

Here’s where we get into the “media’s role in society” business. In your job, chances are no one is going to take your picture. In Stewart’s job, however, he’s had his picture taken millions of times. He’s become a household name. And guess who delivered that name?

You guessed it: the media.

Without the media, you wouldn’t know Stewart’s name. It’s like the old argument: if a tree fell in the forest and no one was there, would it make a noise? Well, the media was there to see Stewart make noise – good and bad noise.

A journalist is supposed to report the news. That we all agree on. (I hope. If not, go back to your message boards.) A journalist reports what he or she sees, good or bad. Do some go looking for the bad and sacrifice reporting the good? Yes, but I don’t believe those people are good journalists. Do some go looking for the good and sacrifice reporting the bad? Yes, and they aren’t good journalists either.

The same goes for photographers. When news happens, they take a picture of it. Tony Stewart fading from the lead to 12th at his beloved track was news. Gary Mook was doing his job by taking Stewart’s picture. Mook was not a National Enquirer flak hiding behind a bush at Stewart’s house, hoping to get a “Peeping Tom” photo. He was in the garage area, with proper credentials, doing his job.

And Stewart should understand that. He, and every other public figure, should know that the media can be their friend. Treat us with respect, and you’ll get the same back. I, for one, hate bugging people when they are working. And I imagine most reporters are the same way.

But they need to remember we have a job to do, too.

Now, if NASCAR or the tracks want to alter the rules and make drivers off-limits after the races, fine. But don’t come crying to me when you can’t see your favorite driver on TV in victory lane after a race. If drivers are off-limits, they’re off-limits. You can’t have it both ways.

If NASCAR wants to mandate a 10- or 15-minute “cooling-off” period after races – like every other sports league – fine. But, again, that means you can’t see your driver celebrate in victory lane until 10 minutes later.

(Yes, I’m living in a dream world. Television rules the world, so if they wanted to talk to someone, screw the rules.)

The media are not the enemy here, folks. And we’re not the story, either. Except when a driver does something stupid like shove a photographer or slap the tape recorder out of a reporter’s hand.

You’ll never hear me complain in print about aging media centers, hellish traffic, long hours, bad food, tiring travel or anything else about my job. You don’t care. You want to know about Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. or whoever else is in the news.

I’m not the story. No journalist is (though some seem to think they are these days). Gary Mook didn’t want to be the story, either. But Stewart made him part of the story. Don’t forget that.

So next time you want to complain about the dreaded media invading poor ol’ drivers’ privacy, remember this: We are the ones who bring you the good news, too. And as I learned a long time ago, sometimes you’ve gotta take the good with the bad.

Stewart was wrong, pure and simple. And he admitted it. Mook was right, pure and simple. And Stewart admitted that, too.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2002

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