Cars for the rest of us.

How the Automotive Aftermarket Crushes Criticism

May 29, 13 • by Craig Fitzgerald • Publishing29 CommentsRead More »

Bethany SullivanIf you remember from last week, I wrote a piece for BoldRide.com regarding the general lameness of Concours-style events. After that article went around, the following was written to me on another blog:

“Comment by Bethany Sullivan on 26 May 2013:

Mr. Fitzgerald: I represent the marketing interests of a number of aftermarket companies whose activities including event sponsorships. Your blog post has been reported to the SEMA governing body and any effort on the part of Hemmings, Boldride, or yourself personally, to engage with my client companies in any form whatsoever will result in actions that leave no doubt as to your limited future in this industry.”

I pasted a screen capture of the comment above, just in case she decides to delete it and I’m accused of making the whole thing up.

I have no idea who Bethany Sullivan is. If she’s in PR, to my knowledge, she never contacted me, which makes her pretty lousy at public relations, but be that as it may, this is how the automotive aftermarket attempts to stifle any kind of criticism whatsoever.

For the record, Bethany, I DO NOT WORK FOR HEMMINGS. Other people who commented on that post made that fact abundantly clear. I haven’t worked there since 2010. Maybe you should consider reporting me to the “governing bodies” at Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Market Basket Supermarkets, because I used to work there, too.

I’ve been writing about cars for decades. Some of those years, I spent at Hemmings, most I did not.

A lot of people in this industry — it is not a “hobby” for anyone but you and me — are so insular and myopic that they think its impossible to write without them. But there are hundreds of niches in old cars and new cars to write about, and more outlets to write for every day.

Occasionally, I’ve commented unfavorably about cars I’ve driven. For example, Cliff Atiyeh from the Boston Globe once put together a video I was in about MyFordTouch and how frustrating it was to operate.

The people at Ford and I have a professional relationship. I’ve driven many of their cars, and written what I thought of all of them. Some I like very much, some I do not.

This particular video got a surprising amount of traffic. I ended up getting an email from a PR guy at Ford who wasn’t exactly happy about it, but he made his point, we agreed to disagree and we went our separate ways.

At no time did he actually come right out and threaten me about reporting me to some “governing body.”

Why not? Because it’s pathologically childish, stupid and defensive to do so.

I was thinking about this as I finally got around to reading the February issue of Vanity Fair on Monday. It had a scathing, six page article on how chefs like Charlie Trotter and Thomas Keller have made the dining experience at their restaurants a celebration of the chef’s “art” instead of the customer that’s actually paying the bill.

When the Huffington Post interviewed Keller about the article, he simply said, “At the end of the day, I disagree with Corby’s critique. From my point of view, if you come into my restaurant and you want a bowl of Corn Flakes, my job is to give you a bowl of Corn Flakes. I have no ego attached to what we do.”

Fair enough: Disagree with the criticism. Act professionally. Move on.

His only comment on the subject came after he was specifically asked about an article that has a paid circulation of 1.2 million people. He didn’t say anything about kicking Corby Kummer out of his restaurant if he dared darken his door again.

But in the vintage car hobby, you’re not supposed to criticize anything. If you do, you get threatening messages from people named “Bethany”.

I’ve seen it before. It happened to Keith Martin, famously at the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale event in 2007. Martin had written a column on muscle car prices in his magazine Sports Car Market, which apparently caused Craig Jackson’s famously mercurial blood pressure to peg to the red, and Martin was subsequently escorted from the premises.

I saw it firsthand, when Hemmings Muscle Machines published a column in August of 2005 — when I was the editor — from columnist Ray Bohacz entitled “American Muscle Car: Made in China.”

In the column, Ray wrote: “The dirty secret of this business is, the rusted hulk of a dream that you towed home and worked hard to lovingly restore most likely has more Chinese than American lineage, if you purchased new instead of NOS parts.”

The backlash from that column was epic, solely because it was completely factual, and nobody wants anybody in the hobby knowing they’re buying all of their parts from Foxconn-style factories in China.

The entire aftermarket industry revolted against the magazine, and collectively began pulling ads en masse.

Never mind that this was ONE page out of 96 that month, out of 1,152 pages in that particular magazine that year.

It was fair, honest criticism, and as we all know, criticizing a business for shipping all of its manufacturing to China is an attack on America, mom’s apple pie and kittens.

I’ll tell you what, Bethany, I will continue to work for three reasons:

  1. My copy comes in clean and ready to print
  2. It is always on time and on budget
  3. People seem to like to read what I write

And in case anyone thinks I’m being egotistical, about 93.774 percent of the reason I get writing gigs — and will continue to get writing gigs — is based on Reasons #1 and #2.

What I’ve learned from this exchange is that many people who have made our hobby a business are so thin-skinned and paranoid that they fear a single article can convince people to quit cars and take up making macramé owls.

So listen, Bethany:

If a bullshit article like that is all it takes for me to never get paid to write anything again — after literally millions of words written in dozens of publications over the last 18 years — I’ll get my job back at the fucking Highway Department, patch potholes for a living and write for free.

29 Responses to How the Automotive Aftermarket Crushes Criticism

  1. Wendy Moore says:

    I am sooooooo going to report you to the Highway Department. See if you ever get to lean on a shovel again, Mr. Hater.

  2. Tony Cerulle says:

    Wow. From now on I’m going to use a pen name for anything I contribute to your site Craig. You’re quickly becoming public enemy #1.

    I have doubts about that being a legitimate PR person threatening you, probably just some crackpot. Even if it was you’re already a hundred-aire so she can’t do too much damage to your career. Seriously, screw her and everyone like her. I’m sick of reading the same old disingenuous bullshit articles. While at times coarse, you always tell the truth and I prefer that over what we typically get. And for the record, I loved Ray Bohacz’ article way back when ;)

    • Craig Fitzgerald says:

      I have no doubt she’s in the industry. The blog the comment was on was inside the business of automotive publishing.

  3. Scott Yeager says:

    Bethany. PR. She’ll tell on you.

    Go figure.

    What is it about the name “Bethany” that turns broads into such busybodies?

  4. Brian Epro says:

    I read Bethany’s comment this morning and immediately began Googling her trying to figure out what companies she may “represent.” I couldn’t find anything. I was going to let these companies know that I, as the owner of 3 cars in constant need of parts, would not be doing any business with any of them if they supported her idiotic comments.

  5. BJ Killeen says:

    Please email me the pattern for a macramé owl.

    :-D

  6. Peter MacGillivray says:

    “Bethany Sullivan” has no affiliation with our organization. Furthermore, we don’t have a “governing body” with oversight on this issue. Don’t waste your time on this one, it’s jive.

  7. Brian Epro says:

    Peter- it’s jive? Shit. (Translation: Golly).

  8. George Hesselberg says:

    Great response. Picked it up at Romenesko. Thanks for carrying the toolbox on this one.

  9. Tom Bernhardt says:

    Hold on just a minute here.

    You’re saying, I could have corn flakes at a Thomas Keller restaurant and do not name it????

    Total crap.

  10. George Chidi says:

    The Bethany Sullivan in the LinkedIn page above … a bit of a weird page for a PR pro. Only four connections. Most serious PR people in D.C. are linked to everyone and their brother. It’s still amateur hour on that one.

    And now, the most Googleable thing about her is going to be this stupid response, which due to Romenesko is likely to have more SEO juice than anything else she’ll accomplish. She’s managed to ruin her own career by attacking yours.

  11. Mike Eldred says:

    I just had a read through the comments on BoldRide. Man, what a bunch of cocknockers you brought out with that post.
    You’re exactly right, of course. To me, the cars and the shows are aberrational. The cars are a phony, plastic-y representation of what a real car might look like if it wasn’t made in a factory or intended to be used. The shows, as far as I can tell, are just a place for rich guys to pretend they’re “car guys.”
    I prefer real cars and real people, and I resent what the classic car “industry” has done to the classic car hobby.

    • Craig Fitzgerald says:

      At the end of the day, it’s my dopey opinion, right?

      Some people think rockabilly sucks. I don’t have enough time in the day to go yell at all of them.

      I kind of purposely stayed away from “Rich Guys vs. The Rest of Us” because that’s really not what it’s about. It’s the idea that only the well-publicized events matter that really bugs me. I’d rather strike up a good conversation about cars at a gas pump than I would attend a high-falutin’ event where everybody dresses like the Great Gatsby.

      But that’s just me.

      • Mike Eldred says:

        “I kind of purposely stayed away from “Rich Guys vs. The Rest of Us” because that’s really not what it’s about.”
        I agree. And rich guys CAN be car guys. I’ve known a few.
        I meant that it’s about people who pretend to be car guys by virtue of the fact that they paid someone else to do a restoration. And, let’s face it, most of the big concours events at which those cars eventually appear are not intended for the unwashed and impecunious.

        I do think the impact of big money, high profile events, and the big auctions has been bad for the classic car hobby, and maybe even for the classic car as a historical artifact. I’ve seen perfectly good originals get “restored.” I’m sure you have, too.

        Thankfully for me, nobody with money seems to give a rat’s ass about MGs, and they remain accessible. And some even remain original. Many remain patched together with wood screws, duct tape, and hanger wire by some half-wit DPO.

        And now, I’m off to the Hemmings Cruise-in in my never restored, often-driven TF with the worn seats, cracked paint, and dirty engine bay.

  12. John Kokola says:

    Ooooh. Her comment just drips with *seriousness*. Your blog post has been reported to the SEMA governing body and in five Saturdays it will be discussed over Russian caviar and Pouilly-Fuisse — specifically, how Mr. Gitzferald don’t understand the humble roots of the sport and how it provides a positive motorsports experience for kids.

  13. Betty O'Sullivan says:

    Nice response, thanks a million for the time and effort. Got you thinking, eh? Can’t believe you got so worked up about it :)

  14. Colin Ciolli says:

    Holy shit! I have a new favorite car blog. You, Mr. Fitzgerald sir, are awesome. From the original post about the fuddy-dutty concourse quacks, to this gem, you have held your ground and spoke your mind. Excellent.

    • Craig Fitzgerald says:

      Thanks Colin!

      Sign up for the email and I’ll send updates on Friday mornings, or you can like the Facebook page for all kinds of other cool stuff.

  15. Steve Strieter says:

    Back at Square One, here’s the less-than-credible indicator in Bethany’s threat: SEMA is essentially the hot-rodding & aftermarket promotional group (Specialty Equipment Manufacturer’s Assoc), which last time I checked, was not involved with even the concept of gnat’s-ass-correct-specification concours-level restorations.

  16. BJ says:

    If “Bethany” had the intellect necessary to grasp even one of your excellent observations, she never would have posted that crap in the first place. Your response was a great read, however, even if she will never get it, so I guess we should thank her for having the personality of a poker chip.

    • Craig Fitzgerald says:

      I think she has the feeling she taught me a lesson.

      I received about 10x times the traffic I normally do over the last two days.

      Lesson learned.