If 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:
- My copy comes in clean and ready to print
- It is always on time and on budget
- 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.