April 04, 2006

ERIC MCERLAIN POINTS OUT something that hadn't occurred to me:

I'll leave the media bias charges to somebody else, but here's another angle that folks in the sports biz ought to think about: What in the world are the folks who run NASCAR going to think about this when they find out?

Last time I looked NBC was still one of the circuit's broadcast partners, and now NBC News is attempting to provoke a racial confrontation at a NASCAR race, one that is sure to not only paint certain individuals as racists, but paint the entire NASCAR culture as racist too.

If I were at NASCAR HQ, I'd be blowing a gasket about now, and getting on the phone to NBC Sports in New York. After all, this is ocurring against a backdrop of NASCAR's increased efforts to bring minority drivers and owners into the series, and expand its appeal outside of the traditional Southern fan base.

In other words, something like this may very well cost NASCAR some money. And while there are undoubtedly racists at any large sporting event that draws literally hundreds of thousands of people each weekend, I can't help but think that NBC's choice wasn't a coincidence.

Nope, but it seems even dumber now.

UPDATE: Hmm. A couple of readers say that this is NBC's last year of sharing in NASCAR broadcasts, after which the consortium will be to Fox, ABC, and ESPN. Is NBC trying to give NASCAR a goodbye kiss? Apparently, its coverage was poorly received: "Ratings for NBC's coverage, like those for Fox's, have consistently increased throughout the six-year contract. But NBC has often gotten a tepid or worse response from many die-hard racing fans, some of whom have complained that the network appeared to lack passion for the sport. . . . The network didn't believe the package was as valuable as what NASCAR was asking for it. When the new deal was announced in December, published reports said the agreement was for a total of $4.5-billion, or 61 percent higher than the previous deal signed in 2000." More here.

And reader Eric Hall offers a new assignment: "Dateline NBC ought to take some Christian-looking people to Riyadh and see how things work out. Don't forget the bikini-clad sister."

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Betsy Gorisch emails:

My husband and I are serious NASCAR fans, and for a number of years now we have been underwhelmed by NBC's coverage of the latter half of the season. We've always thought that they cover the races as though they imagine that only a bunch of dimwits could really care about watching. Perhaps their single most annoying feature is something they call "going through the field." This feature consists of having a reporter discuss what's happening with each car, one by one, while the race is going on--what's up with the tires, what the team leader thinks about the gas mileage, and so forth--and meanwhile ignoring the race! It's insulting to anyone who actually wants to see the RACE. My favorite analogy for this tiresome exercise is to think of watching the bottom of the 7th inning of a World Series game, and the announcer cuts to a sequential close-up of each player while saying things like, "Well Bob, the right fielder is having trouble getting his cleats to hold the turf and the webbing on his mitt is too loose. His cup is tight, and he's going to have to do something about that before the next inning. Now let's move over the the center fielder." And so forth--and meanwhile the game is going on but you can't see what's happening. No one would put up with something similar in any other sport.

This latest hidden camera exercise seems like a clueless PC parting shot at a sport NBC has never understood anyway. No real race fan likes the NBC portion of the season, and the Dateline guys are simply confirming what a lot of us have been pretty sure of all along--the whole network is contemptuous of its audience. It's no surprise that they would assume the stands are packed with a bunch of lousy bigots. Good riddance to them, that's what we say.

With NBC's financial woes, this kind of an attitude on the part of viewers seems like a bad thing. And in response to McErlain's question above, it's not so much what the NASCAR people will think, but what potential future sports partners will think.

Meanwhile, does this mean (1) NBC's news is bravely independent of NBC's business interests, because they're willing to stick it to NASCAR; (2) NBC's news is only willing to stick it to NASCAR because NBC no longer has much of a business interest here; or (3) NBC's news is just as clueless as NBC's sports?

MORE: More advice here:

If I ran Fox, I'd be figuring out who NBC's Muslim "ringers" were and putting a not-so-hidden camera crew all over them during the race. This would totally blow NBC's story out of the water.Also, throughout the broadcast of the race I'd be replaying clips of the original faked Dateline story about the trucks catching on fire and making snarky comments about keeping the Dateline crew away from pit road.

Heh. Indeed.

Damian Penny:: "Next up: NBC is going to try sneaking Bibles into Saudi Arabia. Yeah, right."