Cover it, but don’t care about it

A Sports Illustrated contributor has attracted attention, and lost his job, for the unpardonable offense of clapping at a NASCAR race. I don’t know enough about the sport to share Tom Bowles’ excitement over this, but apparently Trevor Bayne’s win was something special:

That’s when the atmosphere at NASCAR’s 2.5-mile oval changed into something rare; fans of all 43 drivers uniting as one, they stood and roared in approval of the type of achievement you don’t see in person but once a lifetime. So as that No. 21 Ford crossed the finish line, the walls of the infield couldn’t keep out 21 years of passion for motorsports in my own heart. Before I could control it, my hands were coming together to join them, caught up with fans and media alike in a moment we could all appreciate – but one fans and media are told never, ever to experience together.

Bowles goes on to assert that his display of enthusiasm at the track did nothing to impede his ability to write a dispassionate report of the event. Well, I sure hope he’s right about that, because what this nation really needs is dispassionate NASCAR coverage, can I get an amen?

I called my friend Graydon Royce, theater critic for the Star Tribune, and asked about his applause policy. At the end of a performance, he claps. “I used to not do it,” he said, explaining that he had a change of heart a few years ago. “All you’re doing is indicating your appreciation for the work of the production.” And what about a production that deeply moves him – does he clap more loudly? “In general I try not to betray any sense of that, other than just to applaud.”

Graydon pointed out that his feelings about a play become clear to anybody who reads the paper. He’s there, after all, to write a review – unlike Tom Bowles, who apparently is there to cover a NASCAR race with all the passion he would bring to a Senate subcommittee.

The particulars of Bowles’ case aside, I doubt the media will ever succeed in convincing our audiences that we don’t have feelings. We do, and what kind of communicators would we be if we didn’t? Let’s stop trying so hard to prove that we’re objective, and invite our readers and listeners to hold us accountable to a more realistic and demonstrable standard: that we’re fair.

Maybe it’s cheap to resort to this, but … remember the late Walter Cronkite? Was there ever a more trusted journalist? He tried to keep his feelings hidden, but he didn’t always succeed. Americans seemed to find him no less trustworthy for that:

(Hat tip: Steve Mullis.)