What does Charlottesville have to do with NASCAR and Appalachia?

img_20170602_113802.jpgWhen I am not writing posts for the blog “Appalachian Chained”, I am usually covering news and sports stories of interest as a freelance multimedia journalist. This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to cover the big extravaganza known as the Night Races at Bristol on Friday and Saturday nights.

I’m there with my camera in hand taking photos of the cars in action, photos of the drivers and recording video of interviews all to put together in some multimedia form for a client or report about the events on my own.

This past weekend, I was covering the race weekend for a good friend and his online publication in Waynesboro, VA. We met online years ago and finally got to meet face to face back in March of 2017. He gave me the opportunity to cover the events at Bristol Motor Speedway for his publication and also to give me the chance to get back into the swing of reporting.

It’s been a wonderful working experience and along the journey, you meet a lot of different people, get a chance to use your psychology skills and sociology skills that professors in college told you would come in handy one day, you know, the thing about how people never look at one another in an elevator sort of thing.

I was fortunate enough to get to meet several different people that I have only seen on television. One, the local morning anchor for the NBC station in the Bristol market, another, the new kid on the block so to speak, a new budding reporter at that same NBC affiliate who loves NASCAR and has the potential to break out of this market to big things with her friendly demeanor and approach and the local weatherman, who is an absolute joy to be around and always talks about something interesting, whether it’s food, flying, the weather or NASCAR.

You’re probably saying, “OK, that’s typical. So you meet new people.”

Yes, but you also see people in a different light and with different objectives than others. Of the people sitting in the BMS Media Center this weekend, I would say a good 98-99 percent of the reporters and media people there, were focused on covering the NASCAR race weekend.

It’s that 1-2 percent that had ulterior motives.

And when I say, ulterior motives, it wasn’t reporting about the race, or Kyle Busch’s sweep of the weekend. It was reporting that really makes me sick to my stomach, proving once again that there are some media types out there looking for “THE BIG STORY”, the attention that goes along with it and caring less who it affects or labels.

Friday afternoon was all it took for me to know, something was afoot in Thunder Valley.

As I sat through a press conference seeing for NASCAR driver Ward Burton and his son Jeb, talking to the media, I was impressed with what Ward Burton is doing with his life outside of racing. Burton not only is helping his son Jeb pursue his career in racing but he heads up the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation, and simply put, the foundation gives back to our natural resources.

I found it interesting because Ward and the foundation are looking at partnering with organizations and expanding education efforts in schools. I thought to myself, this would be great for my wife, a middle school teacher who loves science, the environment, the outdoors and is a self professed “rock hound”, who loves anything to do with rocks, to find out more and see what she could use as a “teachable moment or moments” in her classroom.

Then a question came from the media gathered that dropped like lead weight in hurricane.

A reporter from the Boston Globe, yes, THE Boston Globe, the Massachusetts based newspaper, asked a question to Ward Burton that has still left me in shock.

What are your thoughts on the events in Charlottesville and do you feel Donald Trump, who you supported, responded properly?

In my world, you could have heard a pin drop in the middle of a rock and roll concert. It caught me by surprise and by the look on Ward Burton’s face, it took him by surprise also.

But it didn’t end there.

A little while later, I was floored once again. Same reporter, same subject and question to Monster Energy Cup driver, Kyle Larson and a similar result.

My first question later was, why in the world is a reporter down here from Boston covering NASCAR? I know there are some operations that send reporters all over the country. Proof of that is looking in the media center with all of the different faces you see. Some are familiar being the local and regional media people you know while others you’ve heard the name but never get a chance to put the face to the name until they say something in a Q and A session.

But still, it came back to me…why? I had a hunch but I wanted to be sure before I went off half cocked in my frustration and anger.

I talked to several friends about it on Saturday. Two of them, by social media and private messenger and email, the other two, in person prior to the Saturday night race. We all agreed that this was something out of the ordinary and something else was going on. In all of the conversations, I either eluded to the word “baiting” or used the term “baiting” to describe what was going on.

So for the better part of Sunday, I didn’t think too much about it again until the re-tweet from one of my friends who had caught the article published online on the Boston Globe website.

It was 12:30 AM and I said to myself, “Well I’ll be ….”.  I’ll leave you to fill in the four letter word which is a slang term for excrement.

I read the article and just as I thought, a slanted view of the world of NASCAR from an outsider. But the article also opened up a lot more to me.

In my own theory, the Boston Globe reporter came to Bristol to do some fishing at a NASCAR race. She baited her hook and while those in the driver’s circle didn’t respond or address matters like Charlottesville and Trump directly, she hauled in some whopper interviews while “baiting” the fans that attended the race. Fifty in all, or at least that’s her number.

But her little “story fishing trip to a NASCAR race” did more than just satisfy interview requirements for her story on NASCAR, and “bait” several interviews in regard to the political climate and status of our country.

Once again, the reporter lumped a few of her “big catches” in regard to interviews and revealed that once again the big media boys and girls don’t understand people in Appalachia.

They view Appalachia through a cheap dollar store pair of sunglasses, looking down on the region, hiding the good, immediately finding what they feel is the bad, labeling anyone and everyone from Appalachia as “rednecks”, “hillbillies”, uneducated, not politically in step with the rest of the country and world and yes, profiling us with a J.D. Vance, “Hillbilly Elegy” mentality.

We’re viewed as the reason to blame for our country’s present state. Some have even said that we’re the reason for the person who is in The White House now.

It seems like we’re always getting the blame for something, whether we really did it or not. Sort of like the Charlottesville demonstrations. Don’t think it didn’t cross my mind that someway, somehow, someone would try and place the blame about the recent events there on some of us in Appalachia.

With comments in the article from a man from Ohio who points out, “I’m not a racist”, to the stereotype of a Confederate flag flying in the breeze above race fans in a RV city, eating barbecue and drinking beer, it’s a little too late. We’re not just labeled. We’ve been branded. Branded like livestock. Like property and that gives the media “the right” to portray us in anyway they choose.

Another common message conveyed through the piece was that these NASCAR fans were demanding a voice to be heard. Something they felt that hasn’t been “allowed” them in the past.

Catherine Moore recently wrote an article for the Columbia Journalism Review, discussing the growing movement in Appalachia to change the perception of how the media views us by presenting Appalachia from its own perspective. For short, telling our own story.

She tells that “after the 2016 Election, the calls and emails rolled into West Virginia, as the press scrambled to make sense of a place that hadn’t occupied this much space on the national political stage since John F. Kennedy’s 1960 primary.”

Immediately, the stereotypes started.

“We’re looking for a family in a trailer park.”

“We’re looking for a holler. How do we get there?”

“I need a Trump-supporting son of a coal miner who doesn’t think coal is coming back. Do you know one?”

Moore states that “Appalachia was treated as a kind of Rosetta stone for deciphering rural white poverty in America. In its aftermath, media inquiries like these confirmed many residents’ deep-seated fear that the national press only shows up when the news is bad, or to make them look like fools or freaks. Instead of inviting input on how to frame their stories, reporters seemed to be looking for people to fit a frame they already had in mind.”

Many of us in Appalachia are tired of the stereotypes. We’re tired of the negative reporting when it comes to how you portray us. Whether it’s a NASCAR race, the Remote Area Medical event in Wise County, VA, the endless barrage of Trump related references of bringing coal back, bring coal miners their jobs back, the opioid abuse epidemic, labeling us as “white supremacists”, “racists”, Neo-Nazi, pro-Confederate flag, whatever the label, quite frankly, many of us are sick and tired of it.

We’re nothing like what you think we are. You judge us from your previous perceptions, your pre-conceived notions that Appalachia is slightly above the Amazon jungle, where instead of carrying spears, bows and arrows, you think we carry Bibles, shotguns, a pickaxe to mine coal and a Confederate flag.

We’ve even invited you to Appalachia, members of the national media to engage in a two-way conversation about who we really are and what we are trying to do, all while understanding your job, your goals and methods.

We invited you to Appalachia to understand the concerns of local leaders, the issues we face and perhaps helping form possible solutions.

But guess what? You refused to come and participate.

You said that there wasn’t enough conflict or controversy. “It wouldn’t sell,” as Jake Lynch, communications director for the nonprofit West Virginia Community Development Hub found out from the national media.

But there was enough conflict and controversy with issues like Trump, Charlottesville, racism and all to come to Appalachia and go fishing, or rather “baiting” the fans and the people for a story to produce another slanted, biased view of Appalachia.

Here we are, reaching out to you to share the message of what Appalachia is really going through. We’re looking for solutions, not handouts. We’ve been looking for someone to be the megaphone to our voice, to tell the world that Appalachia is not as terrible of a place as we’ve been portrayed.

So, if you won’t come sit down, talk to us in all honesty and truth, we’ll get the message out ourselves about how we look at you.

To me, you are like the coal barons of the days of old, promising big things, big changes and yet raping us of our great resource to profit from and then leave, like a one night stand.

It’s not a one and done deal here in Appalachia. We need commitment in telling a story of our plight.

I really have to give you city carpetbaggers credit there, dear old Boston Globe. You did a fine job of continuing the negative message of Appalachia.

But I also look at it from a different perspective. Coming to Bristol, asking questions like that, “baiting” the fish you were looking for, you put your feet in a big cow pile.

Instead of discovering it and working to clean your feet off, you instead went and stirred around in it and stirred up the crap so much that as the older crowd says here in Appalachia, the more you stir up crap, the more it stinks.

So to the Boston Globe and other national media who have trekked into the deep dark jungles of Appalachia looking to “save us” like missionaries on a expedition in the far, flung reaches of the Congo or Amazon, who have come to this primitive land known as Appalachia to “liberate” us mountain folk or tell the story to the outside world of how bad it is in Appalachia or how bad we are as people, I lift my styrofoam Bojangles large Pepsi to you in a toast…

The stinks on you.

For more on The Boston Globe article, click here.

For more on The Columbia Journalism Review article, click here.

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