Tom Bowles was one of the reporters clapping in the Daytona 500 press box. He paid for it with his job, a result Bowles believes is unfair and unjustified.
Monday night, he took to Frontstretch.com – the site where SI.com found him and picked him out of obscurity – to defend his actions on that fateful day.
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. That day marked my first and last claps working as a NASCAR reporter for SI.com.
Bowles goes on to argue that he was caught up in the moment – like a number of other journalists covering the event – but column he wrote was unbiased. He’s correct on both accounts. But should that excuse him for a lapse in ethical judgment?Part of us wants to agree that showing a bit of emotion was justified in this situation. The events of the Daytona 500 were almost unprecedented and certainly inspiring. If you covered the proceedings and didn’t feel something, you’re in the wrong business.
At the same time… Bowles needs to understand who he’s working for. SI has one of the toughest ethics policies in the business, and they adhere to it like few other publications. You don’t have to be an emotionless robot, but you need to act like one. Clapping, simply put, isn’t acceptable in any circumstance. On that front, Bowles was in the wrong. (It didn’t help that he defended himself so aggressively on his Twitter feed, especially feuding/debating with SI.com’s Brant James.)
Bowles deserves credit for explaining himself and fighting for what he believes is right. It’s ultimately a matter of perception, and we can see both sides of the argument. We wonder where The Poynter Institute would come down on the whole affair.