January 1, 2003
Off The Record
WHAT HAPPENED TO OBJECTIVITY?
The other day I was asked to do an interview with a reporter from a major newspaper. He wanted to talk about the advances of snowmobile technology and some of the positive aspects of our sport … or so he said. But the first question he led with was: “So when will the snowmobile industry make snowmobiles that aren’t noisy and don’t pollute?”
Right there I knew I had my hands full with this guy. Basically, this was your typical “when did you stop beating your wife” question where there is no answer that will change the public’s impression that you beat your wife.
Being the nice, polite, patient type person that I am, I smiled, refrained from knocking him on his ass, and said: “We aren’t noisy and we don’t pollute.”
Now it was his turn to lose his patience and politeness. (Polite reporter, isn’t that an oxymoron?) “What do you mean you guys don’t pollute?” he burst out. “You guys are the worst polluters there are. I can see the pollution pouring out of your snowmobiles every time you start them up.”
I answered: “Every time you go outside in sub-zero winter, I can see your breath too, does that make you a polluter?” I tried to explain “perspective” to him … but he wanted nothing to do with that. He was now going after the noise thing.
“And how can you say you’re not noisy? Snowmobiles are loud and annoying.” Again, I tried to explain perspective. But it was easy to see that from his perspective, his article was already written before he asked me the first question.
So I asked, “Have you ever been on a snowmobile?” “No.”
“So where are you basing all your ‘snowmobile’ knowledge from?”
Well, he wanted to get back to being the interviewer, rather than the interviewee, so he paused, looked at his little reporter notebook, and asked: “Isn’t it true that the new 4-strokes put out less pollution and are quieter that the 2-strokes?”
“In most cases yes,” I replied. “And this technology is very welcome in the snowmobile industry.”
“Then why does your industry continue to make 2-strokes since they are so noisy and they pollute?”
Again I responded: “They aren’t noisy and they don’t pollute.”
And again he came unglued.
“I can’t believe you continue to say that when it’s so obvious that they are,” he challenged, with a high level of aggravation in his tone.
Once again I refrained from bouncing him off a wall (although this time it took a lot more personal restraint and patience). And again I tried to explain perspective to him. But he didn’t want any lesson on emissions or noise testing, etc. So I decided to change my direction.
“Do you ski?” I asked him.
“I snowboard,” he proudly boasted.
“Oh, so you do drugs and are a total jerk at ski resorts,” I commented.
“No,” he replied, somewhat offended and irritated at my remarks.
“Well all I hear about snowboarders are that they’re acidheads and knock people over on ski slopes,” I continued. “What if I decided that all snowboarders should be banned from the mountains?”
“I have every right to snowboard,” he replied. “That’s why I go to the mountains during the winter and I’m entitled to enjoy my activity.”
In a nice, calm, patient voice I replied: “And I snowmobile. Don’t you think I have some of those same rights?”
I’d like to say I turned this interview around. But I imagine he went back to the office and wrote the article he already had in his mind. I really don’t care … other than the fact that I hate reading misinformation in the paper. But realistically, that’s the world we live in. And I imagine the top officials in the snowmobile industry have to deal with these kinds of reporters hundreds of times during the course of a year. It’s not an easy job … especially when you realize that journalists are basically the scum of the earth (yes, I know I just insulted myself). But as a general statement, we’re all a bunch of self-righteous jerks who think we’re smarter than the rest of you because we get bylines.
As snowmobilers, we have to change a public perception that we are winter’s version of Hells Angels. We have to be more responsible.
Snowmobiles make noise. All machines make noise. Nature makes noise. Noise happens. But it doesn’t help our cause when we amplify the noise with obnoxiously loud pipes … or ride up and down the streets at 2 a.m. when people are trying to sleep.
As an industry, we should always remember that we’re just one election away from being legislated out of existence. Let’s try to give these reporters something good to write about for a change.