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The impugning of Bubba Wallace’s character came to mainstream cable news Wednesday night.
As Wallace spent the day defending himself for something the FBI and U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama said he had nothing to do with, Fox News host Tucker Carlson shamelessly and inaccurately went after Wallace.
The attack was, sadly, predictable. Carlson — who lawyers at Fox News have argued hosts a show that’s “hyperbolic opinion commentary” and not actual news in a slander lawsuit against him — saw advertisers leave his show (again) in June after disparaging comments about Black Lives Matter.
“Yeah, it wasn’t a straight-up noose, it was a straight-up garage door pull,” Carlson said. “And today Wallace sort of admitted that. He said the noose wasn’t what we feared it was. He may have been deeply disappointed to learn that he can no longer pose as a victim.”
Thursday, NASCAR released the photo of the noose hanging in Wallace’s garage stall and made everyone trying to claim that what federal investigators said was a noose was not a noose look foolish.
Yes, it was a straight-up noose. So much of a noose that former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s “I know it when I see it” standard is easily applied. NASCAR’s response was justified.
What the noose wasn’t, however, was a hate crime. Federal investigators concluded Tuesday that the noose had been in the garage stall since October 2019 and not directed at Wallace. In multiple interviews Tuesday night and Wednesday, Wallace didn’t dispute investigators’ findings in the slightest and reiterated that he didn’t see the noose in person on Sunday and didn’t even have access to his own garage stall because of NASCAR’s coronavirus protocols.
Those pesky facts, however, didn’t get in the way of smears against the 26-year-old and only Black driver racing full-time in NASCAR. Those smears, NASCAR president Steve Phelps said, were “offensive.”
“Bubba Wallace and the 43 team had nothing to do with this,” Phelps said. “Bubba Wallace has done nothing but represent this sport with courage, class and dignity. It is offensive seeing anyone suggest otherwise, and frankly, it’s further evidence as to how far we still need to go as a society.”
It was a strong statement from Phelps on the heels of the photo release minutes earlier. But it also came too late. What Wallace had to deal with from those somehow upset with him and inexplicably vindicated with the findings that a noose was not a hate crime was inexcusable.
After Phelps took no questions Tuesday night, Wallace was left alone to defend himself on television in the 24 hours that followed federal investigators’ statement as he became a pawn in the constant American culture war.
“I don’t think anyone, those people who are not part of our sport and are making comments about what we should or shouldn’t have done or it was a hoax and this is all fake, I just, I can’t speak to that, but I would say, again, NASCAR showed its true colors on Monday, our drivers, our crews, anyone at the racetrack, but more importantly, all the fans that watched it on TV,” Phelps said.
NASCAR even got dragged into the mess too as it sat idly by. The same sanctioning body that lavishly hosted President Donald Trump ahead of the Daytona 500 in February and let Trump’s limousine lead the field during ceremonial pace laps got accused of having “Marxist” leaders later Wednesday night on a different Fox program.
It’s impossible to decipher how acting quickly against a possible hate crime is somehow Marxist.
The attacks on both Wallace and NASCAR on Fox News — a channel part of a broadcast company that airs approximately half of NASCAR’s national series races each year — underscored the damage NASCAR’s silence had self-inflicted. A not-insignificant portion of NASCAR’s fanbase is a consumer of Fox News. What those viewers were seeing Wednesday night or in video clips Thursday morning was not only inaccurate and illogical, but extremely damaging to NASCAR’s own brand.
Imagine how less impactful those attacks would have been with photo evidence of the noose hanging in Wallace’s garage stall publicly available or video of Phelps on a major network condemning the attacks on Wallace as a person.
Instead, NASCAR waited to both answer questions and release the photo, and it hasn’t explained why outside of using its own internal investigation as the reason. We wanted to know, but NASCAR cut off Phelps’ Thursday teleconference after less than 30 minutes and just 13 questions by fewer than 10 reporters.
It was clear from Phelps’ closing comments that NASCAR simply wanted to move on to Pocono and get back to racing. But that’s not going to happen so easily. NASCAR was proactive on Sunday night. Maybe too proactive, as Phelps apologized for not using the word “allegedly” to describe the “heinous act” that NASCAR thought had been committed during the day.
But that misstep shouldn’t have deterred NASCAR from waiting so long to react in the days after the statement that no charges would be filed. Wallace had to go through a lot. And he could have gone through a lot less with a little more expediency from series leaders.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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