A Modest Proposal: It’s Time To Tax Those Autojourno Freebies

Good artists create, and great artists steal. Right? About ten years ago, I read a few short pieces by Canadian writer Michael Banovsky regarding the incestuous ethical blind spots of the automotive “journalism” business. Those pieces resonated strongly with me because I’d seen similar, albeit much lower-budget, antics during my time racing, and writing about, BMX bicycles.

“Bano” gave up his crusade pretty quickly and went on to crank out years’ worth of fairly standard fare for various north-of-the-border news sites, but he’d inspired me to carry the torch without him. I wrote dozens of articles for TTAC, Jalopnik, and elsewhere about the revolving door between automotive PR and automotive journalism, about the back-slapping buddy culture in the business where the readers are viewed with naked contempt, about how the perks poison the product. It got me blacklisted, uninvited, slandered, and doxxed. Thankfully, the story didn’t end there because there have been a few people courageous enough to hire me and print my work despite the near-universal chorus of caterwauling disdain from the pimps and players in motoring PR. I’m grateful for those people and their courage, while also being aware that it won’t last forever. Which is okay. I’ll leave this game the same way I entered it: on my own merits.

There is, however, something sadly ironic about the fact that Banovsky has decided to return with a vengeance to the field of automotive meta-criticism just as TTAC, a once-fierce proponent of his original ideas, has finally collapsed into a weak-kneed regurgitator of press releases and public-relations drivel. The site that made its name with courageous reviews of everything from rentals to stealth drives at dealers now sends its top people on multiple first-class, five-star freebie trips every month to suckle uncritically at the engorged teat of manufacturer largesse.

Which doesn’t mean Bano’s bomb-throwing is incorrect, just that it’s tardy. And after reading his latest piece, I’m willing to suggest that we take his ideas to their logical conclusion.

“Automotive Exceptionalism Must Die” is the piece, and here’s the money shot:

For those in the automotive media: if the flight, the trackday, the buffet, the swag, the loaner car—the damage on the loaner car—is free, then you’re the product. You’re being used. Why? Your one story on one model gets forever attached to all copies of that car. Stories without any real perspective or criticism are the cover that allows this to continue, and what keeps the average person from being able to purchase a good vehicle.
.
They can’t talk to and criticize the people that build their cars: but you can.

I’m not sure I agree with Michael’s central premise, which is that automakers are deliberately refusing to build the minimalist, efficient, culturally-sensitive, ecologically-responsible cars that their customers truly want. Nor do I think that the “buff books” drive consumer perception on cars, except among a limited group of devoted reader/enthusiasts; I’m pretty sure, for example, that every half-decent autowriter in America has been extremely forthright about his disdain for crossovers like the Honda CR-V and Porsche Macan, but that disdain hasn’t done a thing to slow the pace at which crossover sales are accelerating. You’ll never read any kind of praises for the crew-cab short-bed luxury-trim pickup in a car magazine, but that’s the fastest-growing segment of the massive half-ton pickup business.

Which doesn’t mean that Bano is wrong about the unholy alliance between PR money and modern “journalism”. With the exception of Consumer Reports, which has ethical issues of its own, every other outlet in the biz relies on help from the automakers. Sometimes it’s access: can you get us a car to test before the dealerships get it to sell? Sometimes it’s assistance: can you rent out this track so we can run your car there and do lap times? And sometimes, sadly, it’s subsidy: Can you fly a few of our people to Europe so we can write a few features that also, peripherally, might include your product?

25 years ago, I became a subscriber to, and supporter of, the most ethical publication I’d ever seen. It was (and is) called Gun Tests and it worked like so: They buy guns and test them. Then they report exactly what happened, warts and all. There are no ads; it’s entirely subscriber supported. And unlike Consumer Reports, they don’t dabble in ethical grey areas, nor have they ever been caught rigging tests. In a perfect world, car magazines would be like Gun Tests.

Unfortunately for all of us, the numbers for a totally ethical car magazine don’t work out. Such a magazine would also run headlong into a major difference between car magazines and other enthusiast rags, whether the subject is guns, watches, or bikes: people don’t buy cars often enough to be constant subscribers to a no-nonsense car-testing publication. They want more out of their car magazines than that. They want escapism, in the form of Bugatti and McLaren tests. They want stories about roadtrips and races and adventures. They want interviews with engineers and designers. And they want all of it at a price somewhere between $5.99 a copy at the airport and totally free on the Internet.

For those reasons and many more, industry subsidization of automotive journalism is never going to go away. Yet I think I have a solution for some of its worst excesses, one that occurred to me after reading Banovsky’s rant and recalling a conversation I’d had with my wife, the infamous Danger Girl, some time ago. I’d told her about how some “mommybloggers” have managed to make a life out of luxury travel on someone else’s dime, and she asked,

“How come (INSERT NAME HERE) doesn’t get 1099’ed for that first-class travel?”

Now that is a good question. When an automaker flies you to Bahrain so you can goof around in a new luxury sedan, at a total cost for travel and accommodations of perhaps $25,000 or more, who’s paying taxes on that? The automaker deducts it as an expense, but the recipient doesn’t take it as income. It essentially disappears. It’s a transfer payment, and it is tax-free.

Let’s say, just for the hell of it, that the IRS decided to start taxing all benefits associated with automotive journalism. The cost of the flight, the cost of the hotel, a reasonable share of the costs involved with putting on the event. What would that look like?

I think a couple of things would happen. The first is that the social-media influencers and mommybloggers would be blown out of the business with the force of the Trinity test. I know of several people with no audience whatsoever and no discernible income from autowriting who are receiving perhaps $500,000 a year, or more, in travel and accommodations courtesy of the automakers. Given the choice between paying taxes on that or quitting the trips, they’d quit the trips.

That’s good news because your average social-media influencer and/or mommy/daddy-blogger is nothing but a PR mouthpiece and an active danger to customers who might not be able to readily discern the difference between, say, a Patrick Bedard review and one written by one of the many sycophantic travel-junkies out there.

What about the big magazines, including the magazines for which your humble author writes? They’d have to look at each trip as a business case. Will the inclusion of the Gorgonzola GT9RSR sell enough magazines to justify paying $20k in taxes on the trip? Or could we rent out Watkins Glen and do our own test for, say, $15k? Wouldn’t that make more business sense? If we don’t pay for our people to fly first class on the tests that we hold ourselves (and trust me, they don’t — I fly economy when the magazines pay the tab) then why should we accept first class travel for press trips? My last magazine-funded track test had us staying at a Hilton Garden Inn, because that’s all the magazine will cover. Why is the back-page auto writer for a local newspaper staying at a $1500-a-night resort in Hawaii on the automaker’s dime? What kind of weird incentive situation does that create?

If the IRS took an interest in the perks of autowriting, the list of people taking first-class flights to meaningless junkets would drop from 100-200 per new-car reveal to… zero, I’m thinking. Which would force the automakers to come up with more sensible, more affordable, and more democratic ways of introducing a car. Instead of flying private jets to Tenerife, you hold a rolling introduction across the country at racetracks, autocross-capable parking lots. You make the car available, to qualified writers, and that’s it. No free gifts, no five-star travel, no frippery.

Who would come to those dreary events, shorn of champagne and gold-plated pretense? I’ve been to a few new-car reveals like that, such as the one I attended for the Honda Crosstour many years ago. It was at a crappy Detroit hotel. You showed up in the morning and received two things: a bottle of water and a book containing facts about the car. Then you scheduled a one-hour slot to drive the car on local roads. Then you went home and wrote your story. Writers were responsible for their own travel and meals. It was miserable and boring and it felt like work.

It was also very lightly attended. Which should tell you something about how, and why, people get into this business. Some of us love cars and we’d do it even if we lost money at it; for example, last year I flew to Hethel at my own four-figure expense so I could drive the new Exige Cup 380. Other people just want the luxury and the bling and the butter. They can stay home. There shouldn’t be a place in this business for people who use it to subsidize a lifestyle that they can’t obtain on their own merits.

Taxing the proverbial shit out of luxury travel and freebies would significantly change the autowriting landscape, for the better. It would drive out some of the worst writers and worst outlets. It would help slacken the ties that bind autowriters to their secret masters in public relations. And it would force everybody to take a hard look at the cost/benefit ratio of automotive journalism, both at the magazines and at the automakers.

There’s one final benefit, and it’s petty of me to mention it, but here you go: I’m sick unto death of the $50k millionaires in this business who spend their lives Tweeting socialist talking points from the first-class cabins of Emirates A380s. Don’t babble to me about “TAX THE RICH” when 90% of your lifestyle is currently tax-exempt. I’ll make all of you jerkoffs out there in autojournoland a deal. I’ll happily pay Carter-era taxes on my real-world income if you pay Carter-era taxes on all your freebies. All the flights you take, all the places you stay, all the Rolls-Royces you drive to your high-school reunion. All of it.

Let’s level the playing field, once and for all. Forget about putting your own money where your mouth is. What about putting the public-relations money where your mouth is? Or are you too frightened of the moment when the clock strikes midnight and the fairy godmother disappears? What are you worth, to your readers, your family, or even yourself, when the party ends and you have to pay your own way? If a travelblogger fails to travel, does anybody really care?

55 Replies to “A Modest Proposal: It’s Time To Tax Those Autojourno Freebies”

  1. Avatardejal

    A year ago you dumped on the seamy world of mattress reviews
    https://jackbaruth.com/?p=7532

    The world also has reviewers on Youtube raking it in on tech gadgets. A lot of them get “Donated” test samples that don’t need to be returned. Maybe the reviewer has closets full of cell phones and laptops just sitting there, but I kind of doubt it. A lot of these reviewers sometime show up in other reviewers videos at manufacturer media events like Google, Apple, One Plus. They don’t always pay to go to NYC or wherever on their own dime.

    This guy (and I like this guy) https://youtu.be/spEMaOUbo1E was sponsored by One Plus to go to NYC and they chipped in on the review. At least he states what the deal was at the beginning. He has a thriving little media empire in Canada.
    For some reason it seems the Canadians do really well on Youtube or I just enjoy the take Canadians have.

    Reply
    • Avatarstuntmonkey

      > This guy

      Linus and his hilariously awkward sponsor segways make it pretty clear when the bills are being paid. It’s one way of doing.

      Reply
      • AvatarShortest Circuit

        When I saw Linus’ rise on Youtube I tried to give him a fair shake and subscribed, I think it lasted 4 or 5 videos. The boy is not a techie, not a geek, not a greybeard, in every single video there was at least one nonsensical statement that took me completely out of it. And the rest of the review? Thank you very much I can google for myself. Let’s not get into the myriad of GPUs that have been violated with that liquidmetal bullshit that has resistors rot off the board b/c wonder boy there doesn’t know what amalgamation is. I’d let Omega keep liquidmetal, and influencers can keep opening boxes. (And no, the other doofus in grey hoodi did not break the iPhone XS charge-gate story.)

        Reply
        • Avatardejal

          Their primary purpose is entertainment and info second. Linus especially. You are rarely going to
          find concrete info in a short form video. You know it, I know it, they know it.

          Lew never said he broke the charger issue. But his voice and presence is larger than the ones that did, which he mentioned. He also said it was probably a software glitch that would be rectified. He did do a nice test of multiple phones which others didn’t do.

          I like them both. They are points of reference and entertaining.

          Reply
  2. Avatarclark

    It’s not income. And taxation should be used to raise money, as fairly as possible, not as a stealth vehicle for the enforcement of policies that would be too unappealing to pas as laws. Let the market decide, and if the market is too dumb then make another market — that’s what you’re doing right here, and very successfully by your own account. Do you really want your free-riding competitors to be able to complain that you sicced the government on them?

    Reply
    • Avataryamahog

      “It’s not income”
      Care to back up that assertion? Because usually when corporations give things to people that have monetary value, it’s considered to be a transfer of value and scrutinized for tax liability.

      Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      To the contrary.

      If I mailed you a first-class round-trip ticket to Bahrain, because I enjoy your comments, and then I deducted that cost, the IRS would force you to declare it as income. Ask me how I know, it rhymes with “stax maudit.”

      Reply
      • AvatarJOHN h CLARK

        If you mailed me a ticket *that I could sell*, I think that would be income. But if you just take care of my travel I don’t think that’s the same. I have been entertained by businesses on occasion, sometimes rather splendidly, and nobody ever asked me for an I-9 on the way in nor handed me a 1099 on my way out. I certainly agree that, in the case you cite, the practice is unethical and distorts the market ; however, I’d rather not get the government further into evaluating everyday business operations. Keep up the good work and maybe you can do for the automotive section what Craig Newark was able to do for the clasifieds

        Reply
        • AvatarEverybodyhatesscott

          It’s revenue. The reason its income if Jack just gives you one cause he likes you is theres no business expense side. See my aspergy debits and credits explanation below.

          Reply
        • Avatarjz78817

          “But if you just take care of my travel I don’t think that’s the same. ”

          Doesn’t matter what you think, you received something of value which would have cost you money out of your pocket had they not paid for it.

          consider this- for me to drive any of my company’s test/prototype vehicles outside of normal business hours, I am required to have an approved business purpose in order to do so and fill out an evaluation/test report form otherwise my use of the vehicle is taxable.

          “however, I’d rather not get the government further into evaluating everyday business operations.”

          They’re not “getting further into it.” This stuff is already supposed to be taxable, just that nobody bothers to record/report it. just like filing use tax on out of state purchases. And the IRS can’t audit everyone.

          Reply
          • AvatarEverybodyhatesscott

            Yes, the personal use stuff is supposed to be taxable.i don’t do any auto journalist tax returns but if they get a test car for 9 months it should be treated like a small business owners use of personal vehicle. Mayne theres a loophole I dont know about. The guy who borrowed a car for personal use should report the fair value on his tax return and my waitress that I tip in cash should report that too. None of it gets reported. But if someone gives you tickets to a lions game for a work even, you don’t report it and they dont deduct it for tax purposes. That’s how the travel is treated

    • AvatarF. Lee

      “Each man has his price Bob, and yours was pretty low”
      https://youtu.be/BMa7MITHFng?t=92

      Before your exodus from TTAC I was amused^H^H^H^H^H^H disgusted by a few reviews, one specific one I remember in which the reviewer wanted to move some gravel. So rather than, you know, rent a truck to move it like the rest of us might, he asked Ford to /give/ him a truck with a dump-bed. He took a couple crappy pictures, wrote a few crappy words, and no doubt got paid a few lousy bucks by TTAC.

      But the point is that he derived real value from that free truck. A truck, by the way, which has virtually no relevance to any TTAC readers. Not as egregious as an all-expense paid trip to Bahrain, but pretty f’ing egregious nevertheless.

      Frankly I’m surprised that anything of value beyond a coach-class airplane ticket and a night at a Motel 6 isn’t already taxed. For that matter it should /all/ be taxed but you could write off the minimum value and pay tax on the rest. Of course that’s rife with loopholes, but that’s why we fund the IRS’ fraud division (HAHAHAHA oh geez I crack myself up).

      I just hope that Electrek hack has to pay tax on the free roadster he’s no doubt “earned”…

      Reply
    • Avatar98horn

      actually, the IRS considers any “accession to wealth” income. This includes plane tickets, people paying your hotel room, and even picking up dinner for you.

      Reply
  3. Avatareverybodyhatesscott

    Now that is a good question. When an automaker flies you to Bahrain so you can goof around in a new luxury sedan, at a total cost for travel and accommodations of perhaps $25,000 or more, who’s paying taxes on that? The automaker deducts it as an expense, but the recipient doesn’t take it as income. It essentially disappears. It’s a transfer payment, and it is tax-free.

    If the journos paid for it themselves and billed the company and got reimbursed, it’d still be tax free with the auto guys still taking the deduction. 20k in luxury auto income. 20k in Deductions for ‘the story.’ $0 in taxable income. The IRS might completely nail you on a schedule C for this (Sorry Jack) but at significant tax rates, it’d be easy to get by it by incorporating. I’d argue that the free loaner cars they keep getting to trade in should be taxable fringe benefits for any personal use.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Yes, but the company wouldn’t reimburse them for it.

      When I write for a magazine, I don’t get reimbursed for anything over minimum possible travel cost. If I want to fly first class to an R&T test? I’m free to do it, but I won’t be reimbursed that fare.

      Reply
      • Avatareverybodyhatesscott

        GM, Audi, Porsche etc are paying for it already. If the automakers flat out gave these reviewers cash for the amazing perks and 1099’d them, it’d still be $0 of taxable income with the auto guys being able to write it off as travel. For accounting purposes, you’re still at 0. And I’d make an argument that if they gave me a 1099-Misc for travel stuff, I’d write off using the voucher as an expense. You have an asset in ‘voucher’, revenue from receiving the voucher. When you use the voucher, you lose the asset and have an expense. The IRS could do what they do with entertainment and make it a dis-allowable expense but for accounting purposes, their Net income is 0 with the big autos getting the write off. It’d be like saying any expense is a tax free transfer.

        Reply
        • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

          I see what you’re saying but most of this stuff amounts to entertainment. Honda flew Chris Tonn’s entire family to Hawaii and ENTERTAINED them for three days. There’s zero possible business utility in that.

          Reply
          • AvatarEverybodyhatesscott

            The corp should be separating the meals and entertainment expense portion and not deducting it for tax purposes. Its something that is looked at the IRS level and the auditing CPA firm level.

          • Avatarjz78817

            the point is not about what the corp should be deducting for tax purposes, nor how they should be categorizing it. it’s that Chris Tonn should be paying taxes on all of the free shit he and his family got.

          • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

            I honestly can’t tell if you’re being serious here or if you’re trying to make a point.

            I’m not picking on Chris in particular. He’s just one of about 1,000 people out there for whom the travel and the benefits are the primary means of compensation. If Honda flies your whole family to Hawaii for a week, and then TTAC pays you $50 for the review, then obviously you didn’t make the trip to get $50, did you? Because that’s a dollar an hour.

          • AvatarEverybodyhatesscott

            If you go.to a corporate outing you don’t pay taxes on your free lunch. If you travel for work, you don’t pay taxes on it. And if its taxable to the person, its deductible to the corp. That’s how tax law works so it’s a wash for tax purposes Unless auto journalists are at the top rates. That’s why they limit the corporate deduction for entertainment and dont track down everyone who gets swag at an auto show down. And it’s a lot easier to watch corps.

          • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

            I understand what you are saying — it’s the rationale the auto companies use to avoid sending out 1099s.

            With that said, let’s use the common sense test. If I spend $100,000 a year traveling to oil rigs so I can fix them, that’s common sense expense. If I receive $100,000 or more of free luxury travel a year in exchange for posting pictures on my Instagram, that’s common sense compensation. It’s a quid pro quo. If I earn no money (or next to no money) in the course of a “business” where I am flying first class to Europe ten times a year, then the flights themselves are obviously compensation.

            Put another way: If you can’t show income, and if you’d obviously do it for free, the IRS should consider it a hobby. Every race car driver in America with an orthodontic practice has tried to deduct his Lamborghini Super Trofeo entry fees, and every audit rejects it.

          • Avatarjz78817

            I honestly can’t tell if you’re being serious here or if you’re trying to make a point.

            which one of us are you talking to?

          • AvatarEverybodyhatesscott

            Those instagram models get paid and they get the deduction for travel. I dont have any instagram models but I do have a fashion model. If they use most of their ‘paycheck’, it is deductible. If you incorporate your racing hobby (c corp), it’s not subject to hobby loss rules. (Seriosuly, if you have any chance of winning races for money it’s not a bad idea. Just read a ruling on I couldnt believe won)They should send out 1099s and then the auto writers would be subject to the entertainment rules instead of Ford but it’s a lot easier to send 1 auditor at Ford than an auditor to each auto writer so they pay attention at the corporate level. Someone gets to deduct it. I thought most people preferred the big guys pay it. For example, We have a large client. Think Boston red Sox cause they just won (not them). They win a championship and give rings to.everybody. they should.give 1099s to everyone that gets a ring and Boston gets a nice deduction for it. Instead, Boston doesn’t give 1099s and dont deduct the rings for tax purposes. IRS could come and unwind that and force the tax at the personal level but they lose the tax at the corporate level cause now boston gets to deduct the rings. They’re not gonna unwind that cause it’s easier to enforce at corporate level and they get more revenue. The personal use of stuff is already subject to tax law and they dont report it. That’s why they go.after the corps. The only reason this is controversial is cause they’re all.full of.shit pretending it isnt pay for play but at 100% pay for play, were going to have the same tax outcome. Someone gets to.deduct it.

          • AvatarEverybodyhatesscott

            “If Honda flies your whole family to Hawaii for a week, and then TTAC pays you $50 for the review, then obviously you didn’t make the trip to get $50, did you? Because that’s a dollar an hour.”

            People drive for uber…

            It should be compensation, Honda should get to deduct all of it, and the writers should get to deduct the business portion and not the entertainment/personal portion. In reality, theyd both deduct all of it and there would be some sch c audits cause most writers arent any good at math and accounting.

            And yes, if you can net 50 bucks a year racing, you can set it up to deduct all of it.

        • Avatarsafe as milk

          the auto manufacturers aren’t going to send jack a 1099 for two reasons:
          1) it would document that the review was paid for
          2) companies try not to pay individuals on a 1099 because the irs doesn’t like it

          Reply
  4. Avataryamahog

    Jacky B for President of the Galaxy yes.

    The skin in the game point is so salient. My peer group is just hitting the age where they have to buy their own health insurance and seeing how they change their tune on Obamacare when it’s their money is like manna from heaven.

    Reply
  5. Avatar-Nate

    Uh, oh ~

    I hear there’s a contract out on fearless Jack for daring to bring this into the light of day….

    -Nate

    Reply
  6. Tom KlockauTom Klockau

    OK, OK, I confess. When I test drove that 2018 Outback at McLaughlin Subaru, I had a free cup of coffee in the dealership lounge. 🙂

    Reply
  7. AvatarNoID

    I like to think that A Modest Proposal was widely shared by the fathers and mothers of those who “got it” as a serious policy recommendation, the same way Boomers share obviously satirical news articles as if they were intended to be serious.

    Reply
  8. AvatarTyler

    Walled-garden, advertiser-dominated, “personality”-curated content model … We hated AOL so much, we re-constituted it.

    The idea that the consumer preference needle can really be moved by this backstage pass quid pro quo intrigues me. Gotta be a shotgun approach, right? I might dismiss one positive review, especially if it’s poorly written but a dozen could sway me.

    Reply
  9. AvatarNicholas

    Jack,

    What do you see as the ethical grey areas in Consumer Reports reviews? That is a criticism I had not heard before.

    Reply
      • AvatarCJinSD

        I sold electronics in 1994-1995. I recall a training manager passing around a Zeroxed Consumer Reports review of washing machines. The winner was a Maytag, and the low rated machine was a Kenmore. The article highlighted everything they liked about the Maytag, and everything they found deficient about the Kenmore. The only problem was that the two machines were the same. Either Maytag made the machines for Sears to sell as Kenmores, or Whirlpool made them for both brands. Thanks to the reimagining of search engine algorithms for fun and profit, I can’t find anything about it on the internet. It was a pretty big deal at the time though.

        Reply
    • AvatarFelis Concolor

      Their dishing on MFT by posting a “10 Least Reliable” article, then counting the same car twice for the rankings was another faux pas from recent memory.

      Reply
  10. AvatarGeorge

    I work in the investment industry, where a few decades ago the perks were free hookers and booze. Today, anything over $150 in value will get me in trouble with my employer, and if a dealer wants to give me tickets to anything, he has to accompany me to the event. Yes, crazy expensive meals are exempt, but I can no longer accept any travel – whereas previously I’ve stayed at places like the ritz in nyc at a dealers expense. Some investment firms have gotten so strict they reimburse any firm for things like meals provided at meetings.

    Reply
  11. Avatarstingray65

    If you look back at the early days of automotive journalism, many/most of the reviews were of cars borrowed from private owners or dealers, since the manufacturers often didn’t see the value of putting miles on a perfectly good new car just to have some uncontrollable story written about their product in some obscure magazine. It seems that has also been a model for many of the bloggers and YouTubers who review cars – at least until they get famous enough to warrant invites to manufacturer events. It would be very interesting to see how many auto-journalists make enough taxable income from their review work to actually take deductions for work related travel expenses and venue rentals if the IRS adopted Jack’s model.

    Reply
    • Avatargtem

      My favorite youtube car reviewers get all of their cars from friends and acquaintances, and sometimes even resort to paying perfect strangers a few bucks to get their hands on something of interest, and the cars are typically older used ones in the first place. I loved Jack’s rental car reviews, the ones about the Charger, Grand Caravan, W-body Impala vs Cruze comparison stand out in my mind. TTAC still has some interesting content just in terms of the banter in the comments and discussing old cars, but that’s about it. I just tune out the new car reviews.

      Reply
  12. Avatarsafe as milk

    never happen.

    they probably should already be taxing this crap but nobody has gotten in trouble so it continues. the first time the irs busts some auto journalist foro abusing this loophole, this will all go away immediately.

    the fact is expensing luxuries is what being rich is all about. do you think anyone pays for a private jet with their w2 income?

    this is the road to communism! next they will come after our 501(c)(3)’s and 15% capital gains tax!

    Reply
    • Avatardejal

      “this is the road to communism! next they will come after our 501(c)(3)’s and 15% capital gains tax!”

      Sarcasm? There’s a lot of legit 501(c)(3) operations out there. There’s also a ton of not so legits.

      Reply
  13. AvatarRonnie Schreiber

    Nowadays it’s almost impossible to sell anything without a presence on YouTube and other social media.

    It’s not just about giving reviewers perks and free product. Many of the guitar and pedal demos on YouTube involve payments for producing them. Perhaps that’s why the producers call them demos instead of reviews.

    When I contacted a popular harmonica podcaster about a possible review of the Harmonicaster electric harmonica, his first response was to tell me about pricing for his promotional packages.

    There’s a guitar playing multi-instrumentalist who has 250K subscribers on YouTube. He sometimes plays harmonica so I sent him an email about sending him a review loaner. He replied by asking what my budget for promotion was.

    In both cases I explained that I write car reviews and that it’s impossible for a reviewer paid by the manufacturer to be completely honest. One guy said that if he didn’t like it, he’d be nice about it. I told him that I wanted an honest review and that if he thought I was nuts and my gizmo was crap, he should say so. He was rather surprised to hear that.

    Smart manufacturers need honest reviews. Based on what a world class player in the UK told me after I sent him one for testing, there were shortcomings that needed to be addressed. I had hired a Nashville area harmonica player to do demos for me at the summer NAMM show there for two years running and it was only after I asked him to get in touch with the player in the UK that he shared his own concerns with me. I guess he was worried that if he wasn’t enthusiastic, he wouldn’t get the gig.

    FWIW, when TTAC wouldn’t let me expense the trip to LA to drive the McLaren 675LT, I paid my own way. I was rationed just 200 miles in the McLaren so I did contact GM to see what they had in their LA press fleet to avoid paying for a rental car, but they were having some kind of big event that week and nothing was available, so I rented a Jeep Patriot (and got dinged with a clean up fee for smoking in the car). I figured it was not an opportunity to miss and it was cheaper than either renting an exotic or paying for a track experience.

    Reply
  14. AvatarS

    The kind of regulation that curbs this sort of behavior only seems to happen when there is a subsequent government cost to the behavior – heavy regulation on pharma sales reps happened due to the government being the primary purchaser of all medicines via medicare – heavy regulation on finance/real estate happened when the government was forced to cover the costs of a financial crisis, so on. Otherwise, the IRS spends its time just looking for tax cheats, it seems.

    Reply
  15. AvatarZaskarx

    The problem is that people don’t want truth from auto journalists. They want validation of their decision to buy the car that is most likely to win the approval of whatever social group they identify with. Given that even the most negative of reviews will at worst damn with faint praise, it is easy to find some some positive nugget to cling to. True or not, most people consider Consumer Reports to be a beacon of honest, independent product reviews, yet somehow Jeeps and Land Rovers still sell like hotcakes. I guess I don’t view a automotive buff book reviewer any differently then I would say Shaq hawking Gold Bond Medicated Powder. Sadly, human nature is such that sites like the old TTAC are doomed to fail.

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  16. AvatarCliffG

    One of the more hilarious moments of recent history was when Oprah gave away all those Pontiac’s to her audience and they were all surprised when the IRS came calling for their tax on said gift. My guess is that, in truth, those auto trip excursions are all taxable events, but the corporation isn’t sending out 1099s, and without any audit, the recipients are unlikely to be caught. Win big on a game show or the lottery and you will hear from the IRS, but they are not going to bother with a $1,000 lottery winner, or your free $750 tickets to the local NFL game that you won for being the 7th caller. Doesn’t mean they aren’t taxable events, it just means they can’t track everything. Don’t confuse the two. .

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  17. AvatarAleksey

    Hi Jack! Long time reader. I am a subscriber to CR (mostly for their reliability data on cars and other doo-dads) but I am interested in knowing what ethical issues CR has. Their schtick is that they take no advertiser dollars, they do all their own testing, and they buy all of their cars and gadgets with their own money. That led me to believe they were more capable of honesty and critical thinking, but this gives me pause. What do you know?

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Isuzu, MyFordTouch, and a few other times where they’ve decided that they know what’s best for customers regardless of the reality of the situation. Just my opinion.

      Reply
  18. AvatarGrahambo

    Great and thought provoking article. Like Aleksey immediately above, I’m also interested in hearing more of your thoughts regarding CR’s ethical issues. I find some of their driving impressions to be way off (e.g., too much undeserved love for the F30 BMW 3 series and other recent Bimmers esp. relative to the competition).

    In addition, I don’t know that I agree with your statement that, “I’m pretty sure, for example, that every half-decent autowriter in America has been extremely forthright about his disdain for crossovers like the Honda CR-V and Porsche Macan.” To the contrary, my sense is that essentially all autowriters (even those who are typically willing to speak their mind) hew to the party line that the Macan is “a sports car on stilts” or whatever, and do nothing but lavish praise upon it. In fact, I don’t recall seeing a single notable criticism of the Macan – to the point that, despite my personal dislike of CUVs, I’ve seriously thought about checking one out.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Maybe it’s that we have very few even half-decent autowriters.

      Regarding CR, I never liked the way they dealt with Isuzu. I think they were looking for another publicity boost — and if you need a robot to make a truck flip, it’s not a helpful evaluation.

      Reply
      • AvatarMark

        Jack, curious what you think of WSJ’s Dan Neil. He comes off as douchey, and his “reviews” aren’t terribly informative, but for some reason I still find his writing amusing.

        Reply
        • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

          He’s kind of like Gore Vidal without the pretensions to heterosexuality. Garbage driver with a thesaurus in one hand and an elementary-school guide to ancient history in the other.

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          • Avatar-Nate

            Consider this :

            Saumuel Clemens made reading about a kid white washing a fence interesting .

            A good writer is compelling to read, regardless of the subject matter at hand .

            1/2 or 2/3 if the things Jack writes about I have zero knowledge of but still enjoy his writing .

            -Nate

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