EXAMINER PUBLICATIONS, MARCH 4, 2009
By Rich Trzupek
On Wednesday, February 25, a Turkish Airlines Boeing 737 jet crashed on final approach near Schiphol Airport, near Amsterdam in The Netherlands, killing nine and injuring more than 100 people.
As the story unfolded, it was interesting – and informative – to watch and read the media frenzy, as various news outlets raced to be first with fresh information. Interesting, because it’s always fascinating to watch sharks on the prowl, and informative, because stories like this tell us so much about the way the mainstream media operates.
The proliferation of information available in our internet age has not, in the view of your humble correspondent, made the mainstream media better. Quite the opposite in fact – as traditional media outlets lose their audience to bloggers and web-based news services, the mainstream media publishes more and more speculative, poorly-researched and inflammatory stories in an effort to “get there first”.
In the day job, I see this effect all the time when it comes to environmental stories. People “know” that human activities cause global warming. People “know” that President Bush refused to cut mercury emissions from power plants. People “know” that plastic toys are dangerous.
The average person doesn’t actually know any of these things of course. They’ve been told these things. They’ve been told these things, for the most part, by media outlets that assure us they are both authoritative and unbiased. While many of my peers on the conservative community focus on what is typically called “liberal media bias” in an effort to refute these claims, I tend to focus on the “authoritative” part of this equation. The mainstream media is not, and long ago ceased to be, authoritative, particularly when complex and/or technical concepts are at issue.
Which brings us back to our Turkish Airlines crash. I could bore you, for the umpteenth time, with the tedious details to show how the media gets environmental stories 180 degrees from right. Instead, let’s look at the reaction to coverage of this crash by another group of professionals: the pilots who actually fly as commercial aviators.
For an aviation junkie (like me) http://www.pprune.org is a fascinating website, one that allows us to take a peek inside the fraternity of aviators. They are always skeptical, and often downright disgusted, by a media that purports to understand aviation issues, but in reality couldn’t tell the difference between a vertical stabilizer and a winglet.
Consider, for example, the early images of the crash site that found that found their way onto the internet. The pictures clearly showed a twin engine, single-deck aircraft lying on the ground, fractured into several pieces.
Any casual aviation wanna-be could look at that picture and, if they were unable to say what exactly the aircraft was, they could definitively say what it wasn’t. What it wasn’t was a large ship, like a Boeing 747, Airbus 340 or Airbus 380.
The last is significant, because that is what CNN initially reported: that the crash involved an Airbus 380. And that’s just stupid, since an A-380 has two decks (not one) and four engines (not two). It would have taken CNN about twenty seconds of research to realize that there was no way on God’s green earth that this particular aircraft (a Boeing 737, as it turned out) could be the Airbus superjumbo.
The pros at pprune howled with laughter over that report, and proceeded to roll their eyes in disgust as the speculation continued to roll in. The mainstream media reported that the airliner might have run out of fuel, a particularly dopey claim since any airliner running low on gas would have reported their fuel state (on public frequencies) long before they were on final approach.
Another reporter said that Schiphol was one of the “safest airports in the world”, which particularly incensed some pilots because of the subtle implication that there are many other airports that are “unsafe”. The days of cowboy aviators who don long scarves, pull their goggles over their heads and fly by the seat of their pants has long since passed into the oblivion of ancient history. Today’s professionals don’t abide “unsafe airports”, and it justifiably offends them when the flying public is led to believe anything different.
In many ways, the coverage of this story by the mainstream media reminded me of CNN’s coverage of the space shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003. As one of the network’s talking heads discussed the crash, the crawl kindly informed viewers that Columbia was travelling at “18 times the speed of light” when it disintegrated, which is a pretty neat trick if you think about it.
It has been said, with some justification, that you should be skeptical about anything you read on the internet. I couldn’t agree more. But let’s go a step further when it comes to what you see reported by the mainstream media on the tube: don’t waste your time kids. Just ignore it.