Sunday, January 18, 2009
Flight 1549: Media Hero Worship, Singular?
[Right: Captain Sullenberger]
An e-mail to members went out today from US Airline Pilots Association, which represents 5,200 mainline US Airways pilots.
The union says it wants to address the issue of "the way the press emphasized the captain of the flight, seemingly ignoring the crew."
"This has not gone unnoticed by any of us," the union says. "It is apparent the press wanted a 'hero' and Captain Sullenberger was selected."
Quoting Captain James Ray, the union's "media sub-committee chairman" (and its spokesman), the union statement said:
"We all share the frustration about the press omitting, to a large degree, the efforts of First Officer Jeff Skiles and the three flight attendants."
The statement went on, "In talking to countless reporters over the last several days, Captain Ray attempted to stress the point and educate them on the matter of 'crew concept.' For whatever reason, they generally chose not to mention this in many of their reports."
Well, the "reason" may be that the media had very little to go on, so far as the other crew members were concerned. A union guy making statements to "educate" the press about the crew concept is not going to do it.
In defense of the media, let's look at the facts:
--Captain Sullenberger himself brought that plane down safely, through great skill and level-headedness (and with no small thanks to his experience as a glider pilot).
--Sullenberger, a dashing figure in his uniform, stood out on the West Side dock where many reporters rushed after the crash. Though he wasn't commenting, he was obviously the Guy in Charge.
--A stock photo and detailed online background information were readily available of Sullenberger. And US Airways officials rushed to lionize him.
--Information on the SIC (the co-pilot, Jeffrey B. Skiles, 49) was not as readily available. Nor did US Airways, or the union representing the flight attendants, get out timely information on the three flight attendants: Sheila Dail, 57, Doreen Welsh, 58, and Donna Dent, 51.
--While the most heads-up reporters, mostly from the Times and local T.V., managed to interview dozens of surviving passengers, who were readily available, as far as I know the flight attendants and co-pilot were not readily available.
This was a breaking story, union. Reporters are hauling butt to collect accurate information and get it online, into print, or on the air. They can't wait for you to draft your statement, get it cleared through union bureaucracy, and issue it three days later.
Stipulated: Captain Sullenberger, First Officer Skiles and flight attendants Dail, Welsh and Dent did a great job. It was a crew working together, as trained.
So let's hear from them all. In what's left of a timely manner.
Meanwhile, flight attendant Welsh, who had a badly cut leg, was released from the hospital "and all crew members have now departed from New York," the pilots union's "special update" -- today -- says.
And now the squabbling over book and movie "rights" begins. That's never pretty. Also, I see that the rapacious therapy industry is circling the survivors, hooks baited with lucrative diagnoses.