I am a creature of habit. I have been watching the national and local evening news on TV most every evening for more than 50 years. The local news informs me about the weather and other things, and the national news keeps me informed on some of the things that are going on in the world.
In the past, the national news was more or less factual and informative. But now with several cable all-news networks, the news business has become more theater than informative.
In a recent survey, they did some fact checking on the cable news reports.The results varied from a high of 60% true or probably true to a low of 8% true and 10% possibly true.
Now think about that for a moment: The reports on one of the popular cable news networks are either probably false or complete lies more than 80% of the time.
Nowhere is this problem more noticeable than in aviation. This summer we all were shaken by the disappearance of Malaysian Flight 370. The facts of the case were that they knew where the plane was at it’s last report and that the engine monitors indicated the plane flew for a little more than four hours after that. So the plane could have ended up anywhere in a circle around the last known point with a radius of about 2,400 miles.
Those are the facts, and the rest of the story was basically conjecture on the part of the so-called “experts.” They dug up “experts” from everywhere. Remember the old saying that the only thing you need to be an “expert” is gray hair and hemorrhoids? The gray hair makes them look distinguished and the hemorrhoids make them look concerned.
Well that was true in this case. The “experts” came up with all kind of theories as to what happened, but none had any worthwhile information. And think about the poor relatives. They would listen to all of these reports with their hopes rising and falling with each report. How painful for all of them.
In general aviation, we recently had a report in a national newspaper that was very negative toward our industry.
This is very typical for some reporters who “sell” their pieces to the media. They know that if you write a piece about what is really going on, no paper will buy it. But if you write about the dangers and problems in GA, then newspapers will buy it immediately. So the reporter basically knew what he was going to write before talking to anyone. Then after the interviews, they throw out the positive and keep the negative to complete the pre-conceived report.
The other problem is that when a reporter from a “national” newspaper comes calling, we all like to sound like a world class expert. After a few questions, many people get what I call oral diarrhea, and stuff — both good and bad — just comes running out. And the story is born.
So what can the GA community do? We need well-informed people who know how to talk to the media. But most of the aviation companies send out the president or another high-ranking official who will almost always be a business type who does not really understand the “show.” But because of their high rank and ego, they feel the need to talk like they know everything about everything.
They need to follow my late father’s advice: “Never pass up a golden opportunity to just shut up.”