Corey Lidle and the Fearmongers
- It is inaccurate to say I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.
- -H.L. Mencken
The Corey Lidle crash in NYC had all the makings of a perfect media storm. It happened in the news capital of the nation. It happened near the site of the 9/11 attacks and was superficially similar. One of the deceased was at least semi-"famous." Finally, the crash involved a light aircraft, of which few media people - or their audience - seem to know much about. So a lot more has been made of this crash than, say, a non-celebrity pilot plowing into an apartment building in Santa Monica.
The media coverage predictably has unleashed an ignorant backlash from both politicians and the editorial pages. New York Rep. Anthony Weiner compared the East and Hudson River VFR corridors to "the Wild West"; Senator Chuck Schumer delivered this little gem of idiocy: “A smart terrorist could load up a small, little plane with biological, chemical or even nuclear material and fly up the Hudson or East rivers, no questions asked." Republican NY Governor George Pataki got in on the act by declaring that the FAA “needs to take a much tougher line” on GA flights over NYC. Mayor Bloomberg, himself a pilot, seemed to the sole voice of reason: “We have very few accidents for an awful lot of traffic. Every time you have an automobile accident, you’re not going to go and close the streets or prohibit people from driving.”
Potentially more harmful than blustering politicians was a woefully ignorant editorial from USAToday. Some choice quotes:
"The incident raises security concerns about the 220,000 small planes in the USA and the 5,500 airports that serve them. While 9/11 prompted a crackdown on commercial flying, many of the vulnerabilities of small planes have never been addressed."If you scroll down to the comments section, USAToday's readers quickly took them to the woodshed, as did Phil Boyer in an "opposing view" editorial. Anybody with a modicum of aviation knowledge would've known the facts that Boyer and others did. It wouldn't be hard for a non-pilot who's interested in the truth to get those facts. So, why didn't the politicians or the USAToday editorial staff do so? Is it possible that needless fearmongering works to their advantage? Every politician wants his constituents to see him as their "protector." This is one of those rare opportunities. The news media has long presented itself as concerned about their audience's well-being, the better to use scare tactics to gain ratings.
"Small planes fly dangerously close to skyscrapers housing millions of residents and workers."
"The public saw Wednesday that a small aircraft crashing into a high-rise causes far less damage than a jetliner. But should a terrorist get hold of a plane and fill it with explosives or a biological weapon, the public also saw how little there is to stop him from flying into such New York icons as the United Nations headquarters and the Statute of Liberty, both of which Lidle flew past."
This concept extends well outside aviation, and it is a real threat to the survival of any democracy. Many of the founding fathers feared that democracy would lead to illogical mob rule as a result of people's own ignorance and bias. This fear resulted in the strong system of checks and balances we have today; but even this system cannot withstand the erosion of our rights if those in public office and the media use tragedies for their own advantage by magnifying the threat.